Building and Maintaining Community Coalitions On Behalf of Children, Youth and Families - Part One

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This report is divided into 3 parts for ease of electronic access. This is Part one.

Project Report
Community Coalitions in Action
Institute for Children, Youth and Families

Joanne Keith, Ph.D.
Department of Family and Child Ecology

Research Assistants:
Daniel F. Perkins, M.S.
Zongqing Zhou, M.A.
Margaret C. Clifford, Ph.D.
Brian Gilmore, M.A.
Maria Zeglen Townsend, M.A.

Interviews were conducted by Michigan State University Extension educators and an MSU student: Grayce Gusmano, Cheboygan County
Mary Kostecki, Mackinac County
Kathy Newkirk, Livingston County
Joann Rennhack, Oceana County
Lester Schick, Muskegon County
Beverly Voss, Alpena County
Greg Watling, MSU Student
Tyrone Winfrey, Wayne County

Additional Support from Michigan State University faculty:

Mary Andrews Ph.D., Family and Child Ecology Robert Anderson, Ph.D., Community and Resource Development Norma Bobbitt, Ph.D., Family and Child Ecology Robert Griffore, Ph.D., Family and Child Ecology Sharon Hoerr, R.D., Ph.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Elizabeth Moore, Ph.D., Resource Development Cynthia Mark, M.A., 4-H Program Leader
Celeste Sturdevant Reed, M.A. Institute for Children, Youth, and Families

This project and report is funded by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station Project No. 3306 and is housed at the Institute for Children, Youth, and Families. For more information about the videotape or coalition training workshops please contact:

Community Coalitions in Action
Institute for Children, Youth, and Families Michigan State University
2 Paolucci Building
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 353-6617

Section One: The Vision

Section Two: The Need: Status of Michigan's Children, Youth, and Families

  1. Youth are a declining percent of the state's population
  2. Geographic distribution of Michigan's youth
  3. Increasing ethnic diversity among youth
  4. Increasing diversity of living arrangements
  5. Employment of adults outside the home
  6. Economic shifts for children and youth
  7. Increasing availability of and exposure to technologies
  8. Summary of trends
  9. Children, youth, families and risk

Section Three: A Framework for Understanding and Action

  1. Community collaborations as applications of ecological theory
  2. Research project

Section Four: The Method of Analysis

Section Five: An Overview of Collaborative Efforts in Michigan: Results of the Preliminary Survey

  1. Focus and nature of coalitions identified through survey
  2. Programming and services provided by the 45 coalitions
  3. Groups and agencies involved in the 45 coalitions
  4. Development and maintenance of coalitions
  5. Specific steps taken by the collaborative efforts
  6. Summary of the preliminary survey

Section Six: In-Depth View of 13 Collaborations

  1. Organizational framework for community collaborations
  2. Health and human service agency partnerships
  3. Affiliation group partnerships
  4. Educational partnerships
  5. Comprehensive community partnerships with citizen input

Section Seven: Challenges and Needs
Challenges for Collaborations

  1. Funding
  2. Needs Assessments Identified Needs of Coalitions
  3. Skills needed by coalition members
  4. Programming support needed by the coalitions

Section Eight: Common Elements Among Collaborations

  1. Leadership
  2. Unity
  3. Communication
  4. Participation by citizen and informal organizations
  5. Successful accomplishments
  6. Locality
  7. Traits and characteristics of coalition members

Section Nine: Unique Elements of Collaborations

  1. Autonomy - funding relationships
  2. Use of local media
  3. Community problem definition

Section Ten: Implications for Community Collaborations

  1. Diversity
  2. Open communication and trust
  3. Early success
  4. Leadership
  5. Planning
  6. Needs assessment or community scan
  7. The role of schools
  8. Adults and youth working together
  9. A coalition on behalf of children, youth and families is not the same as an economic development coalition
  10. Prevention

Section Eleven: Current Status and Future Outlook

  1. Videotape
  2. Community-based training
  3. Second wave of data collection
  4. Community-based profile of Michigan youth



In recent decades the world has undergone dramatic social, demographic and economic changes that have deeply affected the lives of Michigan's children, youth and families. For too many children and youth the consequences have been highly undesirable. How well Michigan citizens, institutions and communities respond to the challenges presented by these changes heavily impacts the social and economic fabric of this state for the present and the future.

