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Study Shows Boost to Positive Outcomes for Young Adults Aging Out of Foster Care and Juvenile Justice

May 12, 2015

Large, Rigorous Study Shows Youth Villages Program Increases Economic Well-being, Reduces Homelessness

MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released encouraging results today from a rigorous evaluation of Youth Villages’ transitional living program, called YVLifeSet, for young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. After one year, the program boosted earnings, increased housing stability and economic well-being, and improved outcomes related to health and safety for a population of very disadvantaged young people.

Read the full study on

Read the full study on

Young people who have spent time in the foster care or juvenile justice systems often experience poor outcomes as adults. Compared with their peers, they are less likely to obtain a high school credential or be employed, and more likely to experience homelessness, criminal justice involvement and mental health concerns, among other issues. The largest random assignment evaluation of a program serving this population, the MDRC study shows that YVLifeSet is one of the only programs that improves multiple outcomes for youth turning 18 and aging out of foster care and juvenile justice.

MDRC, with Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago, conducted a rigorous random assignment study of the YVLifeSet program in Tennessee, involving more than 1,300 young adults. The evaluation is being funded by The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Key findings after one year of follow-up include:

  • The program boosted earnings by 17 percent, increased housing stability and economic well-being (including a 22 percent decrease in the likelihood of experiencing homelessness), and improved some of the primary outcomes related to health and safety (including improvements in mental health and a decrease in intimate partner violence). It has not yet shown significant improvement in outcomes in the areas of education, social support or criminal involvement.
  • The program was found to be equally effective across different subgroups of youth, including youth with and without histories of juvenile justice custody.

“Until now, research on programs for young people aging out of foster care or juvenile justice systems has shown just how difficult it is to make a positive difference in their lives,” said MDRC President Gordon Berlin. “The Youth Villages intervention stands out as one program that demonstrably improves these young people’s well-being across a wide range of outcomes. Understanding whether these gains are sustained will be critically important.”

YVLifeSet provides intensive, individualized and clinically focused case management, support and services to young adults with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody. Young people participating in the program meet once a week – and often more – with their YVLifeSet specialist, who is trained in helping young adults navigate all aspects of adulthood. The specialist helps young people identify their goals and develop the life skills needed to reach those goals and to live successfully and independently. Specialists are on call 24/7 for the young people as they work on education, career, housing, financial, relationship and health goals.

Since Youth Villages started the YVLifeSet program in 1999, more than 7,500 young adults have participated in Tennessee, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, Florida, and Georgia.

“These young people are often the most vulnerable youth in our communities,” said Patrick Lawler, Youth Villages CEO. “At Youth Villages, we measure all our work, and in the late ’90s, we noticed that older teens who had spent the most time in foster care were the youth who had the worst outcomes. We developed the YVLifeSet program in 1999 to address their needs specifically. We’ve gotten great results with the program and are excited that the study shows the program’s effectiveness.”

Results for America and Youth Villages are convening a roundtable of experts to discuss the findings and their broader policy implications on May 20, 8:30-10:30 am, in 2168 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. To register, visit

In 2016, MDRC will release two-year impact findings based on administrative data in the education, employment and earnings, and criminal involvement domains, as well as findings from a benefit-cost analysis.

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