North Raleigh News

Youth Thrive gathers data for youth well-being profile

The information about youth in Wake County comes in a swirl of data from reports by various agencies and organizations.

Forty percent of high school students reported that they had texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days, according to a 2013 report by Wake schools.

Forty-seven percent of 18-year-olds in Wake are registered to vote, according to state records.

Less than 5 percent of Wake County children under 18 lacked insurance in 2013, according to a federal report.

A new well-being profile brings together those nuggets of information about how youth fare in Wake County in areas such as health, academics and safety.

The goal is to get a better handle on how youth are doing so that programs for them can be most effective.

Using data from various local sources, the nonprofit Youth Thrive built the profile – what the group calls a “snapshot” of conditions in the county for youth ages 5-18.

The profile includes information about assets, such as how much physical activity youth are getting or how they score on standardized tests, and risks, such as drop-out rates or substance use.

About 25 percent of Wake County’s 1 million residents are age 18 or younger.

“Now that we know better, we get to do better because we understand the local conditions,” said Shannon Weatherly, executive director of Youth Thrive. “These are our kids, and we need to take care of them.”

Weatherly said the profile isn’t a comprehensive assessment but will be a valuable tool for programs that work to improve the lives of young people. Often data is scattered or hard to find. The profile is designed to make establishing a baseline for how to help youth easier.

The profile suggests assets to build on, such as an 83 percent on-time graduation rate and a 77 percent pre-school attendance rate. It also looks at risks that need to be reduced, such as a 7 percent school suspension rate.

In some cases, the data collection process showed areas where information is scarce. There is more data on youth in middle and high school, compared with elementary school children.

There also is more data about academics and physical health than the other measures of well-being the profile considers: vocational, social, civic and emotional well-being and safety.

Amber Smith, executive director of Activate Good, a nonprofit volunteer center, said the data helps the group know more about the young people it might encourage to volunteer. In particular, it could help the group connect with youth who may be at risk.

“Understanding the problems that youth are facing will help us show them that volunteering can be a tool for self-improvement,” she said.

Youth Thrive doesn’t provide direct services but works to ensure groups that serve youth are connected to one another, with the resources they need to do their best work. The group is funded by the John Rex Endowment and housed within the United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Weatherly said Youth Thrive will build on the profile this year by creating a youth “master plan” that brings together the strategic plans of various organizations and agencies that serve youth and identifies other areas of improvement.