A note from our team: At Raising Places, we’re committed to exploring the question, “How might we create healthier community environments where all children and families can thrive?” This question is far too big for us to tackle alone. So we’ve invited our advisors and other experts to share guest blog posts with insights, tools and resources to help us all learn together. We hope you enjoy the first installment of the Insights From Our Friends series by Julie Willems Van Dijk and Carrie Carroll of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

For the past eight years, the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps have shown us that where we live impacts how well and how long we live. Good health depends on the intersection of many factors and tremendous opportunities exist at the local level to drive change. As you think about designing your community in a way that creates a place where children and youth will thrive, you can find resources at countyhealthrankings.org including:

The Rankings data provide an easy-to-use snapshot that compares counties within states on more than 30 factors including education, jobs, housing, and more. What Works for Health provides a searchable database of evidence-informed strategies and resources to implement health-supporting design. The Roadmaps to Health Action Center provides guidance and coaching for multi-sector teams advancing health improvement change.

This year we introduced a new measure — disconnected youth — to help communities think about the pathways they are creating for young people to live healthy, successful lives. Defined as young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or working, we found that 1 out of 8 youth are disconnected. While there are disconnected youth in all community types, rates of youth disconnection are higher in rural counties than in urban ones, particularly in the South and West. 

These youth represent untapped social and economic potential that no community can afford to waste. All young people should have access to the best education, training, and support a community has to offer but the choices young people make depend on the choices they have. Issues like poverty, unemployment, and lack of education fuel youth disconnection because they limit these choices.

But solutions are well within our grasp.

Employers, educators, and other community leaders can work together to create opportunities with young people who have not yet found their place in the world of school or work. And we know it can be done. Some of the trailblazing communities that have earned the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize have addressed these opportunities head on and with great success.

When their Youth Wellbeing Report Card found high rates of substance abuse, social isolation, bullying, and depression among its youth, community leaders in Santa Monica, California took decisive action. They established a Thrive Center to offer mental health screening and coordinated care for at-risk students and they sharpened their focus on helping disconnected youth get back on track with coordinated services and resources.

Copyright 2016 Tyrone Turner. Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

In Louisville, Kentucky young people are expanding the skills needed for greater career options through YouthBuild. Based on a national model, youth ages 18 to 24 can earn their high school diploma and get training in several career tracks. Since 2000, 88 percent of young Louisvillians in the program have completed high school, GED, or career certification and 83 percent have entered college or the workforce.

All of us want a good job, a safe community, and a good education and these young people are no different. By building strong education-to-career paths, mentoring programs, connected neighborhoods, and other innovative strategies, we can support youth in danger of disengaging or better yet prevent them from facing that possibility in the first place. Designing child and youth-centered communities lifts young people up by putting them on the path to a brighter future because we all benefit when they succeed.

Learn more about your county’s health and how to take action at countyhealthrankings.org. Explore www.rwjf.org/prize to learn more about the RWJF Culture of Health Prize communities. The Call for Applications for the 2018 Prize will be available on August 10.