Youth At-Risk of Homelessness: Design for an Impact Study of “Pathways to Success”: A Coach-Like Case Management Program for Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care

Publication Date: September 21, 2021
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  • Pages: 42
  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. What is the impact of Pathways on key outcomes, including but not limited to housing, educational attainment, employment, permanency, and well-being?
  2. Is Pathways particularly effective for key subgroups of the target population? Subgroups of interest are based on demographic characteristics and foster care experiences.
  3. Do features of Pathways implementation influence youth outcomes?

Preventing homelessness among young people who have been involved in the child welfare system remains an urgent issue for child welfare policymakers and practitioners. Housing stability is essential for achieving self-sufficiency and promotes health and well-being, particularly during the transition to adulthood. A combination of disadvantages places youth with a history of foster care, especially those aging out of care, at a higher risk of homelessness compared with their peers.

To expand the evidence base on interventions to prevent homelessness among youth and young adults who have been involved in the child welfare system, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Youth At-Risk of Homelessness (YARH) multiphase grant program. YARH grantees received funding to develop interventions for youth and young adults with child welfare involvement who are most likely to experience homelessness. The grant program specifies three target populations: (1) adolescents who enter foster care from age 14 to 17; (2) young adults aging out of foster care; and (3) homeless youth and young adults, up to age 21, with foster care histories.

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation contracted with Mathematica in the first two phases of YARH to provide evaluation technical assistance to grantees, support them in articulating and refining the design of their service models, assess the evaluability of each service model, and disseminate the knowledge developed. ACF is now in the third phase of YARH (or YARH-3) and is conducting a rigorous summative evaluation of a policy-relevant comprehensive service model developed and refined during the first two phases of YARH.

This summative evaluation conducted under YARH-3 will examine the effect of Colorado’s Pathways to Success comprehensive service model. Pathways is an intensive, coach-like case management model for youth and young adults in foster care. A large, cluster quasi-experimental impact study design will be used to test the effectiveness of Pathways in 37 counties in Colorado.

The Pathways impact study will provide evidence of program effectiveness on a large number of policy-relevant outcomes, including stable housing, education, employment, permanent connections to caring adults, and social-emotional well-being. It will show the effectiveness of Pathways at short- and long-term follow-up periods and estimate the extent to which the program is more or less effective for key subgroups. Finally, the study will link features of program implementation (for example, dosage, quality, or adherence of the program delivery) to youth outcomes.

This report describes the design of the Pathways impact study. A separate report describes the implementation study design for the Pathways evaluation (Keith et al, 2021).

Purpose

This study will be the first rigorous impact evaluation of Colorado’s Pathways comprehensive service model. Case managers (known as Navigators) use coaching strategies to develop a working alliance with the youth or young adult by listening to them, asking powerful questions, approaching them with curiosity instead of judgment, encouraging them, helping them set achievable goals, and respectfully holding them accountable. The impact study will examine outcomes at three timepoints — 6-, 12-, and 24-months after enrollment — to see the short and long term effects of Pathways. The impact study will collect outcomes in five areas: (1) housing, (2) education, (3) employment, (4) permanent connections, and (5) health and well-being.

Key Findings and Highlights

The impact study design of Pathways has the following key design features: 

  • Well-matched quasi-experimental design: Twenty-one counties will implement Pathways and sixteen counties will serve as a comparison group. The counties are well matched in terms of demographics, poverty levels, urbanicity, youth homelessness, and Chafee service receipt.
  • Strong effective contrast: The Pathways program will be compared against business-as-usual service provision provided by a Chafee worker. Standard service provision is not coach like nor is it youth driven. Referrals through Pathways will be needs driven rather than standardized, and Pathways youth will have far more frequent interactions with their Navigator than will youth in comparison counties.
  • Large study sample: Approximately 750 youth are expected to enroll into Chafee services in study counties during the impact study and will be invited to participate.
  • Comprehensive measurement of outcome domains and at multiple periods: Survey data collection will occur with youth at 6 months post enrollment (about halfway into typical Pathways duration), 12 months after entry (immediately after completing Pathways), and 24 months after entry (12 months after the end of Pathways). The survey will cover 10 outcome domains of interest. Administrative data from the Linked Information Network of Colorado will provide additional outcomes on child welfare, public assistance, and employment, among others.

Bayesian interpretation of impact findings to complement frequentist presentation: The study will supplement the traditional inferential test results from the impact study with a Bayesian presentation of the findings to offer a more nuanced interpretation.

Methods

The study will conduct traditional inferential tests. A Bayesian interpretation of the impact findings will be used to complement the frequentist presentation.

Citation

Cole, R. P., M. Shiferaw, and M. C. Bradley. “Youth At-Risk of Homelessness: Design for an Impact Study of “Pathways to Success”: A Coach-Like Case Management Program for Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care” OPRE Report #2021-152. Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, June 2021.  

Glossary

OPRE:
Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation
YARH:
Youth At Risk of Homelessness, acronym used to represent the initiative funded by Administration for Children & Families to support communities in addressing homelessness among youth and young adults with child welfare involvement