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YVLifeSet youth consult with US Department of Labor

July 22, 2015

mynextmoveA group of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet participants recently volunteered their time with the United States Department of Labor to help provide feedback on the department’s newly developed web-based career tool for foster youth and those aging out.

Youth Villages was one of six organizations that participated in a U.S. Department of Labor listening group, a type of focus group, during which youth were introduced to the department’s web-based career tool and asked to provide suggestions about how the tools can be tailored to help address the unique needs and challenges of foster youth.

The web-based tools are designed to help current and former foster youth begin thinking about a first job as well as identify career interests and potential career options, along with providing career counseling, developing career plans and connecting youth to educational or vocational programs as well as jobs.

“It is especially challenging for foster youth and former foster youth to establish a solid career because they often lack consistent adult support, along with crucial financial resources,” said Mary Lee, national coordinator of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program.

In addition to Youth Villages, organizations participating in the listening sessions included: D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, FEGS, Juvenile Law Center, The Urban Alliance and Youth Leadership Advisory Team.

“We had 17 youth participate,” Lee said. “They enjoyed seeing the tool, learning about it and helping shape it so it can make a difference for the thousands of young people just like them who are in or aging out of care every year.”

To access the Department of Labor’s new career website for foster youth, visit

Gov. Bill Haslam joins Youth Villages in announcing results of rigorous study on how effectively to help Tennessee’s former foster youth

July 7, 2015

Gov. Bill Haslam recently joined former foster youth and national experts at Youth Villages Memphis Operations Center to announce and discuss the positive results of a landmark five-year study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program in Tennessee.

“It’s incredibly encouraging for us in the state of Tennessee to see an organization like Youth Villages really dig in and do the research and say ‘we’re not just going to announce another program that we think might make a difference; we’re going to do the research and measure the difference the program makes,’” the governor said. “Government at its very best has data, and it has heart.”

The study, conducted by MDRC and Dr. Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago, is the largest random assignment evaluation of a program serving this population and one of the first to show multiple positive benefits for youth. More than 1,300 young people in Tennessee participated in the study and received services from either YVLifeSet or other programs available in their communities. Researchers studied both groups to determine the impact of the Youth Villages program.

“Across every range of services that we looked at — housing, employment, education, health — participants in YVLifeSet received a lot more help than the young people who were not in the program,” Dr. Courtney said. He has conducted many studies of programs to help young people in this population and is the principal investigator on the “Midwest Study,” which followed young people in three Midwest states over many years and spurred the push to expand foster care services to age 21.

Young people in the YVLifeSet group showed an increase in earnings, a decrease in homelessness, a decrease in economic hardship, better mental health and a dramatic reduction in living in violent relationships, Dr. Courtney said.

“There were positive outcomes across all subgroups,” he concluded. “It didn’t matter whether they lived in a rural or urban area, whether they had been in just the child welfare system or just the juvenile justice system or both.”

He said the state of Tennessee and Youth Villages deserve credit for “the courage involved in the investment in this program over a long period of time and investing in a clinical trial.”

The YVLifeSet program has helped more than 7,000 young people who aged out of foster care or juvenile justice in Tennessee since 1999. In 2013, Gov. Haslam expanded the program so it could be offered to 100 percent of the young people who age out of custody in Tennessee. The expansion was financed through an innovative public-private partnership between the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Youth Villages donors. It made Tennessee the first state to offer comprehensive intensive help to every young person who ages out of care.

Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler praised the Governor for his support. “You know, good governors provide strong leadership across their state,” Lawler said. “But truly great governors influence governors all across America. And that’s our governor – a pacesetter.”

Youth Villages already provides YVLifeSet in six other states and is hoping to bring the program to more of the 23,000 young people who age out of foster care across the country without ever being reunited with their own families or finding a new one through adoption.

“This is a program that can be used in a variety of ways around the country,” Dr. Courtney said. “There are a lot of states trying to do the right thing and trying to support young people transitioning out of foster care, but they’re struggling with how to do that well. This program has impacts across a lot of outcomes, it has worked all over the state of Tennessee, and there’s reason to believe that it will work in a lot of different contexts.”

Gov. Haslam said states have almost a sacred obligation to these most vulnerable young people.

