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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.”

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