Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa told his colleagues on the council he was not trying to embarrass anyone by revealing that west-side children are grossly underserved by the city’s acclaimed Youth City program.
But they should be embarrassed.
The report compiled by council staff is astonishing. Of the 1,623 youngsters in Youth City programs in 2012, only 169 — or less than 11 percent — were from west-side neighborhoods, where about 46 percent of Salt Lake City’s youngsters and teens live.
LaMalfa represents west-side District 2, where just 108 children are enrolled in the after-school program, which also provides summer activities in arts, culture and government. In District 1, also west of Interstate 15, just 61 children participate.
At the same time, in the city’s east-side districts, 530 children in District 5 participated; 348 youngsters from District 7 are enrolled; and 269 kids from District 4 participate.
The program is not specifically designed for children who most need supervision and intellectual stimulation, but children whose parents work long hours and who may reside in low-income homes, or where English is a second language, could certainly benefit.
A higher percentage of those kids live in west-side communities. But demographics aside, you’d expect the sheer number of children living in the west-side districts to mean much higher participation than what is occurring.
Children participate in Youth City activities at times when many parents may be working, and can help to keep youngsters out of trouble, according to the program’s website. The educational programs can give children from minority, low-income, refugee and immigrant homes an academic boost to help get them ready for school or help them improve grades.
LaMalfa and James Rogers, a new member of the council representing District 1, have a responsibility to their constituents and their children to make sure this situation is corrected. That may include more outreach to make sure parents know about the program and help coordinating transportation if needed.
Youth City staffers also should make a serious effort to increase participation on the west side, as should other council members and city staff.
It’s not enough to offer an excellent program for children; the city also has a responsibility to make sure all children have the same chance to participate in it.