“The least we can do is make certain that these kids who have been given into our care get the help they need,” he said. “We’re both proud that we’re the only state to do this and a little regretful that others haven’t come along with us.”

‘Cornhole for a Cause’ an overwhelming success in Massachusetts

June 26, 2015


See more photos…

Approximately 130 guests joined us May 31, 2015, at Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Massachusetts, for Youth Villages’ Cornhole for a Cause event.

Thirty-three teams competed in this year’s tournament, which generated more than $4,000 to help provide youth in our programs access to positive extracurricular activities that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Thanks to all those who played and those who supported this year’s Cornhole Tournament.

Congratulations to our winners!

  • 1st Place: Team “Bentley Bros” consisting of Curtis Freedman and Brian Cusick
  • 2nd Place: Team “Cornhole on Fleek #blessed” made up of Justin Nihon and Cait Ryan
  • 3rd Place: Lelani and Rich Foster, known as team “Kernel Fosters”

If you were unable to attend, it is not too late to support our efforts.


For questions or more information, please contact Kimberly Santos, special events manager, by email or call her at 781-937-7905.

Clinton Global Initiative America commitment improves the lives of Tennessee’s former foster youth

June 24, 2015

Every former foster youth who turned 18 in Tennessee was offered intensive help to transition successfully to independent adulthood in 2014 as part of a Youth Villages commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative America.

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

The Clinton Foundation initiative, which convenes leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to America’s economic recovery, includes a 2013 four-year commitment by Youth Villages to make effective, comprehensive transition services available to every young adult aging out of foster care and juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. Youth Villages is able to pursue the initiative through a partnership with the State of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services.

Youth Villages announced the results from the first year of its commitment on the heels of the 2015 CGI America in early June, which brought together more than 1,000 nonprofit, business and government leaders to share their commitments and updates on those commitments. The 1,356 youth helped by Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program across Tennessee from July 2013 through June 2014 were doing well at that point in the program, with 75 percent of the participants in school or graduated, 70 percent employed or seeking employment, 91 percent living with family or independently and 91 percent reporting no trouble with the law.

“Through this commitment, Tennessee became the first state to offer comprehensive transition services to every single young person aging out of state care,” said Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler. “We helped more than a thousand young people last year. This commitment demonstrates that there’s a highly effective model for this vulnerable population, and it’s a scalable program that is a practical, cost-effective solution to a national problem.”

In a unique public-private partnership between Tennessee’s DCS and Youth Villages, the organization began offering comprehensive transition services to every young person aging out of Tennessee state care in 2013 through the organization’s YVLifeSet program, formerly called transitional living services. Participation in the program is voluntary and about half of youth aging out of Tennessee’s foster and juvenile justice systems chose to participate.

Their success is in contrast to outcomes reported by studies conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and others on former foster youth that found young people at significantly higher risks of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, unaddressed mental health issues and unemployment in comparison to young adults who have not spent time in foster care or juvenile justice placements.

Youth Villages recently completed a rigorous, randomized trial of its YVLifeSet program, showing positive one-year results. The study, designed by The University of Chicago and conducted by the non-partisan social science research nonprofit organization MDRC, followed more than 1,300 young adults who had aged out of foster care or juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. The researchers found that, one year after program completion, the young people who participated in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services had achieved increased earnings and greater economic well-being, experienced better mental health conditions, had greater housing stability and were less likely to be involved in a violent relationship than young people from the same backgrounds who received other services available in the community. For more information about the study, visit

The general lack of support and effective services for former foster youth translate into significant social services costs incurred by the adult over a lifetime, estimated at an average $300,000 per person, according to Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. With approximately 23,000 youth aging out each year, costs add up to almost $7 billion for each year’s group.

In the Youth Villages-Tennessee partnership, YVLifeSet services are funded in part by the state and in part by Youth Villages’ fundraising efforts. The commitment is a significant expansion of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program and is costing $30 million during the four years. More than half of that was committed by private funders, including funds from a legacy challenge grant from Memphis philanthropist Clarence Day and The Day Foundation. The program, begun through Day Foundation funding in 1999 and expanded through the support of Tennessee’s DCS, has helped more than 7,500 young people so far.

