Kids need a community of caring adults

Boy Adult Holding Hand
"Children in Detroit are forced to be alone, and from that either become something or nothing."

- Angelina, 18

Growing up in poverty can be a very isolating experience. Survival replaces growth. Fear replaces hope.

The majority of Detroit kids - 56 percent - live in households that struggle to make ends meet. This puts limits on every type of resource you could imagine, including food, clothing, heat, water, consistent housing, transportation, access to quality schools and out-of-school programming -- and the presence of adults.

It’s not because impoverished parents care less. Largely it is because they have less time and resources to give to their children. Parents who are struggling to make ends meet are likely to spend more time out of the house for work due to the need to work multiple jobs and/or working after-school and late night shifts, and reliance on a patchwork public transportation system. Adding to the intensity of this challenge, nearly three out of four children in Detroit live in a single-parent household.

When resources are scarce at home, the oldest children are often tasked with taking on responsibilities that limit their own growth -- becoming caretakers for younger siblings or taking on after-school jobs to help support the family.

In a recent survey by the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, fewer than half of Detroit children reported having at least three adults they felt they could depend on. 

Caring Adults In The Community

Parents come first, but caring community members are also important resources for kids. Teachers, tutors, coaches, mentors and neighbors can all stand in a child’s life as caring adults – and their impact can be substantial. A study by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership showed that young people with mentors (formal or informal) were far more likely to stay in school, enroll in college, become active in sports, become leaders and generally pursue higher goals than those who lack mentoring relationships in their lives.

There are many, many outstanding teachers and educators in Detroit who are dedicated to supporting students. But the charge can be overwhelming, as conditions in high-poverty schools create significant stress. This leads to high teacher turnover, which severs relationships a student may have formed and often lessens their willingness to open up to new faculty members. 

Outside of school, youth development programs build on to the learning day and provide opportunities for youth to connect with adults who can help them navigate life. Examples of youth development programs are after-school and summer learning programs, mentorships and sports teams. Youth development programs provide positive interactions with caring adults and better equip kids to succeed in school, work and life. 

Important to relationship building and learning is the safe environment that youth development programs establish. These sites become safe havens – places that families can trust. 

Unfortunately, unlike many major cities in America, Detroit does not have a well-supported youth development system. The Skillman Foundation is committed to cultivating youth development opportunities and creating a path for a citywide system. 

Youth Development Fund

This summer, we will provide over $1.6 million dollars through our Youth Development Fund to support 21 organizations that provide high-quality youth development programs to Detroit youth. In the coming weeks, we will announce the recipients of these awards. Please stay tuned and help us celebrate the work of these outstanding organizations who are helping to cultivate Detroit’s next generation into confident and capable leaders.  


David McGhee

David McGhee

David McGhee, program director, leads the Foundation’s youth development strategy. David's work with youth and communities, and role as a thought-leader has been recognized across the state and beyond. Read more about David.