In my work with nonprofit organizations and local government, there is hardly ever good news.  Things getting worse is almost a given.  Poverty gets worse, unemployment gets worse, we just expect things to spiral downward.  but sometimes we are surprised.

Just a few weeks ago, the community got a big surprise when it became clear that many key indicators related to youth and families were showing very positive trends.  Look at these Milwaukee County statistics:

  • Juvenile delinquency dropped 29% between 2002 and 2008 – from 4,847 referrals to Children’s Court to 3,425.
  • Child abuse and neglect dropped 23% between 2002 and 2007 – from 2, 188 cases of substantiated maltreatment to 1,692.
  • Births to teen mothers dropped from 2,326 to 2,085 between 2001 and 2007, a 10% drop.
  • The number of students who dropped out of Milwaukee Public Schools dropped 22%, from 3,038 in 2000-01 to 2,376 in 2007-08.

The Milwaukee Community Journal’s article about these findings can be found at

For the first time, the data seemed to suggest (and strongly) that the community’s prevention efforts might be paying off.  The after-school programs, leadership development activities, AODA education, academic support – the whole gamut of prevention activities – appears to be changing the community for the better. 

Programs operated by Brighter Futures, Safe and Sound, and a whole host of community-based nonprofit and faith-based organizations should take notice and pat themselves on the back.  What they’re doing is making a difference.  Too early to claim victory, maybe, but this is real progress!

I think there’s another message in this data.  Remember the saying – you find what you’re looking for?  Most of us are on automatic pilot when it comes to documenting the problems we are trying to address.  We know where to find the stats that will make our case – that will document our community’s great needs and problems.  At the same time, though, we need to lift our heads and notice what’s working.

Where is the progress?  Who isn’t getting in trouble?  What programs seems to be really effective?  What is there to celebrate?

Where is the progress we can build on?