Better Policies for Youth and Families, Built from Civic Infrastructure

7 min readJun 28, 2022


Policy is a powerful lever of change. We know that systems were not designed to support the success of Black, Indigenous, Latine and Asian youth and families or youth and families experiencing poverty. When we change policies, we change systems. When we change systems, we open pathways for communities to thrive.

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Having the right civic infrastructure in place puts policy change within reach for communities, even when the work is complicated and daunting. And now is the time to take up or deepen policy and advocacy efforts, says Josh Davis, StriveTogether’s vice president of policy and partnerships.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our country and in our work,” he wrote in a recent blog. “Thanks to funding available through the American Rescue Plan and more, we have access to resources and the will to not just meet the present moment, but to make significant progress toward addressing racial equity and economic mobility for children and families. This is an unprecedented opportunity to use our voice, our experience and our data to drive impact — and it’s an opportunity that the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network is prepared to take full advantage of.”

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to use our voice, our experience and our data to drive impact.” — Josh Davis, vice president of policy and partnership

The Cradle to Career Network has been building civic infrastructure for more than a decade. Across the country, network communities are bringing together leaders from education, business, health care, housing, philanthropy and more to set a shared vision, make data-driven decisions and collectively improve outcomes for children and families. Civic infrastructure connects people, ideas and resources — and these connections can be ignited for lasting change.

Earlier this month, the Cradle to Career Network brought together policy changemakers from across the country. Over three days in New Orleans, more than 100 network members and partners connected and built strategies for more equitable policies at all levels of government: federal, state and local. Now, these community leaders are back in more than 70 communities, applying what they learned to advance policies that put youth and families first.

This work is challenging, but we’re seeing success nationwide that proves that it’s possible to change systems with policy work when effective civic infrastructure is in place. Read on to see what this looks like in communities and find out what makes civic infrastructure so special.

A woman stands next to a woman seated at a table, both smiling, in a banquet hall with other attendees at tables in the background

Civic infrastructure establishes partnerships | Berea, Kentucky

Cradle to Career Network member Partners for Rural Impact in Berea, Kentucky, received $16 million in ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding. But along with this funding, they shared, this success signifies strong relationships with the state — and those relationships could pave the way for more support for children and families. At the 2022 policy convening, network members shared the importance of establishing local relationships before asking funders for money. Establishing trust creates the credibility needed to convince policymakers to shift resources to what matters most.

Civic infrastructure activates community engagement | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The collaboration created by civic infrastructure lifts up the voices, experiences and leadership of community members in advocacy. This activation is key to shifting resources equitably and effectively. According to Stacy Rich of Cornerstone Government Affairs, a StriveTogether partner, network members help round out federal policy work by sharing stories of what’s happening on the ground. Bringing stories to life can make all the difference when it comes to working with policymakers.

In Wisconsin, for example, network member Milwaukee Succeeds centered the needs of predominantly Black and Latine child care providers in determining how best to leverage American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to stabilize the child care sector. A strong civic infrastructure creates channels for youth and families to share what’s happening in their communities, which is key to aligning funding to meet their needs.

Cradle to Career Network members center youth and family voice in policy and advocacy work.

Civic infrastructure connects local work to broader regions | California

Civic infrastructure was once thought of solely as a framework for cities or regions. Now, it’s taking hold across states. The California Cradle to Career Coalition is one of 13 (and counting) state coalitions advocating for policy change to improve cradle-to-career outcomes — and their work is being noticed.

The Coalition joins together Cradle to Career Network members and Promise Neighborhoods, another group of communities supporting outcomes for kids and families. Their advocacy saw a big win this spring when, for the first time, Promise Neighborhoods were included in the California state budget. This creates a $12 million investment in cradle-to-career work across the state and opens the door for further advocacy.

Civic infrastructure convenes a community’s knowledge | San Antonio, Texas

Policy work starts by building knowledge. Community members can’t work to shift resources if they don’t know what resources are available or how to access them. Understanding the complexities of federal funding structures takes insider knowledge. Fiscal maps can help. These maps are tools for analyzing public spending at the city, county, state or federal levels.

In partnership with our national partner Children’s Funding Project, Texas-based Cradle to Career Network member UP Partnership created a fiscal map to understand the web of funding streams available to them. This resource helps them align funding to their strategies and generate new funds to fill gaps. Their fiscal map also helped the team identify funding streams likely to be impacted by the pandemic. With this information, they could be proactive in preventing and recovering from this impact and in planning for an equitable recovery.

Building civic infrastructure across differences

But how can you do effective policy work when partisanship gets in the way? Focusing on the result can keep momentum going through conflict. Civic infrastructure connects communities around a shared vision — the success of every child and family. When this shared vision is kept at the center of the work, tough conversations lead to forward momentum rather than stalled progress.

Values-driven messaging cuts across party lines. In California, for example, Mission Promise Neighborhood used “ending child poverty” as their rallying cry to successfully bring people together from across the state, get the attention of the mayor and influence the city’s budget.

Cradle to Career Network members heard from some of StriveTogether’s national partners at the policy convening, including Children’s Funding Project, Cornerstone Government Affairs, The Education Trust, Results for America and Save the Children.

The beauty of civic infrastructure is that one organization does not carry the work alone. Partners across the community are bought in, on the same page and working in tandem to achieve a common goal through their unique contributions. Cradle to Career Network members connect organizations that specialize in youth engagement, partners who center community voice, research institutions, school systems and other advocacy organizations. These organizations are more powerful together than apart.

The members of the Cradle to Career Network tap into this same power as a national movement. To turn the success and expertise of individual communities into nationwide impact, StriveTogether has developed a federal policy agenda. This agenda is informed by the Network, tailored to build their strengths, and it aligns us with our national partners, who have deep expertise across the cradle-to-career continuum.

In our work to ensure that race, ethnicity, zip code or circumstance do not limit a child’s potential, we have identified these national policy priorities:

  • Create the conditions needed to align cradle-to-career systems across sectors;
  • Advocate for direct investment and support of local cradle-to-career partnerships; and
  • Align resources to the programs and interventions are proven to get better, more equitable outcomes for children and families.

Within these pillars, we’ll lead and support strategic initiatives for change. Together, we’re working to create permanent federal structures to center the voices and well-being of youth and their families. Our work will strengthen anti-poverty strategies through executive and legislative measures to increase funding and modify existing approaches to policies, programs and civic infrastructure development.

Policy changes and innovations like these are essential in our work to transform systems and put every child on the path to economic mobility. This is difficult, sometimes messy work, but it results in lasting change for youth and families. With the power of civic infrastructure, the Cradle to Career Network is making it possible through effective policies that dismantle barriers and help communities thrive.

In the coming months, we’ll be continuing to show how communities are building civic infrastructure, and how that work leads to greater economic mobility for youth and families. Read our first piece, an introduction to civic infrastructure, here, and follow us on Medium to get new updates as soon as they’re shared.

A smiling group of colleagues poses for a selfie at the 2022 Policy Convening
At the 2022 policy convening, more than 100 Cradle to Career Network members gathered to build strategies to advance equitable policies that put youth and families first.




StriveTogether is a national movement that helps more than 14 million children succeed, cradle to career.