Sidebar: Research-Based Approaches to Supporting Disconnected Youth

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At a session on strategies to support at-risk youth at the 16th Annual Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OPRE), researchers discussed intervention outcomes including obtaining jobs, young parenting, and criminal activity.

Robin Dion, of Mathematica Policy Research, discussed a research-based framework for helping at-risk youth develop self-sufficiency. The framework, which was developed as part of the Administration for Children and Families Youth Demonstration Development project,recommends “a very tailored approach to service delivery,” including a comprehensive assessment process to help identify youth needs and appropriate services. Many programs for youth focus either on capital development or on risk and resilience, Dion said, but those capacities are linked. Having one helps youth benefit from programs that build the other.

Dion explained that practitioners at youth serving organizations can use the framework to inform programming decisions, including ensuring services are evidence-based and to determine what elements are missing, such as if they need to consider partnering with another organization to provide job training or other support. Dion said she and her colleagues learned a lot by talking to youth serving programs while developing the framework. A young person developing a trusting relationship with at least one staff member is key, Dion said, as is actively engaging youth in their own service planning. Dion also added that young people may “need to circle back through the interventions multiple times before they reach the outcome that they have set for themselves.”

Evaluations of specific interventions were also discussed, including an ongoing assessment of the Latin American Youth Center’s Promotor Pathway project, in which staff called Promotores work one-on-one with disconnected youth to achieve educational, health, employment and other success. Brett Theodos of the Urban Institute discussed findings from surveys conducted at six and 12 months with clients who received LAYC services and had a Promotor, and those who only received regular LAYC services. Young people who had a Promotor were more likely to report that they were engaged with LAYC staff and felt they had relationships with supportive adults outside LAYC. They were also more likely to say they had received needed services, and significantly less likely to have had a child in the past six months. Researchers saw minimal differences in recent substance use and criminal activity at six and 12 months, but plan to survey clients again after they have had their Promotor for 18 months.


Photo: Robin Dion of Mathematica Policy Research discusses a framework for youth programs. Photo credit: Lisa Pilnik.