MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released encouraging results today from a rigorous evaluation of Youth Villages’ Transitional Living Program (now called YVLifeSet) for young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. After one year, the program boosted earnings, increased housing stability and economic well-being, and improved outcomes related to health and safety for a population of very disadvantaged young people.
Young people who have spent time in the foster care or juvenile justice systems often experience poor outcomes as adults. Compared with their peers, they are less likely to obtain a high school credential or to be employed, and more likely to experience homelessness, criminal justice involvement, and mental health concerns, among other issues. The largest random assignment evaluation of a program serving this population, the MDRC study shows that YVLifeSet is one of the only programs that improves multiple outcomes for youth aging out of foster care and juvenile justice.
What Is Youth Villages’ Transitional Living Program?
Youth Villages’ Transitional Living Program, called YVLifeSet, provides intensive, individualized, and clinically focused case management, support, and services to young adults with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody. YVLifeSet starts with assessments and the development of an individualized treatment plan that takes into account the particular needs and goals of each young person. Services are generally provided during weekly hour-long sessions with a specialist trained in helping young adults navigate all aspects of adulthood. Each specialist typically serves only eight young people at a time. YVLifeSet focuses on helping young people develop the life skills needed to live successfully and independently. Although the program provides small amounts of financial support, such as an apartment application fee or money to buy clothes for a job interview, it is nonresidential and does not directly provide housing or substantial financial support. Specialists work with the young adults on education, career, housing, financial, relationship, and health goals.
The YVLifeSet program is operated by Youth Villages, a private, nonprofit social service organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, which has served children with emotional and behavioral problems since 1986. Since the YVLifeSet program started in 1999, more than 7,500 young adults have participated in Tennessee, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, Florida, and Georgia. Youth Villages operates a variety of residential and community-based programs serving more than 23,000 young people each year in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
What Did MDRC’s Study Find?
MDRC, with Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago, conducted a rigorous random assignment study of the YVLifeSet Transitional Living Program in Tennessee, involving more than 1,300 young adults. The evaluation is being funded by The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Key findings after one-year of follow-up include:
- The program boosted earnings by 17 percent, increased housing stability and economic well-being (including a 22 percent decrease in the likelihood of experiencing homelessness), and improved some of the primary outcomes related to health and safety (including improvements in mental health and a decrease in intimate partner violence). However, it did not significantly improve outcomes in the areas of education, social support, or criminal involvement.
- The program was found to be equally effective across different subgroups of youth, including youth with and without histories of juvenile justice custody.
“Until now, research on programs for young people aging out of foster care or juvenile justice systems has shown just how difficult it is to make a positive difference in their lives,” said MDRC President Gordon Berlin. “The Youth Villages intervention stands out as one program that demonstrably improves these young people’s well-being across a wide range of outcomes. Understanding whether these gains are sustained will be critically important.”
“These young people are often the most vulnerable youth in our communities,” said Patrick Lawler, Youth Villages CEO. “At Youth Villages, we measure all our work, and in the late ‘90s, we noticed that older teens who had spent the most time in foster care were the youth who had the worst outcomes. We developed the YVLifeSet program in 1999 to address their needs specifically. We’ve gotten great results with the program and are excited that the study shows the program’s effectiveness.”
Results for America and Youth Villages are convening a roundtable of experts to discuss the findings and their broader policy implications on May 20, 8:30-10:30 am, in 2168 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. To register, visit www.youthvillages.org/whatworks.
In 2016, MDRC will release two-year impact findings based on administrative data in the education, employment and earnings, and criminal involvement domains, as well as findings from a benefit-cost analysis.
Headquartered in New York City and Oakland, CA, MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization with more than 40 years of experience designing and evaluating education and social policy initiatives.