On November 10, 2021, The Urban Institute and the Forum for Youth Investment held a briefing focused on how evidence and evaluation can promote equity in policies that affect children and youth.

The panel was moderated Alicia Wilson, the Forum for Youth Investors, panelist were Miranda Lynch Smitch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy; Marla McDaniel, Urban Institute; Endi Montalvo-Martinez, Youth Action Squad, Iowa Department of Human Rights; Lyric Sellers, Youth Action Squad, Iowa Department of Human Rights and Demetra Smith Nightingale, Urban Institute

Themes included strategies for improving research by engaging effected community members. The panel spotlighted young people that that are advocating in their communities for social justice by generating data and evidence. Presenters suggested that young people in our current generation are full of potential, opportunities for youth of color are susceptible to discriminatory policies and practices.

Panelist were asked to give their definition of equity. Smith started by responding with, “True equity is achieved when you can no longer predict outcomes by personal identity, social or environmental, and social or environmental factors,” she added, “It requires acknowledgement of our different starting places in the root causes of why we started in those different places.” Lyric Sellers and Endi Montalvo-Martinez followed up by introducing Iowa Youth Action Squad, a program based on equity.

The Youth Action Squad is a program within the Iowa Department of Human Rights that focused on youth advocacy. Their work is mainly focused on trying to dismantle the school to prison pipeline by eliminating school resource officers and replacing them with restorative justice practices and staff.



Martinez spoke about how police officers in school can be traumatizing to students of color, so utilizing lived experiences in research is necessary to understand how policies effect individuals. He asked, “Why are we criminalizing our students in the first place?” Sellers explained that the Youth Action Squad started off with a grassroot approach, having honest communication with their peers and staff, and providing an opportunity for students to share their experiences with staff members. Smith followed up by emphasizes how there is a lot of work to be done to engage communities in in a way that builds trust, in terms of the federal government. She provided a solution of having potentially cultural ambassadors, or trained facilitators who can invite individuals into the conversation in a way that feels comfortable to them. Smith notes that these strategies should be used in the same way for federal government decision making.

Sellers and Martinez both shared the importance of intentionally listening to individuals most effected by the decisions being made. Martinez said, “I went to a couple of district meetings or community gatherings where it was our administration and we talked about building up math scores or algebra scores for our male black male students, but there were not black male students there.” It is key to be intentional with audiences and who is brought to the table.