Fraker, T., Mamun, A., Manno, M., Martinez, J., Reed, D., Thompkins, A., & Wittenburg, D. (2012). The Social Security Administration’s Youth Transition Demonstration projects: Interim report on West Virginia Youth Works. Report submitted to the Social Security Administration. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.
- This report presented an interim implementation and impact analysis on the West Virginia Youth Works Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) project. The program sought to help youth with disabilities ages 14 through 25 who lived in 19 specific West Virginia counties to maximize their economic self-sufficiency.
- The study examined implementation of Youth Works, focusing on major aspects of service delivery, including the background, local context, and service environment. It provided information on participants’ characteristics and satisfaction with the program. The authors conducted qualitative analysis of staff and participant interviews, including data collected from site visits, and descriptive quantitative analysis of participants’ baseline and follow-up survey data and service utilization data from a management information system.
- Overall, the study found that Youth Works faced some substantial challenges, but that all participants received some project services and most received at least one contact for each of the four types of service: benefits planning, employment, education, and case management.
- Study findings related to implementation challenges and solutions are potentially applicable to other current or future projects that provide employment-related services to youth with disabilities.
The Youth Transition Demonstration Projects, West Virginia Youth Works Program
Features of the Intervention
The West Virginia Youth Works program was one of six project sites evaluated using a randomized design as part of the larger YTD sponsored by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which intended to help youth with disabilities become more self-sufficient and improve their employment outcomes. From April 2008 to March 2012, the Human Resource Development Foundation—a nonprofit employment services provider—collaborated with the Center for Excellence in Disabilities to offer work-readiness assessments and services, job placement, and case management services to young SSA beneficiaries (ages 14 to 25).
All YTD participants were also eligible for waivers that (1) extended the student earned income exclusion to all YTD participants regardless of age, (2) increased the earned income exclusion to a $1 reduction in Supplemental Security Income benefit for every $4 earned above a base amount, and (3) delayed benefit cessation for YTD participants who were determined ineligible for benefits after a benefit review or age-18 Supplemental Security Income medical redetermination.
Features of the Study
The implementation portion of the study sought to describe whether the demonstration, as implemented by Youth Works, tested the service intervention as conceived by SSA. In doing so, the study described the major aspects of implementation, including the local context; inputs, resources, and partnerships; service delivery, including dosage; and participants’ characteristics and satisfaction with program services. The study drew on program documents, site visits (including interviews with grantee and subgrantee staff, partner staff, and focus groups with participants and their parents), telephone interviews with project management, service provision data from the program’s management information system, and baseline and 12-month follow-up surveys of participants. The study was conducted from November 2008 through April 2011.
The study found that Youth Works implemented the YTD model as designed, though it faced some substantial challenges. Lack of transportation was a major barrier to employment for participants; the program addressed this by seeking help from vocational rehabilitation providers, using flexible funds to subsidize transportation costs, and helping youth obtain driver’s licenses. The generally weak economy at the time also presented challenges for finding gainful employment for participants. In response, Youth Works offered a comprehensive menu of work-based experiences that served as stepping stones to competitive paid jobs. The project also had difficulty providing services in remote locations; staff overcame this by traveling to participants’ homes, delivering services via telephone, and adapting their responsibilities to respond to participants’ needs.
The program operated in a challenging context, but compensated by employing a strong management team and committed frontline staff. At the time of implementation, West Virginia had the largest share of adults with disabilities in the United States and ranked third among all states in the proportion of youth with disabilities. State residents were economically disadvantaged relative to the rest of the country, and although services existed for youth with disabilities, these services were fragmented, uncoordinated, and limited, with many agencies relying on waiting lists of youth to be served. To implement Youth Works, the grantee established informal partnerships with the state workforce board, the state division for vocational rehabilitation, and other organizations to provide assistance with job search and referrals to social services.
All participants received some project services and most received at least one contact for each of the four major types of service: benefits planning, employment, education, and case management. Virtually all (99 percent) received benefits planning services, which reflects the project’s emphasis on educating youth about work incentives. Overall, 96 percent received employment-related services and 72 percent received some form of education service. Virtually all (99 percent) received case management services; the most common contact was a general check-in. Youth Works staff made 46 service contacts for each participant, for a total of 34 hours of service, and an average of 24 hours of direct service contacts involving youth. In the follow-up survey, nearly one-third of respondents did not recall receiving Youth Works services. Despite this, 58 percent reported that their overall experience with the project was good or very good, and 62 percent reported that project services were somewhat or very useful.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The study clearly identified the research question and topics of interest and explored an array of data sources to explore these topics. It included a systematic description of findings and effectively illustrated findings with case studies, quotes from interviews and focus groups, and descriptive quantitative management information system and survey data. Qualitative and quantitative data were triangulated, but the study did not include a thorough description of data collection, data analysis, and data quality control. The study findings are potentially applicable to other current or future projects that provide employment-related services to youth with disabilities; however, the absence of information on methods and analysis makes it difficult to determine the extent to which the findings reflect the average program experience.