The Sub-Committee on Child and Adolescent Issues was formed by the Committee on Women's Issues on April 28, 1994, in order to identify gaps in services for youth in Rockland County, and to seek initiatives focused on prevention, service integration, and collaborative partnerships. Made up of representatives from the community who were concerned with child and adolescent issues, the committee undertook its task with the understanding that:
(1) we needed to involve youth in the process of identifying the gaps in services that were intended to benefit them;
(2) we needed the direct involvement of the schools in order to reach the youth;
(3) we wanted to focus on a very specific task that was both "do-able" and could contribute new information.
We were joined by members of another Women's Issues subcommittee, the Community Response to Violence from 1995 to 1996 who wanted to find out if young people perceive violence as a serious concern in their lives.
In order to insure the greatest possible participation from both the schools and young people, the committees chose to collaborate with the Rockland County Youth Council. Established in 1971 under the auspices of the Rockland County Legislature, the Youth Council is a direct service program of the Rockland Youth Bureau. The program is open to all public and private high school and college students between the ages of 14 and 21, who are Rockland County residents. The primary mission of the Youth Council is to empower Rockland County's young people and create opportunities for their active involvement in the community.
Both groups decided to pilot a program now known as "Speak-Ups", which would consist of a series of classroom forums in all eight school districts. The program would provide an opportunity for young people to examine those issues that present problems to Rockland youth and to articulate what they see as possible solutions. Youth Council members would facilitate each forum using a questionnaire, role playing, and open discussion. The Youth Council contracted with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Mental Health Association to conduct a series of facilitation and role playing training for 8-10 members of the Youth Council during the winter of 1995, the spring of 1996, and the spring of 1997.
Four school districts agreed to participate in 1995; Speak-Ups were conducted in Clarkstown South High School, Nyack High School, Suffern High School and Pomona Junior High, involving 150 students. Youth Council member felt that using surveys and role play were very effective ways to initiate discussion about issues and needs. However, they reported that students seemed apathetic, expressing doubt that their opinions would be taken seriously. Council members were eager to continue Speak-Ups at all districts in order to get a countywide sample of students. They recommended concentrating on 9th and 10th grades, keeping classes small and targeting health classes for a heterogeneous group.
In 1996, at the request of the Committee a new group of Youth Council members expanded the questionnaire to inquire about solutions to fix problems and to identify factors which young people believe have the greatest effect in their lives. Speak-Ups were conducted at Haverstraw Middle School and Pomona Junior High with 87 additional students completing the revised survey. While the experience with younger students and the data gained were valuable, both Council and Committee members agreed that in the final year of the project we should return to high school students and attempt to have all districts participate. In March 1997 a third group of Council members conducted Speak-Ups in Pearl River, Nanuet, North Rockland, Spring Valley and Clarkstown North high schools. 159 students participated. Only Tappan Zee High School declined. Therefore views of TZ students are not represented in Speak-Up results.