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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 www.MDRC.org.

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.

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