Creating caring communities and expanding the safety net for children through collaborative community efforts are recommended repeatedly as constructive responses to improve the present status and future well- being of children, youth and their families (National Commission on Children, 1991; Dryfoos, 1990; Hodgkinson, 1989; W.T. Grant Foundation, 1988; Schorr, 1988). Although community-based collaborative efforts on behalf of children, youth and families have existed for a long time, recent community efforts address 1990s circumstances in a variety of ways.

This report will document examples of collaborative efforts in Michigan which address the needs of children and youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Report Outline

  1. A broad overview of current data concerning the status of children/youth in Michigan;
  2. A framework for understanding the role of collaborative efforts on behalf of children, youth and families;
  3. Findings from an exploratory study documenting several types of collaborations that have been established on behalf of children, youth and their families;
  4. Implications for collaborative efforts.
Definition of a Coalition or Collaboration
A coalition or a collaboration is broadly defined as an effort that unites and empowers individuals and organizations to accomplish collectively what they could not accomplish independently (Kagan and Rivera, 1991).


Demographic data and general societal trends provide important indicators of the status and future of Michigan's children, youth and families. Seven trends which are particularly significant in the lives of Michigan's population of young people are outlined below.

  1. Youth are a declining percentage of the state's population.
  2. Geographic distribution of Michigan's youth is predominantly metropolitan.
  3. Ethnic diversity among youth is increasing.
  4. Diversity of living arrangements is increasing.
  5. Employment of adults outside the home is increasing.
  6. Economic shifts for children and youth are occurring
  7. Availability of and exposure to technologies are increasing.
  8. Youth Are a Declining Percentage of State's Population

Michigan youth under 18 years of age number 2.5 million (U.S Bureau of Census, 1990). These children and youth under 18 make up 26.5 percent of the state's population, down from 37.8 percent in 1960. The under-18 population living in Michigan reached its highest number during the year's surrounding the 1970 census (see Table 1). Conversely, the number of people age 65 or older has increased from 8.2 percent to 11.9 percent since 1960 and will continue to rise as the baby boomers reach retirement age. One reason for the declining number of youth is that American women are having fewer children, about 40 percent less since 1960. Moreover, the number of American women in the prime child-bearing age is expected to drop 11 percent during the 1990s (Francese, 1990).

TABLE 1. 50 Years of Youth Demographics for Michigan (in thousands).

Michigan Demographics 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990

Total Population 5256 6284 7823 8875 9262 9295

Total Population < 18 Yrs age 1599 1913 2959 3253 2751 2459

Percent of Population < 18 yrs. 30.4% 30.4% 37.8% 36.7% 29.7% 26.5%

Working Age Population(18-65 yrs.) 3326 3909 4226 4873 5599 5728

Mature Adults (65 +) 6.3% 7.4% 8.2% 8.4% 9.8% 11.9%

Youth Dependency Ratio (1) 48 49 70 67 49 43

Total Dependency Ratio (2) 58 61 85 82 65 63

(1) Number of youth under 18 years of age for every 100 adults 18-65 years of ages.

(2) Youth under 18 + adults over 65, for every 100 adults 18-65 years of age.

2. Geographic Distribution of Michigan's Youth

Michigan's youth live in every county, but predominantly in counties with metropolitan areas. In fact over 50 percent live in five counties-four in southeast Michigan (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Genesee) and one; Kent, in western Michigan (see Figure 1). (Figures do not translate to databases)

The youth dependency ratio or the number of youth for each 100 persons of working age is another measure of where Michigan youth live and the economic burden carried by those who work. As nation the youth dependency ratio is decreasing because of the declining numbers of youth. The total dependency ratio will increase in the future, however, fewer young adults will enter the working age and an increasing number of adults will enter retirement age. In Michigan the ratio of youth to working-age adults varies from county to county, ranging from 33 to 54. The state average is 43 youth under 18 years for every 100 working-age adults (see Figure 2).(Figures do not translate to databases)

Table 1 gives an indication of how this ratio has changed in the last 50 years. In economic terms, these statistics suggest that there are fewer children and youth, and more adults, available to support the needs of youth in Michigan. At the same time there are more retirement age; to the extent that they need economic support fewer resources would be available for children and youth.

