Many social justice advocates conclude that those closest to the issues are closest to the solutions. In the context of youth programs, that means the voices of youth ages 14-24 years should be a necessary part of policy and funding decisions that directly affect them. Nearly one-third of Americans are younger than age 25. Youth are eager and ready to influence policy as evidenced by the variety of youth-led organizations and initiatives that exist locally, nationally, and even internationally. These youth-led organizations and initiatives can benefit from learning how to analyze existing funding streams that support youth programming through a process known as fiscal mapping. In turn, the ability to analyze funding streams can lead to better youth advocacy.

The Role of Youth in Fiscal Mapping Efforts

A fiscal map documents and analyzes the various sources of funding that support programs and services for children and youth in a state, city, or county. The map can include public dollars from federal, state, and local sources and sometimes private dollars from foundations and other philanthropies, if appropriate. It answers a fundamental question: WHO invests HOW MUCH money and in WHAT? Although fiscal mapping can seem intimidating, it’s an integral tool for advocacy. Fiscal maps provide a baseline understanding of our investments and how they are intended to influence different outcome areas such as safety, education, health, and others. Additionally, fiscal maps show us the total funding by level or source, such as federal, state, county, city, or other dollars. Communities and advocates also can use fiscal maps to examine how they allocate funds toward prevention versus intervention initiatives or by specific services and programs.

“Successful fiscal mapping collaborations with youth require clarity around expectations, budget training, financial support, and a well-thought-out scope of work,” says Olivia Allen, our strategy director. “Youth should meaningfully participate in all facets of the decision-making process,”

There are several roles youth can play as a part of the fiscal mapping process, depending on the time and resources allocated for them to meaningfully engage. Youth can

  • serve on an advisory board or task force to help guide the fiscal mapping process in their community;
  • participate in the master planning of their community’s youth programming;
  • help collect and analyze data;
  • interview stakeholders, like other youth; and
  • even design and write the final fiscal map findings.

Youth in Action in San Antonio

We worked with youth leaders and UP Partnership in San Antonio, TX, to learn more about what it takes to successfully include youth in the fiscal mapping process. In the midst of the pandemic, UP Partnership, a member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, organized more than 60 partners, including high school students, in a funding alignment task force to advance policies that prioritize the needs of youth and families. After the U.S. Treasury Department released more than $600 million in American Rescue Plan funding to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County in  2021, UP Partnership teamed up with Children’s Funding Project and consulting firm PFM to develop a series of recommendations for how local leaders could allocate the funds to support an equitable post-pandemic recovery for the community. The recommendations focus on three outcome areas for youth: “Safe and Stable,” “Mental Health and Well-Being,” and “Connected/Academically Prepared.” The task force recommended reinvesting American Rescue Plan funds into front-end prevention and positive youth development opportunities to improve public safety, funding full-time employees to coordinate mental and behavioral health resources, and expanding summer learning and enrichment access, among others.

“It was critical that we work with both the adults and young people to create space for the youth to meaningfully engage at the table, as well as prepare the young people to connect with their peers and community to source feedback and ideas to bring back to the table,” says Kimberly Sama, UP Partnership’s chief finance and operations officer. “It was also crucial that we compensated youth for their time and work on the project.”

Fueled with its set of recommendations, UP Partnership’s grassroots advocacy through its Excel Beyond the Bell network members led to a substantial increase in the American Rescue Plan funds San Antonio’s local government allocated to youth-serving programs. Initially, the San Antonio City Council had not budgeted any funding for youth recovery; but by August 2022, the city council had approved a combined $25 million for youth-serving organizations and to support youth mental health.

Empowering Youth Advocates Through Fiscal Mapping

Other ways youth can get involved with fiscal mapping include contacting a local children’s cabinet and other collective impact organizations that focus on youth initiatives.

Ashley Brooks, a young adult on staff at Children’s Funding Project, says, “I thought a lot about being a youth in Maryland, which is one of the wealthiest states in the country but there are pockets of wealth and pockets of poverty throughout the state. I think fiscal mapping can be a wonderful resource for youth activists.”

“In Maryland, Montgomery County or Howard County look vastly different from Baltimore City, not just in the dollar amount but in the outcomes and intervention levels they are investing in,” Brooks continues. “In the news, I see new schools and programs being created in Montgomery County and new juvenile detention centers being built in Baltimore.”

Knowledge of the funding landscape is a powerful tool because this knowledge can help youth leaders build research, data analysis, and advocacy skills.

Esther Grambs, another one of our young adult fiscal mapping staff members, describes the necessity of youth being involved in fiscal mapping by saying, “It is really easy for older people to dismiss youth as not knowing enough about an issue to be taken seriously. Having the data from a fiscal map to back up what you are advocating for gives youth a lot of credibility and makes it much harder for people to dismiss you. Fiscal mapping allows for a good grasp of the bureaucratic structures.”

Ultimately youth are the recipients of youth programming and funding. By including the people who are most impacted by programs in the planning and strategy of those programs, we empower youth advocates and ensure better outcomes.

This blog was written in partnership with Sarai Cook, senior fellow at Children’s Funding Project, and staff from UP Partnership.