“Former foster youth typically lack that crucial support young adults need to make a successful transition into independent adulthood,” Lawler said. “Providing the help these young adults need is not only the right thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. YVLifeSet benefits all of us.”

YVLifeSet matches young adults ages 17-22 with trained specialists who help young people identify their goals and guide them in taking the needed steps to begin achieving those goals. Program participants meet with their specialist on a weekly basis and can reach them by phone 24/7 for support. YVLifeSet specialists typically help young adults complete their education and go on to higher education, find and maintain housing, learn to budget, access health and mental health care, form healthy relationships and reconnect with family when possible. The program is tailored to each youth’s individual goals and typically takes around seven to nine months to complete.

Six things you should know about growing up in foster care

June 2, 2015

Mary Lee

Mary Lee

By Mary Lee, National coordinator of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program

When I was about 12 years old, I was removed from my family and placed into the Tennessee child welfare system as a foster child. I had to pack all my belongings into trash bags and leave the home I knew behind. Roughly five years later, one week before my 18th birthday, I was adopted by my forever family.

I was very, very fortunate. I went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees and found a career where I can work every day to help foster children and youth. I work in a program that helps young people who age out of state custody without ever being reunited with their families or finding a new one through adoption. Last week, I was one of 12 foster care advocates honored by the White House as Foster Care Champions of Change. We all can help the 400,000 children in foster care and the 23,000 who will turn 18 and “age out” of foster care alone this year.

But to do that, we need more people to understand foster children and the unique challenges they face. Here are six things foster children and youth want you to know.

  1. Many of us could avoid foster care if the right help were provided to our parents. Intensive services that strengthen and restore struggling families can keep children out of foster care entirely. That’s best for most kids – and society. Just the act of entering the foster care system, being taken away from your family, is traumatic and can cause serious emotional damage. The state just isn’t equipped to be a parent.
  2. Thankfully, most children don’t actually “grow up” in foster care anymore. There was a time when a baby could enter foster care only to exit at 18. Now, under federal regulations, states are required to help children and youth find a permanent family situation more quickly than before. In 2013, the average length of stay in foster care was 13.5 months. That’s still too long in the life of a child. Children enter foster care at all ages. The greatest need is for people to become foster and adoptive parents to teenagers. Most of the young people who age out of foster care at 18 enter foster care as teenagers or have had multiple foster care stints.
  3. The system is a scary place for children. Even if your family is chaotic, neglectful or abusive, being taken away from everything you’ve known is terrifying. Imagine having to go live with strangers, often a series of strangers, and there’s nothing you can do. Foster children have no control over their lives, and that lack of control causes continual insecurity. They don’t know how long they’ll be in a particular foster home or where they’ll be going to school next month or next year. Foster teens aren’t allowed to do many things other teens do, like getting a drivers license or going to sleepovers. Just the act of entering foster care can cause serious emotional trauma. In fact, one study found that foster children are more likely to suffer PTSD than combat veterans.
  4. Most foster parents are good people, but there aren’t enough of them. Most foster parents aren’t like the ones you see on TV news in unfortunate ways. They try hard and do the best they can to help the children who come to them. There just aren’t enough good foster homes. When foster care is at its best, each child is matched with a family who best meets his or her specific needs and interests. Stays are really temporary – a month or so, as intensive services are provided to parents or kinship care is found. In today’s systems, most often kids go to the foster home that has an empty bed. Some children end up in group homes, shelters or other congregate care facilities. That’s worse.
  5. Foster kids are good kids in a bad situation. Foster kids are just kids – like your kids. But they’ve experienced more difficult situations and hard times than most adults ever will. Some develop emotional and behavioral problems and challenging behaviors. Most have tough outer shells to protect themselves from more hurt and rejection. They desperately need committed adults to make a difference in their lives. They want someone to cheer for them at their football games, go to ballet recitals, help with homework.
  6. Adopting from foster care is not as hard as you would think. Heard about how expensive adoptions are? Well, not from foster care. When you foster-to-adopt, you’ll receive a reimbursement to cover the cost of providing for another child in your home, and you may qualify for a continuing support after adoption. The child’s health care and college expenses may be covered as well. And you may be surprised to hear that most teens want to be adopted; I was 17 when I was adopted and my family is still so important to me today.