Figure 2: Map of Ratio of Michigan Youth Under 18 years of Age to 100 Working Age Adults (18-65 yrs) by County (Figures do not translate to databases)

3. Increasing Ethnic Diversity Among Youth

Ethnic and racial diversity is increasing, and a greater proportion of younger Americans will be people of color (Francese, 1990). Michigan ranks seventh in numbers of citizens who may be considered people of color (i.e., Blacks, Hispanics, Asian- Americans, Native Americans and others). This represents 16.7 percent of the total Michigan population, an increase of 11.4 percent compared to less than a 1 percent increase in the total population since 1980 (American demographics, 1991). People of color are not equally distributed across the counties in Michigan, as is illustrated in Figure 3.(Figures do not translate to databases)

Minority families tend to be younger and are more likely to have dependent children. Twenty-one percent of Michigan's children are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. African -Americans comprise 16 percent of the children under 18 in Michigan, Hispanics 2.5 percent, Native American less than 1 percent, and other ethnic groups (i.e.,Asian- Americans) about 2 percent (Kids Count, 1992).

4. Increasing Diversity of Living Arrangements

The diversity of Michigan can also be witnessed in the greater variety to f living arrangements. Fewer households have children under 18 years of age. The percent of households with children under 18 which includes either two parents (27 percent) or a single parent (10 percent) has declined from 47 percent in 1970 to 37 percent in 1990. Households without children under 18 years equal 63 percent of the households, 28.4 are comprised of younger or older married couples who do not have children under 18 years, 28.7 percent of households are young or old single persons or unrelated individuals, and 5.8 percent of the households are family related individuals without children under 18.

A declining percentage of households with children are two-parent families. In 1970, married couples with children under 18 accounted for 44 percent of the households in the U.S.; in 1990 they accounted for 27 percent and their number is expected to continue to decline (Francese, 1990). The divorce rate soared following World War II and then dropped dramatically. Recently it has climbed back to the high rates following the war. America's divorce rate is one of the highest in the world. The increase in single-parent households is further illustrated by the increasing number of children born out of wedlock. Before American children reach 18, 50 to 60 percent live in a home where parents divorced or were never married.

Two concurrent but countervailing trends increase the diversity of children's lives: the long-cycle family children born when the parents are above the median age for birth of first child; and the short-cycle family children born to young women in their early or middle teens.

5. Employment of Adults Outside the Home

Major changes have occurred in America's work life in the past two decades, as women with children have entered the work force in large numbers and the amount of time at work has increased. The proportion of all women working outside the home with children younger than 18 has increased from 40 to 65 percent since 1970 (Children's Defense Fund, 1991). Many mothers work because they must in order for their families to afford the basic necessities. In addition, the traditional entry -level workers, white males, will be outnumbered by women and minorities entering the labor force in the 1990s. Other factors that have created a major change in families are the rise in the number of working hours, commuting time and the decline in days off. Americans are spending 158 hours more each year (or an extra month) at work than they did in 1969 (Schor & Leete- Guy, 1991). In general, the presence of adults in the lives of children has changed, with parents and children spending less time together at home than in the past (National Commission on Children, 1991).

6. Economic Shifts for Children and Youth

In 1990 a total of 460,000 Michigan children, or 18.6 percent, lived below the poverty line. Moreover, the child poverty rate remains higher than for any year since the mid-sixties (Kids Count, 1992). In addition, 41 percent of all poor children were in families with incomes in the lower half of the poverty line, compared with 34 percent in 1978. A family of three in such desperate poverty had to cover all living necessities with $412 per month (based on the 1989 federal poverty line; Children's Defense Fund, 1991).

The size of the family is another measure of economic responsibility. Many women who choose to have children are having them later in their reproductive years and having fewer of them. One reason for the decline in the number of children that women are having is women's greater involvement with their careers. Another reason, however, which cannot be overlooked, is the cost involved in raising. a child. For a two-parent family that earns under $29,900, it is estimated to cost $86,000 to raise a child from 0 to 18 in the United States (United States Department of Agriculture, 1990).

