Home to the Urban InstituteHelping At-Risk Youth
Helping
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Introduction

n recent years, attention has increasingly focused on issues such as youth crime and violence, substance abuse, gangs, school dropouts, academic performance, and other issues associated with "at-risk youth." Common sense and years of research suggest that at-risk youth and their families have multiple needs and interrelated problem behaviors that are not likely to be successfully addressed by single-response, stand-alone initiatives. There is growing interest in community-based collaboratives focused on services integration or comprehensive service delivery that address clients' multiple needs by implementing a broad-based continuum of care and linking youth and families to a variety of services.

Support for such initiatives by federal agencies and foundations underscores the interest in exploring these approaches and in communicating lessons learned to assist similar efforts. For example, the U. S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) provides support for the SafeFutures initiative. A federal interagency partnership, including the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services and OJJDP, supported Communities in Schools (CIS). The Annie E. Casey Foundation funded the New Futures initiative in five cities. OJJDP and two other DOJ agencies, the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice, joined a consortium of foundations, trusts, and other organizations to support the Children at Risk (CAR) initiative. Another community-based collaboration supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance is the Comprehensive Communities Program, which addresses overall community crime prevention and includes a youth crime prevention component.

This report draws on the experiences of such initiatives to distill findings and suggestions that may benefit other communities seeking to introduce or already in the process of implementing such efforts. The information here is intended for two primary audiences: (1) community leaders and others who make decisions about introducing community-based initatives for at-risk youth or who guide such initiatives, and (2) program administrators responsible for managing such initiatives.

The five topics addressed here—services integration and case management, parental involvement, using volunteers for tutoring and mentoring, fund-raising and marketing, and monitoring program outcomes—are critical components of community-based initiatives for at-risk youth, yet local programs often experience difficulty implementing them. The suggestions presented here derive from experiences reported by or observed at a variety of programs. They are primarily drawn from an evaluation of CIS, which included field visits to CIS programs in 21 communities. Some material is drawn from an on-going evaluation of the SafeFutures initiative. Since SafeFutures is a relatively new effort (local implementation began during summer 1996) and was not fully implemented at the time of this study, fewer examples are drawn from it than from CIS. Examples also are drawn from an evaluation of the CAR demonstration program (based on reports developed by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) to document the implementation and operations of the program; see "Resources" section).

Brief descriptions of experiences or practices of various community programs are used to illustrate points made or suggestions provided. In some cases, several examples are used to demonstrate diversity in approaches. Due to space limitations, only selected examples can be presented, even though other programs may use similar practices. Some CIS programs are cited repeatedly because they illustrate practices in different areas addressed here, such as case management, use of volunteers, and fund-raising. The CIS and CAR examples reflect circumstances during the time period covered by those evaluations (from October 1991 to February 1994 for CIS, and from fall 1992 through December 1995 for CAR). SafeFutures examples reflect conditions and practices through early 1997. Changes may have occurred subsequently.

Overviews of the three initiatives are provided below as context for the material that follows.

Communities in Schools, Inc., formerly called Cities in Schools, is a national, nonprofit organization that encourages the coordination of youth-oriented services in local communities and schools. The CIS model is based on holistic approaches to school-based, site-specific services to youth at risk of dropping out of school. The CIS model is based on using existing community resources and services that are integrated and repositioned at school sites to achieve dropout reduction and to mitigate related problems, such as teen pregnancy, gang involvement, violence, and other risky behaviors. The model assumes that youth who drop out of school generally have nonacademic problems (such as low income, dysfunctional families, health or mental health problems, substance abuse, etc.) as well as academic ones. The belief is that nonacademic issues must be addressed to adequately resolve the dropout problem.

Autonomous city- or county-level CIS programs develop partnerships with local government (e.g., school districts), service agencies, and local businesses. Usually structured as nonprofit corporations, the community programs are responsible for initiating and managing CIS school-based projects and for developing resources to support program administration and service delivery. There are more than 100 local CIS programs in the United States, and others are under development.

At the school level, the prototype involves bringing together a team of adults to provide services to youth identified as being at risk of dropping out. The team ideally includes case managers, service providers (e.g., counselors from substance abuse agencies), and volunteers (who provide a variety of services, most commonly tutoring or mentoring) under the supervision of a project coordinator, who may serve a dual role as a CIS, school district, or service agency staff member.

The original CIS approach targeted a relatively small number of students in each school. Eligibility criteria generally included poor academic performance, school behavioral problems, or presence of risk indicators. A variation on this approach is the CIS academy, often organized as a separate "alternative school" in which all students are part of the CIS program, or as a "school within a school." Another variation is the "whole school" model, in which all students are considered CIS participants, although some students may be targeted for more intensive services than others. Although CIS programs initially were formed at the high school level, they have been implemented widely in middle schools and even in elementary schools.

CIS programs typically provide some form of case management to assess student needs, develop service delivery plans, and monitor student progress. Services commonly provided on site or by referral include counseling, health care, assessment of employability skills, anger management, and prevention education. Some of these services are offered in a CIS class, which is frequently provided as an elective in middle and high schools. While the CIS classes' content varies by program, many feature life-skills education, which may include employment-related topics, as well as a variety of prevention-oriented topics, study skills, and remedial education. Other CIS services range from individual or group counseling and field trips—provided by virtually all programs—to more specialized offerings, such as teen parenting programs. Most programs have established tutoring or mentoring programs for CIS students.

SafeFutures is a five-year demonstration program supported by OJJDP in six communities: Boston, Massachusetts; Contra Costa County, California; Fort Belknap, Montana; Imperial County, California; Seattle, Washington; and St. Louis, Missouri. The participating sites were selected to represent urban, rural, and Native American communities and their efforts to combat delinquency, youth gangs, and serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. The initiative is being implemented in specified target areas or to specified target groups in most of the communities.

The SafeFutures initiative links research findings about risk and protective factors for youth with state-of-the-art knowledge about "what works" in juvenile delinquency prevention and control. SafeFutures goals include the prevention and control of youth violence and delinquency by reducing community risk factors, increasing factors that protect youth from delinquency, developing a continuum of services for at-risk and delinquent youth, and imposing graduated sanctions for juvenile offenders. At a broader level, the initiative is intended to facilitate an enhanced service delivery system and build the community's capacity to institutionalize and sustain the efforts implemented under SafeFutures.

SafeFutures implementation is overseen by local collaborations of key community stakeholders responsible for providing services to at-risk youth, such as schools, health and human services agencies, law enforcement, probation offices, and juvenile courts. These stakeholders are responsible for such activities as community needs assessment, strategic planning, and service coordination. The SafeFutures initiative does not provide a specific model for service configuration, enabling local autonomy to develop a system conforming to local needs and resources. Most communities use case management to promote service coordination and linkages; some provide school-based services, including use of Family Resource Centers in schools.

The initiative funds services in nine recommended or required component areas: after-school programs; mentoring; family strengthening; mental health; delinquency prevention (such as tutoring, employability skills training, substance abuse prevention, leadership development, or recreational services); gang-free schools and communities efforts; programming for at-risk and delinquent girls; rehabilitation services and graduated sanctions for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders; and implementation of intensive, nonresidential, community-based treatment centers for pre- and postadjudicated youth. Taken together, the SafeFutures program components provide a foundation for community development of customized, comprehensive frameworks and graduated interventions.

Children at Risk was an intensive, two-year intervention for high-risk youth in high-risk neighborhoods. CASA, in partnership with DOJ, managed the demonstration program. Programs were initiated in four communities in fall 1992; two others were added in early 1993. Participating communities included Austin, Texas; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Memphis, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Savannah, Georgia; and Seattle, Washington. Local programs followed the basic CAR model but had flexibility in implementation. Several programs used names other than CAR, including the CAR predecessor, Strategic Intervention for High Risk Youth, or locally-determined names.

CAR was a comprehensive, community-based initiative that brought together social services, law enforcement, and juvenile justice agencies to provide intensive prevention and intervention services to youth and families. The model was intended to bring about increased prosocial bonding and to build educational and social skills for future success by reducing neighborhood, family, peer-group, and personal risks. CAR programs operated within target areas characterized by high crime, poverty, and social problems. Youth in the program met specified risk criteria, attended selected schools in the target area, and were eleven to thirteen years old when they began participating.

Lead agencies in the CAR program created multiagency networks to implement a comprehensive set of services to eligible youth. Enhanced law enforcement efforts and community policing were required in the target areas as part of the model to reduce illegal drugs and crime in participants' neighborhoods. Other core services in the CAR model included intensive case management, family services, education services (such as tutoring or homework assistance), after-school and summer activities, mentoring, incentives, and juvenile justice interventions (such as working with juvenile courts to provide community service opportunities and enhanced supervision of youth in the justice system). The initiative also sought to better coordinate service delivery among human services and justice system agencies for program participants. The linkages created among collaborators were also intended to have a broader effect on service delivery in the community.


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