On the Youth Advocate amendment vote

Jun 30, 2020

To the Editor: 

All too often the needs of youth in the US go unnoticed. Just this past weekend the Select Board, with the recommendation from the Finance Committee, attempted unsuccessfully to eliminate funding for the position of Dartmouth’s Youth Advocate. 

As a 19-year-old, and one of the youngest Town Meeting Members, I felt it my duty to speak up for the youth of Dartmouth to voice my concerns at Saturday’s meeting and to share them with readers of Dartmouth Week

The Youth Advocate is tasked with providing guidance for youth and families in need of assistance. This position provides aid to those dealing with bullying, self-harm, depression, suicide, anxiety, substance use, abuse, family and school issues, homelessness, and financial hardship. 

Unfortunately, the position has been left vacant for more than 18 months following the abrupt resignation of our last Youth Advocate. 

In this time of unprecedented hardship and struggle, Dartmouth needs a Youth Advocate now more than ever. 

The short-sighted proposal to cut funding for the Youth Advocate position should not fall solely on the shoulders of the Select Board or the Finance Committee. The Youth Commission also failed to help the town meeting members, the Select Board, and the Finance Committee understand the important nature of the Youth Advocate’s work. In the end, as a youth of this town who is a trained Crisis Counselor with the Crisis Textline, I propose we take seriously the many issues youth in the US face today and the role the Dartmouth Youth advocate can play in mitigating these issues. These issues include:

1) Bullying: In the US, one in five students ages 12-18 have been bullied during the school year. According to the state government, students who were bullied at school once or more in the past year were more likely than their peers to have considered (24 percent vs. 9 percent) or attempted (12 percent vs. 5 percent) suicide. Kids who are bullied are also five times more likely to become depressed. 

2) Suicide: According to various sources, including the Center for Disease Control, suicide is consistently among the top three causes of death for young people. In recent decades, suicide rates have been increasing with no hint of declining in the near future. 

3) Anxiety and Depression: According to the Center for Disease Control, more than seven percent of children aged 3-17 (around 4.4 million kids) have diagnosed anxiety and over 3 percent of children aged 3-17 (around 1.9 million kids) have diagnosed depression. These rates again have been rising in recent years with no hint of a decline. 

4) Abuse: The US has one of the worst records among industrialized nations when it comes to youth abuse rates, losing on average four to seven children every day due to abuse. 

5) Homelessness: According to the Covenant House Institute, every year more than 2 million kids in America will face a period of homelessness.

6) Covid-19: All over the country self-quarantining has caused a dramatic spike in anxiety and depression levels for youth. COVID-19 has created a wide array of new issues that are adding new stress to the lives of our youth as they are potentially more isolated, unsure about the future, faced with stresses associated with distance education, or may be experiencing fear of contracting the virus while working part time jobs.

7) Racial Injustice: In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, there is a growing recognition that the US has a history of racial injustice and oppression. Youth need support in navigating racial tensions, oppression and injustices to achieve a more equitable future.

This town has the opportunity to create a position that can address these issues to provide our youth with a brighter future. While I and many others would like to think so, Dartmouth is not exempt from the burdens placed on our youth. 

Arguments made by certain Select Board members in addition to the Finance Committee were less than convincing and led myself and others to question the commitment of our town leaders to our youth. Here are a few of the arguments made by our town leaders: 

  1. No surrounding town or city had a Youth Advocate position. This line of logic is problematic as we are charged with doing the very best for our community. This will not happen by simply focusing on the low bar of minimal services offered by our neighboring communities. This town has the moral obligation to do better.
  2. The state and federal government provides adequate resources for our youth going through difficult situations and therefore there is no need for a Youth Advocate. While state and federal resources may be available, these resources don’t intersect with the day-to-day lives of our youth in the way that a Youth Advocate who is embedded in our community and connected to our youth can. This position would provide much needed guidance for our youth. 
  3. It was not “fiscally responsible” to fund such a position. I would argue that it is fiscally irresponsible to not invest in the youth of this town as they are the voices and advocates who will carry on this town’s legacy.

It is our obligation to see to it that we do better by continuing to support our town’s youth. This action wasn’t proposed as a response to any financial deficit identified in our upcoming budget. Instead it felt more like a response to our lack of attention in filling the vacant position. In fact, Dartmouth’s Director of Budget and Finance Greg Barnes even noted that “the town has prepared for a downturn by adding ‘some fiscal flexibility’ in the budget”. As a youth member of this community I am privileged to be a part of our Town Meeting and I am thankful that this body voted to continue to fund the position of Youth Advocate. However, I am still disheartened that such a vote was even considered.

While there are many things our town leadership should be applauded for, this lapse in judgement by our town leaders related to the position of the Dartmouth Youth Advocate should not go unnoticed. Consequently, I encourage community members to join me in calling on our town leaders to fill this position as soon as the town hiring freeze is lifted and call on our Select Board, Finance Committee, and Dartmouth Youth Commission to ensure a better job is done in the future to both understand the burdens experienced by the youth of today and to ensure that our Youth Advocate is in place and supported to meet the needs of Dartmouth’s bright and shining future: our youth.

Kempton B. Campbell,

South Dartmouth