7. Increasing availability of and exposure to technologies

Much has been written and debated about the influence of increasing technology, especially television and movies, on our children and youth. The impact of today's technology on children's senses is very different than the print or auditory media stimulation of earlier generations.

8. Summary of trends

The trends outlined demonstrate that significant change has occurred for Michigan's children, youth and families over the last several decades. Social, economic, and technological changes since the late 1940s have created a fragmentation of community life. As a result the naturally occurring networks and linkages among individuals, families, schools, and other social systems within a community that traditionally have provided the protection for children, youth and families are often non-existent. Therefore, the "social capital," that is, the social supports and opportunities for participation and involvement necessary for healthy human development, is deficient for too many children (Comer, 1984; Coleman, 1987).

In trying to understand what this means in the daily lives of children, it is a mistake to attribute single causality. Numbers cannot provide a qualitative picture, but cumulatively they create a different picture of childhood in the 1990s as compared to a generation or two in the past. It seems safe to assume that today's children and youth, the adults of the first decades of the 21st century, are having a very different life course than their parents and grandparents and all preceding generations -it is an era of unprecedented change and uncertainty.

Many, if not most, of the children and youth in Michigan have, adjusted to these changes and are doing well with experiences and skills unheard of a generation ago. Computer experts, sophisticated travelers, environmental advocates, and competent leaders are but a few of the abilities seen in many Michigan children.

While for these children and youth it may be the best of times, concurrently it can be argued that for others it is the worst of times. The probable outcomes for growing numbers are less than optimal unless concerted efforts bring about change. A wide variety of indicators suggest that a substantial percentage of today's children, youth and families are in jeopardy and turmoil, putting them at high risk for not becoming productive adult citizens. Furthermore, the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots," between those with rich experiences and those with impoverished experiences, the achievers and the non -achievers, is growing with the shrinking of the middle class (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991; Keith & McPherson, 1989).

9. Children, Youth, and Families and Risk

Disturbing statistics reveal that poverty, poor health and nutrition, child neglect and abuse, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, depression and suicide among young people are dangerously high (Cooperative Extension Service Youth -at- Risk Report, 1988; Simons, Finlay & Yany, 1991; Dryfoos, 1990; Fuchs & Reklis, 1992). Michigan ranked 37th on a cumulative measure of children's well-being, with nine of eleven indicators suggesting worsening conditions for Michigan's children (Kids Count Data Book, 1992). To illustrate the effects of high -risk behaviors, Dryfoos (1990) examined various national data sets of four major issues: unprotected intercourse (teen pregnancy); cigarette, alcohol or drug abuse; delinquency/violence; educational dropouts (two or more years behind grade level). She concluded that one -tenth of America's 10 -17 year olds have experienced three or more of the above high -risk behaviors and an additional 15 percent have experienced two of the behaviors. Moreover, teenage fertility is very high compared to other developed countries and being a teen parent is closely related to poverty (National Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, 1990). In addition, increasing numbers of antisocial and self-defeating behaviors of youth are occurring at earlier ages (Keith & Nelson, 1990).Risk factors encountered by children, youth and families are not just a phenomenon of the inner cities. In 1986 (for the first time since 1975), non- metro poverty rates exceeded the poverty rates in U.S. central cities (Census, 1989). Of the ten counties in Michigan with the highest percentage of their total population receiving regular cash assistance, seven are rural counties in the Lower Peninsula. The other three counties are metropolitan areas (Michigan Department of Social Services, 1990; Michigan League for Human Services, 1991).

A clearer understanding of child/youth development factors that dramatically increase the likelihood of successful growth to adulthood is evolving, and can be termed the ecology if youth development. Ecological thinking recognizes the individual and the interconnectedness among, between and within human systems. The human systems. The human family like the individual, is embedded or infused in multiple systems of interrelated environments in dynamic associations. The quality of life of humans and the environment is interdependent and neither can be considered in isolation (Andrews, Bubolz, 1980; Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Lerner, 1984 1986; Garbarino, 1990; Paolucci, 1966; Bubolz and Sontag, 1989, 1991.

