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Evaluation of the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care: Final Report (Courtney et al. 2011)

Citation

Courtney, M., Zinn, A., Johnson, H., and Malm, K. (2011). Evaluation of the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care: Final Report. OPRE Report #2011-14. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care (Outreach) on youths’ education, employment, earnings, and public benefit receipt.
    • Using a randomized controlled trial design, the authors estimated the program’s impact by comparing survey responses and college records for youth randomly selected to receive the Outreach program with those of youth randomly assigned to the control group.
    • The study found that the Outreach program significantly increased college enrollment and persistence.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care, and not to other factors.

Intervention Examined

The Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care

Features of the Intervention

The study examined the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care (Outreach). Outreach was funded by the John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, created under the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, which provided funding and afforded flexibility to states in providing support to youths transitioning to independent living. The goals of Outreach included empowering youths to develop the skills of an independent adult, supporting participation in higher education, achieving permanency through a connection to a caring adult, and identifying a support network. Outreach had previously been available only to youth in regular foster care placements, but to conduct the evaluation, it expanded to aid those in intensive foster care who previously did not have access. Youth in intensive foster care are likely to have greater mental, emotional, and physical needs than those in regular foster care.

Outreach participants were paired with caseworkers who helped them prepare to live independently after exiting the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Outreach staff helped youth with tasks such as obtaining a driver’s license, applying for college, and getting a job. Staff tailored services to each participant based on a youth development model and the youths’ own goals. When youth achieved the goals they set for the Outreach program, they were removed from the Outreach caseload, but continued to meet monthly with their Outreach caseworkers for six months to check in on their progress.

Features of the Study

The study included 194 foster care youth born from August 1985 to December 1990. To be eligible for the study, youth had to be in intensive foster care in Massachusetts, have a service plan goal of independent living or long-term substitute care, and be deemed appropriate for the program by the youth’s DCF caseworker. Participants were excluded from the study if they were reunited with a parent, had a caregiver who was a legal guardian, were living outside Massachusetts or the immediate surrounding area, were on runaway status for at least three consecutive months, or were mentally incapable of completing an interview. The study sample was 67.0 percent female, 72.7 percent white, 24.7 percent black, 26.8 percent Hispanic, and had an average age of 16.9 years at baseline (age ranged from 15 to 20). Also at baseline, youth had completed an average of 9.9 grades of schooling, 6.7 percent had graduated high school or obtained a general equivalency degree (GED), and 4.1 percent attended college.

Half of the eligible youth were randomly assigned to receive Outreach services (n = 97) and the other half received regular foster care services (n = 97). The authors estimated the program’s impact by comparing survey responses and college records for youth in the Outreach group and youth in the regular foster care group.

Findings

    • The study found that significantly more Outreach youth reported being enrolled in college than youth in the regular foster care group (55.7 versus 37.4 percent).
    • The study also found that a significantly greater percentage of Outreach youth persisted in college for at least one year compared with youth in the regular foster care group (48.9 versus 30.8 percent).
    • None of the other outcomes of interest (grade completion, diploma/GED attainment, employment, earnings, and benefit receipt) were significantly different across groups.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

In addition to presenting differences in means, the study reported results using logistic regression analyses to adjust for baseline differences in demographics, behavior, and care between the groups. The results of these analyses largely confirmed those of the mean comparisons, which are presented in the CLEAR profile because they are more straightforward to interpret.

The authors noted that up to 10 control youth had some contact with Outreach caseworkers but that it was unlikely they received services from the program. Nevertheless, given the small sample size, this crossover might have weakened the contrast between the study groups.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Massachusetts Adolescent Outreach Program for Youths in Intensive Foster Care, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

March 2016