“Using GIS to Enhance Programs Serving Emancipated Youth Leaving Foster Care” (abstract), Evaluation and Program Planning, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2012).
What it’s about: Researchers at the University of South Florida wanted to see if computer mapping could help youth workers find appropriate housing for youth about to live on their own. Using geographic information systems, or GIS, technology to present information visually, the authors identified low-cost, bus-accessible housing options that would support the educational goals and parenting needs of transitioning youth.
Why read it: Many transitional and independent living programs recognize the importance of stable housing for youth transitioning to adulthood. But programs often don't have a uniform method for finding safe and affordable places for youth to live. Government agencies and service providers are increasingly using computer mapping to help solve social problems like this one, and youth workers may be hearing more about this technology in the future.
Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The study found that only a small number of low-rent properties in Florida's Hillsborough County, the area they studied, were suitable for young people once basic safety, educational, transportation and service needs were considered. Youth raising a child were left with even fewer options.
Generally, computer mapping showed promise for helping youth workers find housing options in a large area without pounding the pavement. GIS can also encourage young people to get involved in their own housing decisions because maps can be adjusted based on the youth's feedback, the authors write. In addition, they say, federal, state and local agencies can use mapping to identify areas with a shortage of transition-friendly housing and to work together to address these gaps.
Additional reference: For more information on how mapping can benefit youth workers and tips for getting started, read software provider Esri's white paper about GIS for human and social service organizations (PDF, 370KB).
(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)
At the 2012 Pathways to Adulthood conference in New Orleans, NCFY interviewed youth workers from all over the country to get their perspective on two questions: "What's your community doing to fight youth homelessness?" And, "What help do you need to keep fighting youth homelessness?"
Today we're proud to share five of those responses in a new video series. From rural towns to big cities, these are on-the-ground views of the reality of youth homelessness and the best efforts against it. We hope these videos will spur a discussion, so join us on Facebook and Twitter to tell us your own perspective: What is your community doing, and what does your community need to fight youth homelessness?
The series starts with Jeff Allen from Youth and Family Services in Watonga, OK. Watch Jeff's video here.
If you consider your smartphone more of a mini computer than a way to make calls, you’re part of a national trend. Forty-nine percent of all U.S. adults go online using their cell phones, according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The percentage is probably even higher among young people, according to Nam-ho Park, director of mobile services at digital communications firm Forum One.
“This is a generation that hasn’t lived in an age where they didn’t have cell phones,” Park says. “It’s just a natural part of their lives that they communicate with each other and especially with organizations through mobile technology.”
What does all that mean for you? People who want to learn about your youth-serving organization—whether potential volunteers or donors, local policy makers or young people—may be coming to your website using a phone or tablet computer. So it’s a good idea to think about making your site easy for them to navigate.
Seeing Less, Juggling More
The most obvious challenge for people visiting your website from their cell phones, Park says, is reading text on a smaller screen. Even if you can’t overhaul your site, you can help mobile users by limiting each page to only a few paragraphs. All the important details should fit in the palm of a Web surfer’s hand.
Avoid tiny font, too, because it forces people to zoom into the site with their fingers and makes it more difficult to navigate to another section. Park recommends increasing font sizes and adding more links to reduce this problem. The steps for doing so will vary depending on how you manage your site.
Finally, satisfy mobile users’ need to get information instantly as they juggle multiple activities while surfing the Web.
“You have to really optimize it so that people are getting to the information that they’re looking for on the go, really fast and really easy as well,” Park says.
Email newsletters, if formatted for mobile devices, are a good way to direct mobile traffic straight to helpful pages on your website. Social media updates on Facebook and Twitter can also link people to a specific page you want them to visit.
Learning the Lingo
Whether you pay a tech guru to upgrade your website or you plan to make your own updates, Park recommends learning about a few basic tools for going mobile:
- Themes and plugs ins: Some popular websites and blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr offer free “themes” that can be downloaded to make websites look better from cell phones. WordPress also offers plug-ins that can detect when a visitor is using a mobile device and then redirect them to a customized version of the website.
- Responsive design: Responsive design is a tool that recognizes what device a reader is using to access a website and adjusts the size of the Web page accordingly. A potential donor working from a laptop would see three columns about your program, for example, while someone searching with a cell phone would only see one.