An ecological perspective emphasizes that the community is one major unit of analysis. An African proverb states that it takes a whole village to educate a child. More accurately it can be said that "For good and/or for ill, the whole village does educate the child" (Keith, 1991).

To an ecologist, the question "Where do you live?" means not only an answer of geographic location, but the community and the context of that community. In an earlier era, communities were less complex and value systems were more congruent with family values. Most parents could make the assumption that if their children walked through the community they would be safe; many adults were community monitors who knew about the children of the "village." Due to many factors, some of which we have previously discussed, there has been a gradual destruction of naturally occurring social networks in the community (Bernard, 1991).

In contrast, an insightful observation for the 1990s is aptly expressed in the W. T. Grant Foundation report, The Forgotten Half (1988):Responsive communities, along with good schools and strong families, form a triad that supports youth in their passage to work and adult life. Our country has always held that good-families create good communities. Now we also need to work on the reverse-that good communities help build strong families in the interests of youth.


1. Community Collaboration as Applications of Ecological Theory

At the community level, this ecological model has been articulated by Hodgkinson in relation to community services being offered to clients. In Hodgkinson's (1989) interdependency model (Figure 4),(Figures do not translate to databases) the client is the main focus of service organizations, and there is reciprocal interaction among service organizations. Thus, service providers form coalitions to begin communicating with each other. However, from a human ecological perspective, Hodgkinson omitted several important aspects of the "client's" system. The role that each client- be it family or child- has to contribute to the process suggests that the arrows point in both directions. Interaction between the family or child and the service organizations empowers the individual and allows him or her to be a producer of his/her own development (Lerner, 1981, 1982). Secondly, Hodgkinson has omitted in his model the voluntary sector such as religious institutions, youth -serving organizations, child care and service clubs. He has also excluded the role of important indirect influences such as industry, business and media.

In contrast, a comprehensive ecological model (Figure 5)(Figures do not translate to databases) demonstrates the interaction of clients (be they families or individuals and a variety of service organizations. This model provides the theoretical basis for this study. Communities which want to respond to children in a manner more likely to succeed will be those who consider collaborative effort, including as many dimensions of the community as feasible, presented in Figure 5.(Figures do not translate to databases) Thus, a coalition or collaborative effort is an ecological approach to problem solving. The focus would be one of prevention of expanding the safety net for children, youth and their families.

2. Research Project

At Michigan State University, a research project was initiate in 1991 to understand to what extent communities might be applying this model to address the needs of children youth and families. Exploratory research questions about the process and characteristics of community coalitions were formulated. The following questions were addressed:

Research Questions

  1. What are different types of community coalitions that have
  2. What are the common steps of development for community coalitions?
  3. What are the characteristics of effective community coalitions?
  4. Who are the people involved in the community coalitions?
  5. Do the community coalitions have any clients (i.e., children, youth and/or families) involved in the decisionmaking part of the coalitions?
  6. What characteristics of community coalitions seem to inhibit effectiveness?
  7. What are the kinds of issues or concerns that these community coalitions are addressing?
  8. What types of needs assessment do community coalitions conduct, and how does the needs assessment affect the focus of the coalition?


In order to address these specific research, both quantitative and qualitative data were collected. These included site visits, a survey questionnaire, phone interviews, and in depth interviews. Over 100 coalitions were identified through a brief survey. From this sample, telephone interviews were conducted with contact persons from 35 coalitions. Based upon variability in geographic location, economic status and organizing frameworks, 13 site visits were made to gather and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data. Qualitative data analysis was conducted on the interviews using ETHNOGRAPH. A search/cluster process was used to formulate an analysis and highlight major variables.

In addition to the interviews, simple checklist questionnaires were given to key members of the coalitions. These check lists identify certain key variables that were important or necessary to the collaborative effort. The remainder of this report will summarize the findings from this exploratory study.


STEP 1. Exploratory Observations Method: Identified through two site visits and a brief survey.

STEP 2. Survey Method: Identified 116 coalitions; gathered more extensive information on 45 coalitions.

STEP 3. Telephone Interviews Method: Structured telephone interviews with a coalition

STEP 4. Site Visits

Method: Formal structure interviews with three or more members of a coalition, who also completed checklists about their coalition.

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