Absence of conflict of interest.
The study's objective was to examine the impact of YouthVillages’ YVLifeSet program on earnings and wages, employment, educational attainment, participation in vocational training, and public benefit receipt.
This study was a randomized controlled trial designed to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members. The primary data sources were a background survey administered at enrollment, service participation data from the program's management information system, a follow-up survey conducted 12 months after the enrollment, and administrative data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
The study found that YVLifeset participants had significantly higher earnings, were more likely to have ever been employed and/or hold part-time employment, and were more likely to receive SNAP benefits than non-participants.
The study receives a high evidence rating. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program, and not to other factors.
Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet
Features of the Intervention
Since the 1980s, the federal government has encouraged and supported states in providing programs to prepare youth in foster care for independent living as adults. Youth in the juvenile justice system may face similar challenges as those in foster care when transitioning to adulthood, and many youth who spend time in foster care also experience justice system involvement. Evidence is limited on effective models and interventions to support these youth.
Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program is an intensive 9- to 12-month intervention program that was originally developed in 1999 in Memphis, Tennessee, to provide residential care services to transition-age youth between the ages of 18 through 24. The program combines individualized case management with components of independent living programs. These include comprehensive assessments, treatment planning tailored to each young person, weekly one-on-one sessions, group social activities, referrals to other services, and support in finding employment or continuing education from a educational/vocational coordinator. Case workers are also trained to use evidence-based strategies such as motivational interviewing and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Compared to those in similar independent living programs, workers in YVLifeSet have smaller caseloads and engage with participating youth more frequently.
In the state of Tennessee, YVLifeSet targeted transition-age youth who have been in custody of the state's children's services agency, either through the state child protection system or the juvenile justice system.
Features of the Study
This study was a randomized controlled trial. Youth were eligible to participate if they were between the ages of 18 through 24 and had been in the custody of the State of Tennessee children's services agency for at least one year after age 14 and/or for at least one day after age 17. During the study enrollment period from October 2010 to October 2012, 1,322 youth were identified as eligible; 534 of these participants were randomly assigned to receive the YVLifeSet program and 788 were assigned to the control condition. Those in the control group did not receive services from YVLifeSet but were given a list of other social services and resources that were available in the community.
The primary data sources were a background survey administered at enrollment, service participation data from the program's management information system, a follow-up survey conducted 12 months after the enrollment, and administrative data from the National Student Clearinghouse to determine college enrollment. The background survey collected data on participants' demographics, employment and educational history, receipt of mental health and substance use treatment, involvement with the criminal justice system, and contact with parents and relatives. The follow-up survey collected data on key outcomes including educational and employment attainment, earnings, housing stability, social support, health and safety, and criminal involvement. The follow-up survey was administered to 1,114 participants (659 from the control group and 455 of the treatment) while administrative data from the NSC was available for all participants.
The authors used a statistical model to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members. This statistical model included controls for participants' baseline characteristics.
Seventy-two percent of participants were 18 years old at the time of enrollment and the sample was about half female (48 percent). The ethnic and racial composition of the study sample included 52 percent non-Hispanic White, 38 percent non-Hispanic Black, 6 percent non-Hispanic other race, and 5 percent Hispanic. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of participants had ever been arrested, and 56 percent had received psychological or emotional counseling in the year prior to enrollment.
Earnings and wages
The study found that YVLifeset participants had significantly higher earnings than non-participants ($611 more in the year following enrollment).
The study found that YVLifeset participants were 4.8 percentage points more likely to ever be employed and 4.6 percentage points more likely to have part-time employment than those in the comparison group.
The study found no significant differences in full-time employment between the YVLifeSet and control groups.
Education and skills gains
The study found no significant differences between participants in the YVLifeSet program and non-participants in terms of having a high school diploma, having a GED certificate, or enrolling in a postsecondary institution.
The study found no significant difference between the proportion of YVLifeSet participants and non-participants participating in vocational training.
Public service receipt
Participants in the YVLifeSet program were 6.1 percentage points more likely to receive SNAP benefits than non-participants.
Participants in the YVLifeSet program were no more likely than non-participants to receive SSI, WIC, public housing/rental assistance, or TANF/Families First benefits.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Study authors note several considerations for interpreting the study's findings. Firstly, the authors highlight that youth with particular challenges, such as those with histories of serious mental illness, severe violence, or drug use, were excluded from eligibility. The authors also note that while response rates for the follow-up survey were reasonably high and similar between the treatment and comparison group, participants who could not be located or reached by intake staff to complete services and the follow-up survey could possibly have been more transient, unstable, or less motivated. For those reasons, the evaluation sample may have represented a somewhat higher-functioning group, on average, and findings about the YVLifeSet program may not be generalizable to the population of transition-age youth from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Causal Evidence Rating
This study receives high evidence rating. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Youth Villages' YVLifeSet program, and not to other factors.