YAP traces its roots to a 1975 ruling that prohibited young people from being incarcerated with adult inmates at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, PA. Since that time, YAP programs have expanded into 16 other states as well as Washington, D.C. YAP also has affiliate programs in Ireland and provides assistance to like-minded agencies in Guatemala and Sierra Leone.
During the 1990s, YAP's services became available to young people who were dealing with clinical disorders as well as to young people who faced delinquency charges or dependency issues.
Since 2003, YAP has been led by CEO Jeff Fleischer, who joined the agency almost 25 years ago. Jeff reports to a distinguished Board of Directors led by Chairperson Lynette Brown-Sow. Currently, YAP employs more than 2,000 dedicated workers and serves approximately 10,000 families per year. We invite you to read and learn more about our program.
Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) is one of the largest non-profit Youth and Family Support agencies working with high-risk youth and their families in the United States. The Bridgespan Group recently cited YAP as one of the fastest growing non-profits in the past 30 years.
We currently have programs in 25 major US cities including Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Newark, Camden, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Toledo, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tampa, Jacksonville, Columbia, and Charleston, as well as dozens of other urban, suburban and rural communities. We have also developed and supported programs in Ireland, Scotland, Hawaii, Guatemala and Sierra Leone to work with their most vulnerable young people and families.
Our mission is to engage human service systems so that they rely less on institutional care and to invest more in supporting families and neighborhoods. We currently work with child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health, disability and education systems to develop and offer community-based alternatives for the highest risk children, young people, young adults and families. Our staff seeks to capitalize on the strength and resources of families and communities, including identifying and engaging the informal natural helpers that are found in every community to support the highest risk youth and families.
YAP has developed some unique service delivery principles that are the hallmark of our programs. These principles include: 1) a no refuse intake policy; 2) individualized planning process tailored to the needs and strengths of each family; 3) developing respectful partnerships with parents and caretakers; 4) a family focus and strength based approach to problem-solving; 5) recruitment of staff from the neighborhoods where the young people and families live; 6) organizing community members into teams to support families; 7) providing opportunities for young people and their families to give-back to family team members and the community so that youth are not viewed as "needy" clients but are considered resources and contributors; and 8) an optimistic, never-give-up approach. Local advocate staff, recruited from the same neighborhoods as the youth, serves as a form of "natural helper" to the referred youth. Advocates work early mornings, evenings and weekends directly with the children, young people and families. They are the linchpin of a holistic services model that combines elements of wraparound, mentoring, positive youth development and restorative justice.
Our model has been cited by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and several other external bodies as a "promising practice" in providing effective alternatives to institutional care.
YAP serves and empowers 10,000 families per year and employs 2,200 staff, all recruited from local neighborhoods. Our advocates range in education from Para Professionals to GEDs to Ph.Ds. We offer competitive salaries, health benefits and retirement savings to both salaried and hourly staff and university-certified training courses to all front-line staff who are essentially the natural helpers that reach out and work directly with the children, young people and families that shun traditional services.
There are many examples of how YAP has taken leadership roles in helping to change human service systems. For example:
- New Jersey - we helped to draft and implement the "Bring Our Children Home Act". The Act returned 1400 young people home from out of state institutions.
- Texas - we organized the first gang intervention programs to work with the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings, to reduce commitments to state correctional facilities.
- New York - we helped to return young offenders from secure state facilities, reduced the residential population and dramatically reduced recidivism rates.
- Pennsylvania - we organized an advocate group of citizens who are on the Autism/ASD spectrum, to advocate for building community capacity to better serve this population.
- Nevada - worked with Probation to shut down a Girls Wing of a detention center.
- Baltimore, Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, New Orleans, Newark and Camden - we worked with local stakeholders to develop alternative programs to return young offenders from the most infamous detention centers used by these cities.
- Provided effective community-based programs in Ireland to help the Health Service Executive to reduce their reliance on secure, institutional care
- Worked with Hale Kipa, a local Hawaiian Youth organization to advocate and develop community-based alternatives to the state correctional facility for Native Hawaiian and Samoan youth.
- Advocated to establish community alternatives to Louisiana's state juvenile correctional facilities and New Orleans' over crowded detention center.
- Advocated to begin a state wide gang intervention program in South Carolina.
- Advocated for the Guatemalan Government to consider funding a local street work organization as an alternative to overcrowded and dangerous youth detention centers.
- This past summer we organized a conference which launched an International Youth Advocacy Federation. The Federation includes organizational representatives and youth from 15 countries. Its mission is to advocate for vulnerable, at-risk young people around the world.
YAP is more than a "service provider"; we have demonstrated an ability to recruit and energize indigenous resident leaders in neighborhoods. This "resident engagement" has been critical to our success. We have often provided an "economic stimulus" in neighborhoods by employing those individuals who are not hired by traditional agencies. Our family-centered approach also allows us to help establish permanent connections for youth and young adults who often do not have identified persons in the community willing to provide support to them. In many states and jurisdictions, YAP has been engaged to reduce over-reliance on costly out-of-home placements, such as correctional facilities, psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment centers, group homes and foster homes.
As part of our systems change efforts, YAP Alumni Groups are being organized. These Groups are composed of young people who have graduated from our programs. The Alumni Groups organize their "Voices" to communicate the issues, concerns and needs of young people who live:
- Lingering in institutions
- In the margins of poverty;
- As members of gangs;
- Out of school;
- Out of work;
- With severe emotional challenges
- On the Autism spectrum
- With developmental challenges; and
- As victims of abuse and neglect.
With a common voice, these vulnerable young people and their families can work together to make needed changes in their local communities as well as at a national level.
YAP has had several external evaluations to measure our effectiveness working with the highest risk young people and their families, such as by the University of Ireland; Galway, Eastern Regional Health Board in Dublin, Rhea and Associates in Houston, University of South Florida, We currently have contracted with Public/Private Ventures, Inc. (PPV) to conduct a longitudinal experimental design study that will measure the effectiveness of our model. In addition, we have developed an internal Outcome Measurement System whereby we measure several variables for young people at intake, discharge and six months after discharge. We also measure customer satisfaction by sending surveys, calling all active families every month, and following up six months after discharge. We are also implementing agency standards of best practice to become accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA).
We have a wonderful, experienced and diverse independent Board of Directors including our Board Chair, Lynette Brown-Sow, esteemed member Stanley Straughter, and founder Tom Jeffers. The Board participates in Strategic Planning and meets during the year on Committees such as Executive, Finance, Audit, International, Systems Change, and Nominations. Our Board Members represent our programs from around the globe-Pennsylvania, United Kingdom, New Jersey, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Chicago.
YAP continues to thrive as a cutting edge learning organization, with a clear mission and solid values, constantly looking for ways to improve our services and systems change efforts. We will impact how our communities support, care for, organize and empower our most vulnerable and needy young people, adults and families in the US and abroad; and we will do this by tapping the strengths and capacities of the 10,000 families we serve each year and our amazingly dedicated YAP Staff.