Connecting to Opportunity: Lessons on Adapting Interventions for Young People Experiencing Homelessness or Systems Involvement

Connecting to Opportunity: Lessons on Adapting Interventions for Young People Experiencing Homelessness or Systems Involvement

Launched in 2015 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Corporation for National and Community Service, the Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP) program is helping to improve education and employment outcomes for youth who are in foster care, involved in the criminal justice system, or homeless, an evaluation by MDRC finds. Funded by the Casey Foundation, CNCS, the Ballmer Group, and the William T. Grant, John T. Gorman, Conrad N. Hilton, and Rasmuson foundations, the report, Connecting to Opportunity: Lessons on Adapting Interventions for Young People Experiencing Homelessness or Systems Involvement (150 pages, PDF), evaluated the program's early implementation of the Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) model, which helps disconnected youth earn a high school diploma or equivalent and gain the skills needed to obtain a postsecondary credential or quality job, as well as the Jobs for the Future's Back on Track model, which helps youth transition to and persist through the crucial first year of college or advanced training. In partnership with ten grantees in eight states, LEAP enrolled nearly twenty-eight hundred participants in the first three years — of whom more than 80 percent were youth of color, 51 percent had been in foster care, 37 percent had been involved in the justice system, and 50 percent had been homeless — with the two models being adapted to address barriers typically faced by youth, including disrupted schooling, limited family support, and trauma. According to the evaluation, 68 percent of Back on Track participants — a majority of whom already had a high school diploma and work experience — enrolled in postsecondary education or a job-training program, while 40 percent persisted in school and completed their first year. Of the JAG program participants, however, only 40 percent earned a high school credential, and of that group 76 percent were either employed or in school at some point during the following six months. The report also found that cross-sectoral partnerships are essential for aligning resources, recruiting participants, and connecting them with the services and support they need to succeed, and that one-on-one learning opportunities, flexible scheduling, "pause" options, and other targeted support can help keep young people engaged when they face unexpected challenges. The report's recommendations for LEAP include addressing structural barriers by working to change local policies and practices; developing recruitment pathways through partnerships and data-sharing agreements with nonprofits and agencies; and improving staff retention to mitigate the impact of turnover on participants.

Featured connections