In every state system, there are thousands of children and youth who haven’t received the help they need to be reunited with their family or find a new one through adoption. We can do better than this and we should.

Mary Lee is national coordinator for YVLifeSet, a program of Youth Villages that provides help to youth who age out of state custody at 18 without continuing support. The program was recently the focus of an MDRC/University of Chicago study that found it increases earnings and economic well-being, improves mental health and decreases homelessness and partner violence for the young people who participate in it. For more information, visit

National policy experts panel discusses YVLifeSet’s effectiveness in Capitol Hill roundtable

May 22, 2015
Mark Courtney,  a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was the principal investigator for a key study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program.

Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was the principal investigator for a key study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program. More photos below.

A panel of national policy and research experts met on Capitol Hill May 20 before an audience of state and federal policymakers to discuss evidence that the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program improves outcomes for former foster youth.

[You can watch the entire roundtable discussion at the bottom of this post.]

Hosted by Results for America and Youth Villages, the event featured researchers from national social services research nonprofit MDRC and the University of Chicago, who presented the results of the largest study to date conducted on a program helping former foster youth transition into adulthood in the United States. The rigorous, randomized trial shows promising results and implications in multiple areas for how to effectively help one of the country’s most vulnerable populations – the 23,000 young people who turn 18 and age out of foster care systems each year.

“It is the largest, rigorous evaluation ever conducted for services for this population,” said Dr. Erin Valentine, lead author of the MDRC study.

Researchers followed more than 1,300 young people who aged out state custody in Tennessee who were randomly assigned to receive either Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services or other available services in the community. The one-year results from the study showed that the YVLifeSet program increased participants’ economic well-being and earnings, improved mental health, and decreased the likeliness of homelessness and domestic or partner violence. One-year results of the program did not show statistically significant impacts in education, criminal involvement or social support.

“Overall, YVLifeSet had a number of positive impacts on important outcomes,” Valentine said. “As far as the size of the impacts, they are consistent with the type of individualized program that this is. In addition, the impacts are very important. This is the only program that has been found to be effective through rigorous research across a wide range of issues for these very vulnerable young people.”

Read more…

White House honors foster care youth as ‘Champions of Change’

May 19, 2015

Watch the entire event on Youtube.

Today the White House honored 12 former foster youth as “Champions of Change” who are making a difference in their communities. In addition to honoring these young people for their courage, resilience, and contributions, the event highlighted their commitment to furthering their education. The event showcased the stories and work of these inspirational leaders as a part of National Foster Care Month.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

Among the honorees were Mary Lee, national coordinator for Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program, and Sixto Cancel, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and member of Youth Villages’ YV Scholar program.

Mary Lee

Mary Lee

Mary Lee, Memphis, Tennessee
Mary Lee, Esq., serves as National YVLifeSet Coordinator for Youth Villages, a national children’s services nonprofit headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. YVLifeSet helps provide vulnerable young adults, some of whom are aging out of foster care, with the skills necessary to achieve their fullest potential. At Youth Villages, Lee helped to establish the YV Scholars program, which offers young adults in YVLifeSet additional support to meet their educational goals. One of Lee’s greatest achievements was helping ensure foster youth adopted from state custody would not have to choose between being adopted by a family and pursuing higher education, as she did. Her story inspired the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act (nicknamed the Mary Lee Act). Mary Lee is a graduate of Austin Peay State University and The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.

Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel, Richmond, Virginia
Sixto Cancel is a college student and a Young Adult Consultant with the Children’s Bureau, working in the Center for State Capacity. As a commitment maker for the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), Cancel founded Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to innovating with data, technology and multi-media to serve vulnerable populations. His dedication to helping young people succeed in life started in high school with Stellar Works, his initiative to provide SAT and remedial education programing for students in foster care. He has also served as a member of the National Foster Care and Alumni Policy Council, as an advisory member to the American Institutes for Research LGBTQQA Advisory Board, and currently serves as a board member of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Cancel is a fourth year student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Youth Villages congratulates Mary and Sixto on this tremendous honor!


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