Objective: Connect youth who have been in the juvenile justice system with services that can help them succeed in education, employment and their communities.
In a Nutshell: This city-run project offers case management, educational support services, computer-based instruction and GED classes on site, along with referrals to alternative education programs, job readiness training and transitional employment services. Each youth has an individualized service plan.
The program serves youth who get a Grant of Conditional Liberty from the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS), which puts in place activities and mandates for youth who are released back into their communities. Youth Opportunity (YO) Boston partners with DYS, the probation department, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and the Boston Police Department.
Where and When It Happens: Services are offered in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. The staff also works with incarcerated youth for three to six months before their release. YO Boston provides incarcerated youth with day passes so they can participate in programming on-site in Roxbury. Participants remain in the program for 12 to 18 months.
Who Started/Runs It: The program began in 1997, when Boston received a Kulick Youth Opportunity Area demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Michael Mitchell is the program director, while Deputy Director Susan Lange oversees daily operations. The program has a staff of 17 and will hire 12 temporary employees to help run its summer employment program.
Early Obstacles: “Carving out a niche that would set us apart from other service providers,” Lange says. “It was our relationship and partnerships with our law enforcement agencies that helped us to offer services to young people that most other agencies were not able to or willing to serve.”
Cost: The annual budget is $1.5 million.
Who Pays: YO Boston was one of several pilot Youth Opportunity programs started by the Clinton administration in 1997. Funding for those programs was phased out. After the Kulick demonstration grant ended, the Labor Department funded YO Boston from 2000 to 2005. Since then, Lange says, the city has picked up a significant portion of the funding. The Boston Police Department also contributes.
Youth Served: The approximately 400 active YO participants range from 14 to 29 years old. Ninety-five percent are black or Latino, and 75 percent are male. YO Boston serves all youth placed in the Serious and Violent Offender Initiative by DYS.
Youth Turn-On: “Most young people want to get a job,” Lange says. “We focus youth to eliminate barriers so they can get on a path to positive engagement.”
Youth Turn-Off: “Youth often look for the easy way out. We are honest with young people and expect a great deal from and of them,” Lange says. “We offer transitional employment, but we terminate youth who are not holding up their end of the bargain.”
Although youth are often terminated from the jobs, they are not terminated from the program. Rather, a new interim strategy is created for those youth.
Research Shows: In 2004, the program conducted a study that compared 50 former DYS wards who received YO Boston services with a control group of DYS youth who did not receive those services. The re-offense rate within 6 months of leaving the program was 50 percent lower for YO Boston participants, the agency says.