OPRE’s Youth Demonstration Development Project

The transition from youth to adulthood is a challenge for nearly all adolescents. It’s a time period riddled with changes, challenges and difficult choices that influence the trajectory of the rest of their lives. In fact, the choices youth make regarding education, family formation and employment can affect their likelihood of becoming productive, self-sufficient adults. This transition is particularly difficult for particular groups of youth, including those who lack family support and resources, have grown up in deep poverty, have learning disabilities or mental health problems, or have been exposed to violence or abuse in childhood.

In 2009, the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) launched the Youth Demonstration Development Project (YDD) to systematically review the current field of research on youth development and successful transition to adulthood. Mathematica Policy Research and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago conducted the study.

YDD’s primary objective was to develop an evidence-informed conceptual framework that could be applied to existing or new ACF programs to improve the well-being of at-risk youth, and increase their ability to become self-sufficient adults and avoid long-term reliance on public assistance.

The YDD project, which concluded in March 2013, resulted in several research products:

Advancing the Self-Sufficiency and Well-Being of At-Risk Youth

A Conceptual Framework: How can programs advance the self-sufficiency and well-being of at-risk youth? This research report attempts to answer this important question by presenting a research-based framework for efforts to help at-risk youth enter a career workforce trajectory and prepare to become well-functioning, self-sufficient adults. The framework presented is particularly relevant for youth who are or could be served by ACF programs—especially homeless youth, youth in the foster care system, and teen parents. The framework suggests the possibility of using evidence-informed interventions to address two primary areas: youths’ resilience and human capital development. It suggests finding tailored solutions grounded in a trusting relationship between youth and program staff to help move youth toward both healthy functioning and economic self-sufficiency as they transition to adulthood.

Framework for Advancing the Well-being and Self-Sufficiency of At-Risk Youth

How can programs advance the well-being and self-sufficiency of at-risk youth? This issue brief summarizes a research-based framework for efforts to help at-risk youth enter a career workforce trajectory and prepare to become well-functioning, self-sufficient adults.

Connecting At-Risk Youth to Promising Occupations

Promising occupations for at-risk youth provide sufficient compensation and could put them on a path to becoming independent adults. To identify promising occupations, this issue brief examines four key features: 1) median earnings level, 2) education and training pre-requisites, 3) projected growth in labor-market demand, and 4) potential for individual advancement. Based on these criteria, opportunities in two fields are highlighted – health care and construction. A number of work-based learning and career pathway programs are also discussed, including ACF’s Health Profession Opportunity Grants program.

The Economic Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care

This issue brief describes the characteristics and economic well-being of young people aging out of foster care who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). It also compares their economic self-sufficiency to that of their heterosexual peers also aging out of care. The analysis uses data from the Midwest Study of Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, a longitudinal study that followed a sample of young people from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin as they transitioned out of foster care and into adulthood.

Synthesis of Research and Resources to Support at-Risk Youth

This research report provides a synthesis of research and existing ACF resources for serving at-risk youth. It describes what we know from research about at-risk youth, and how at-risk youth are currently being served by both ACF and non-ACF programs that have been shown to put youth on a path toward self-sufficiency. The report identifies issues to consider in creating conceptual frameworks for developing and enhancing ACF programs that can or do serve at-risk youth.

For more information about the YDD project or OPRE, please visit: www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre.