Washington, D.C. -- A Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University report found six community-based alternative-to-youth-incarceration and aftercare start-up programs were “extremely successful in serving youth and families, including those who may have had challenges engaging in other programs or services in the past.”
CJJR’s report was a collaboration with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., which launched the start-ups in 2019 and 2020 in partnership with juvenile justice and child welfare systems in Yavapai County, Arizona; Alameda County, California; Fulton County, Georgia; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Hamilton County, Ohio; and Illinois. Founded in 1975, YAP is a national nonprofit serving nearly 150 communities in 35 states and Washington, D.C. through contracts with youth justice, child welfare, and other systems partners. Culturally responsive YAP Advocates, credible messengers, and behavioral health professionals provide community-based alternative-to-incarceration/placement, aftercare, diversion, and public safety services.
The six jurisdictions in the CJJR report launched their programs using YAP/CJJR Safely Home Fund start-up grants, created to support the nonprofit’s work to build a national community-based continuum of care to improve outcomes for high-end justice-involved youth. Funding for the Safely Home Fund grants came from a generous donation to YAP from Ballmer Group.
CJJR researchers interviewed three dozen participants, staff, and systems administrators who were a part of the start-up programs. Responses consistently reflected that YAP Advocates understand the distinct challenges that participants and their families face; that program services are intensive, individualized, and strength-focused; that services are delivered in collaboration with youths’ families -- even beyond business hours; and that YAP equips families and youth with skills and resources critical to position young people for success and keep them safely at home.
Most youth referred to YAP by the six systems partners were on probation; had been adjudicated for or charged with felony offenses; and had been placed in a facility at least once, many having experienced multiple placements. Participants were mostly males with youth of color representing the largest percentage in each site – ranging from 50-100%.
Across the board, responses reflected the start-ups’ adherence to YAP’s guiding principles of delivering services that are individualized and led by participants and their families; implemented by culturally responsive staff in partnership with parents and guardians; focusing on strengths; neither rejecting nor ejecting participants; working as a team; delivering community-based care with unconditional caring; empowering participants to give back; and delivering services with fidelity to those principles.
From the Report:
- “One Program Director credited the program’s capability to respond to youth and families’ needs quickly and creatively to YAP’s ‘unorthodox and no red tape’ program design. This includes the ability to tap into flexible funding to meet any youth or family’s need. Examples shared included paying for tires for a parent’s car so they can drive to work, providing the youth and family with meals, and covering sports or work-related equipment or fees.”
- “One court stakeholder explained that the Advocates are able to authentically connect and form relationships with youth because they are able to say 'Look, this is the real world and I live in your community. I know where you're at. I don't live in an ivory tower and try to tell you what it's like to live in your neighborhood.'"
- “A caregiver shared that “a YAP Advocate helped her grandchild take a class so she could learn to advocate for her peers. As a result of this class, the youth is now helping another young person who is struggling with substance use. Yet another interviewee shared that with the Advocate’s support, a youth who was interested in astronomy was able to explore a local college’s meteorology program. Other examples of YAP-supported activities interviewees described included visits to art and history museums, boxing lessons, and playing sports.”
- “… after learning about a youth’s interest in making bread, an Advocate connected this youth to a training program on baking, guided the youth to get a job at a bakery, took the youth to and from trainings, and stayed at the training site until the youth felt comfortable going by himself."
In addition to the qualitative research, CJJR’s report included quantitative data from YAP on outcomes of the 133 youths served and discharged across the sites from 2019 – 2022.
- At discharge, about 83% of YAP youth were living in a community setting, with an average increase of about 25% across the six sites.
- On average across the six sites, approximately 61% of youth graduated high school, obtained a GED at discharge, or were attending school regularly (at least four times a week) compared to 50% upon referral,
- 39% had jobs or were engaged in vocational services, compared to 26% when they started with YAP.
- After enrolling in YAP, 100% of participants in four of the six sites, 91% in Alameda County, and 93% in Hamilton County had no new felonies.
The researchers noted that while interviews revealed that YAP’s services cost between $90 - $100 per day, a Justice Policy Institute report found that in 2020, states spent between $234 and $2,444 per confined youth per day with youth incarceration linked to poor outcomes and heightened recidivism. According to the report, “On the contrary, research evidence has suggested that community-based alternatives may be a more effective approach than out-of-home placements for many young people, especially when it comes to achieving pro-social and safety outcomes.”
Among the barriers to expanding services, the CJJR report noted that in some cases, limited agency budgets and related system capacity limitations meant that not all high-needs youth who would benefit from YAP could be served. Another challenge included a desire shared by some staff for increased pay and the need to limit the administrative dimensions of their jobs so they could dedicate more time with youth and families.
Learn more about YAP at yapinc.org. Learn more about CJJR at cjjr.georgetown.edu.