Panel Paper: A Foundation for Advancing the Well-Being and Self-Sufficiency of At-Risk Youth

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 9:45 AM
West End Ballroom D (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

M. Robin Dion and M. C. Bradley, Mathematica Policy Research
The path to economic self-sufficiency in adulthood can seem insurmountable for certain youth, such as those who lack stable family support, have grown up in deep poverty, or have been exposed to repeated violence and abuse as children (Osgood 2005).  These and similar circumstances are associated with high risk of dropping out of school, engaging in delinquent or criminal behavior, becoming homeless, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy—further limiting their prospects for labor market success (Danziger and Ratner 2010; Hoffman and Maynard 2008; Epstein and Greenberg 2003).

Programs to help at-risk youth as they transition to adulthood take a wide range of approaches, but are often missing solid evidence about effectiveness. On behalf of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mathematica Policy Research and its partner, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, have completed a three-year effort to develop a research-based conceptual framework that can be used to guide the implementation and evaluation of youth programs. The framework is designed to be a foundation for efforts to move at-risk youth toward both healthy functioning and economic self-sufficiency in adulthood.  It draws on theory, research, and practice to propose a model that can be used to build evidence about what works.

Based on a synthesis of research and extensive consultations with program practitioners and policy experts, the framework suggests the potential benefit of using current resources to combine evidence-informed interventions that grow out of two key perspectives:  youth’s resilience and human capital development. Resilience is the ability to withstand adverse circumstances, and can be developed by promoting protective factors and/or by reducing risk factors that threaten healthy development (Masten 2001; Rutter 1990). The capital development perspective, in contrast, suggests that youth need specific knowledge, connections, skills, and resources to succeed in school and the workplace: human, social, cultural, and economic capital (Bourdieu 1986; Farkas 2003; Portes 1998). At-risk youth often lack one or more of these types of capital and may have a complex constellation of risk factors. Currently, few youth programs incorporate a focus on both capital and resilience; yet attention to both areas is likely needed to improve the well-being of disadvantaged youth and help them embark on a trajectory toward self-sufficiency.

The presentation will describe the conceptual framework, including its component parts, how it was developed, and how it can be used to further our understanding of effective programs for at-risk youth. It will describe (1) how programs can earn the trust of vulnerable youth in order to engage them in a comprehensive assessment of risk and protective factors and planning for services based on that assessment, (2) categories of evidence-informed interventions for increasing resilience and capital, and (3) the short, intermediate, and long-term outcomes that would need to be assessed to determine program effectiveness through rigorous program evaluation.

Full Paper: