Children were no doubt the primary victims of Harry Thomas Jr.’s crimes, with diminished public trust as severe collateral damage.
The disgraced former D.C. Council member stole hundreds of thousands of dollars directly from funds intended for youth sports programs. But many advocates are afraid the consequences will extend to other youth programs that Thomas never touched, accelerating a recent trend of sharply declining youth services funding.
Thomas did most of his stealing from money he funneled through the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., who doled it out at his request to favored nonprofits who in turn kicked back much of the money to Thomas, delivering a fraction, if any, of the youth services they promised.
The Trust’s role in the scheme, and its inability to detect anything amiss, has the public-private nonprofit’s future in serious jeopardy, with officials demanding audits and even rumbling about closing down the Trust entirely. But advocates insist there remains a great need for the “out-of-school time” programs the Trust was created in 1999 to fund and oversee.
The Trust isn’t giving up on keeping its role as the cornerstone of the city’s funding efforts. To that end, it commissioned a study of youth services spending by respected advocate-turned-consultant Susie Cambria, who did a program-by-program analysis not only in funding for the Trust but in 11 additional city agencies.
It finds that funding for these “out-of-school time” programs has dropped precipitously in the past four years. Certainly that’s not surprising given the budgetary pressures the city has faced, but the 44 percent drop since fiscal 2009 stands in stark contrast to the modest rise in the city’s local spending (from $5.5 billion to $5.6 billion) over that period, to say nothing of the 6.8 percent growth in the overall budget including federal funds.
The Trust is set to go before the D.C. Council on Monday for its annual performance oversight hearing. Trust officials are likely to face some tough questions from Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who oversees the Trust, but given the ongoing investigations into its activities, don’t expect to hear many answers from the Trust’s board or management.
But there will certainly be a robust discussion. Trust supporters, including the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, are rallying support to head off the notion that the Trust ought to be abolished or dramatically overhauled. They’re hoping this new study (which cost the Trust $6,000) will help make their case.
Cambria, in the course of making a broader case for a better coordinated system of funding youth programs city, writes:
Why give money to the Trust now, after the scandals have been brought to light? Turns out there are some very good reasons.
First, only the Trust has the ability to effectively and efficiently manage the granting process, from developing RFAs, to reviewing proposals, to training grantee staff, to tracking program-level data. All of this on a large scale.
Second, only the Trust has managed to bring all the parties to the table to improve quality, coordinate services and outreach, expand evaluation, standardize language, and ensure essential training of staff. The Trust has done much to fill the void left by the absence of a citywide strategy for [out-of-school time]. Even if elected and appointed officials move immediately to create an OST system, CYITC is necessary.
Third, only the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation has demonstrated through comprehensive and long-term action that OST is important in the District of Columbia. As such, the whole of the community should maintain its financial commitment to the Trust for the benefit of children and youth.
The report in full: