In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service awarded a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant to Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. The grant was used to expand our successful Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) model to rural communities across the state to help unconnected youth, including young people aging out of foster care, to become thriving citizens.
WestEd, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency, recently completed an independent study of CYI as part of the SIF grant. Key partners in this study include Nebraska Children, Corporation for National and Community Service, WestEd, local research partners, and Community Collaboratives.
We are energized to see that participation in CYI may be associated with some successful outcomes. We’ll explain all of that and more.
A key feature of the study is its use of a rigorous, quasi-experimental design, which observes differences in outcomes between a treatment and comparison group. Nebraska Children worked alongside WestEd to support the creation of research questions, design of the study, and sense-making of results.
Using data that drew from Transitional Services Survey, interviews with Nebraska Children and provider partners, the study’s primary respondents were unconnected young adults including those like Sheri, and CYI participants living in one of 40 Nebraskan counties associated with six community collaboratives who received SIF grants.
Why CYI? Mission, Demographic, and Background
CYI is a statewide initiative with several communities now spread throughout Nebraska. Each CYI community offers resources for unconnected youth. Resources include Central Navigation, Coaching, Opportunity Passport, and Youth Leadership, all of which continue to be successful.
CYI’s objective is to realize positive outcomes for its participants in areas of education, employment, permanence, housing, health, transportation, and economic stability.
Participants, including Sheri, a resilient young mother, are confronted with major life struggles which can contribute to fewer opportunities to pursue a fulfilling, healthy adult life. CYI’s goal is to help support young people as they realize and co-create a happier, healthier existence.
The program serves participants ages 14-24 who fit the following criteria:
- Have experience in Nebraska’s foster care system
- Have experience (but are not on probation) with the juvenile justice system
- Are homeless or near homeless
- Have had contact with child protective services
CYI’s collective impact approach creates system changes and supports young people through the following resources:
- Youth Leadership – Opportunities for empowerment through leadership and advocacy such as community youth councils to provide feedback about the CYI system services (see article)
- Opportunity Passport™ – Participants open Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) at a local bank, learn financial literacy skills, save money, and receive matches for assets, cars, education, and dental expenses
- Support Services Funding – Emergency cash assistance available to assist youth in the event of unexpected financial difficulties including car repairs, utility bill surges, and unexpected medical costs
- Coaching – Partner organizations provide goal-oriented coaching for skills and access services and supports toward enhancing Youth Thrive™ promotive factors and successful, self-sufficient passage into adulthood which youth like Rosa utilized
- Central Navigation – A streamlined way to ensure participants gain access to all the services, become involved in communities, and achieve goals
What Did We Find Out?
The study’s primary question: to what extent does CYI improve dimensions of well-being for the young persons who participated compared to similar young people who did not participate?
- We have promising, preliminary results that participation in CYI may be associated with:
- 3.8x greater odds of having a safe and stable living situation
- 1.8x greater odds of having enough funds for expenses and 4x greater odds of having a savings account
- Estimated 13% improvement in perceived hope
- Up to 71% lower odds of multiple ER visits
- Implementation study findings highlight that:
- Young adults engage with CYI in a wide variety of ways, with 16 different types of programming/services combinations
- Some communities indicated that setting the CYI model within a collaborative infrastructure often generated greater awareness and understanding of the unconnected youth population within the community
While findings from the impact study are promising, they should be interpreted with caution due to a few study limitations. Specifically, there were some differences between treatment and comparison groups at the start of the study, and there were some participant attrition challenges. Nevertheless, we are encouraged by this news and will continue to share out the full results as they become available. These indicators may be linked to hope and success, which encourage our vision of a Nebraska where all children and youth thrive.