Developing Positive Young Adults: Lessons from Two Decades of YouthBuild Programs
Author(s): Ferguson, Ronald F.; Snipes, Jason; Hossain, Farhana; and Manno, Michelle S.
Organizational Author(s): MDRC, Harvard University, and WestEd
Funding source not identified
Resource Availability: Publicly available
Pairs qualitative findings from two different studies of YouthBuild, one study drawing on interviews with participants and staff and the second on a survey of program directors, to explore less tangible participant outcomes, such as optimism and self-efficacy.
“[T]he high school graduation rate [in the United States] has increased in recent years, but high school dropouts…are disproportionately disconnected from work, more likely to live in chronic poverty, and at greater risk for criminal behavior.
YouthBuild strives to help.…[T]he program offers academic support, job skills training, counseling and case management…and opportunities for community service.…[T]he program aims to deliver these services in a culture that focuses on positive youth development....
A…body of evidence suggests that programs that…incorporate…youth development principles and practices…are more effective in decreasing negative outcomes and increasing young people’s chances of long-term success. While quantifiable measures such as educational attainment…are important to gauge the impact of a program…, it is [also important]…to understand the less tangible outcomes that may predict success....
This report presents findings from two separate research efforts that shed light on the process of youth transformation and identity development in YouthBuild. The first paper [A Framework for Understanding Identify Development: Findings from YouthBuild Programs], written in 1997…, is based on a formative evaluation of early YouthBuild programs between 1991 and 1994” (p.iii). That evaluation included “200…interviews with staff and program participants across…five sites” (p.8).
“The second paper [Transforming Youth from the Inside Out: Program Directors’ Views of YouthBuild’s Potential] presents the findings from a 2014 survey of  YouthBuild program directors across the country” (p.iii). “Using a new set of questions based on the findings of [the earlier paper], [the authors] surveyed and interviewed current YouthBuild program directors to determine whether the statements about youth transformation reported more than 20 years ago continue to ring true today” (p.3).
The authors note that additional findings on YouthBuild, including the preliminary results of an impact study, will be available in 2017.
(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)
Major Findings & Recommendations
“As part of [the formative evaluation of the] YouthBuild Demonstration Project [from 1991 to 1994], participants (trainees) were interviewed as they were nearing the end of their time in the program and asked to talk about how others would describe them. Some participants were also asked what the answer to the same question would have been a year earlier. Through this line of questioning, the trainees reflected on the transformation that others would perceive in them from the start to the conclusion of their YouthBuild participation.…[The authors] found that whether or not the young people completed their GED [General Education Development] exams or received any particular certificate for achievement of new skills, they described themselves as more efficacious, optimistic, and morally upright than they had been a year earlier. The authors also shed light on the barriers to success faced by YouthBuild participants and detailed a framework for understanding why some youth achieved personal growth and positive identity development in YouthBuild but others left the program largely unaffected” (p.3).
“While limited in scope, the survey and interviews with YouthBuild program directors support the findings in [the study] from 20 years ago: ‘When young people are ready to change and the YouthBuild model is implemented well, it appears to have the components and qualities that they need to point their lives in a positive direction.’ This effort was not designed to be a rigorous evaluation of the impact of YouthBuild on its participants; instead it was launched to better understand some of the less tangible outcomes that the program is expected to affect, such as formation of positive identity, from the point of view of today’s program leaders.
Findings from this follow-up study, as well as the [original] paper, suggest that traditional measures of program success, including attainment of a GED certificate or a job, may not fully reflect all the potential benefits of the program. Participants who have been disconnected from school and work for a long time may find it difficult to pass the GED or find a job that pays a living wage in the short run; but by resetting the way they view themselves and their place in family and community life, YouthBuild could be a catalyst for long-term change. For example, many program directors spoke of the way YouthBuild improves parenting behaviors, with potential impacts on future generations” (p.64-65).