- Mobile-friendly “mini” sites: Some organizations choose a handful of the most popular pages from their website to convert into a miniature version of the site.
You may have seen the headlines last fall: Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that girls with below-average reading ability went on to become teen mothers nearly twice as often as girls with average reading ability. The finding was presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting last year and will be published in the paper “Pre-Teen Literacy and Subsequent Teenage Childbearing in a U.S. Population,” forthcoming in the February 2013 volume of the journal Contraception.
We wanted to know more, especially about what the correlation between low literacy and teen parenthood means for youth workers. So we talked to co-writers Dr. Ian M. Bennett and Dr. Rosemarie Frasso, who studied years’ worth of data from Pennsylvania state databases and the U.S. Census for their paper.
NCFY: What led you to study the connection between literacy and childbirth, and what did you find?
Bennett: Our goal was to bring the perspectives of educators and health care providers together.
Frasso: Public health is a great venue for educators and social workers to look at issues and imagine what the benefits for earlier intervention would be. So while it would be wonderful to read earlier because reading helps you in many different aspects of life and education, another thing you see here is that reading may actually protect them from early childbearing, which leads to other poor outcomes for both the mom and the kid.
Bennett: We looked at a person’s reading skill before they could get pregnant, and then measured their risk basis over seven years, through the rest of their teens. We did the first reading skill assessments at age 11. We found a very strong independent association between their reading skill and their risk of getting pregnant.
NCFY: And why is that?
Bennett: It’s very well shown that kids who have lower reading skills are more likely to drop out of school. Around fourth grade, we make the switch from teaching a kid how to read to needing them to read in order to do the work. “Reading to learn rather than learning to read,” as they say.
So if someone is in fourth grade and they can’t read well, they are being forced every day to come to a setting where they are seen as failures. Choosing to have a child is very much what you would predict for kids who aren’t succeeding in school—seeking a path where they can get out of a context where they have to fail every day.
NCFY: So what are your recommendations for breaking young people out of this cycle?
Bennett: We’ve found that while having one child is risky, what’s worse is having two children or not finishing high school. Those are the two factors that make it much less likely a kid will be independent in their twenties and thirties. So we recommend educators and youth workers do what they can to prevent that second childbirth and keep young people in school.
Frasso: Another important piece is targeting people for interventions. If you know that poor readers are at an increased risk for childbearing in their teens, we want to make sure that information is shared with them about how to postpone childbearing, in a form they can consume. Literacy is going to be a barrier to that information. If we know that about a group, we have to make sure the programs are available to those at greatest risk.
Are you and your youth taking part in Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service today? We hope so, and we hope you’re able to sustain the momentum you gain today and keep your young people involved in the community throughout the year. Here are some resources you can use to help youth find projects that match their skill sets and interests and fit their schedules:
- Teens who text “DoSomething” to 38383 can receive weekly suggestions from DoSomething.org, a national organization for teens who want to do good, on ways to take action in their communities.
- GenerationOn, a nonprofit that promotes youth volunteerism, has a searchable database of volunteer opportunities for teens.
- Young people who worry they can’t do community service because of their busy schedules or lack of transportation might be interested in online volunteering. They can go to the free listing service VolunteerMatch, which has a “virtual opportunities” filter in its online database. You can also point youth to TakingITGlobal's guide to online volunteering (PDF, 1.29MB).
More from NCFY
"NCFY Recommends: Getting Youth Involved in Community Service"
"Primary Sources: Through Community Service, Youth Make Friends and Influence People"
"Lend a Hand: A Guide to Volunteering for Youth"
"Bright Idea: Bring Animals and At-risk Youth Together, and Everyone Wins"
Photograph courtesy of Corporation for National and Community Service.
The federal government, including the Family and Youth Services Bureau, continues to encourage the use of evidence-based practices in social services programming. If you’re looking for practices and programs to use in your organization, research is a key first step.
To get you started, we’re listing some online databases and guides that highlight youth-serving programs researchers have deemed effective. You’ll want to read about each resource more carefully to learn about the criteria it uses to decide whether or not to include an intervention.
- The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Model Programs Guide includes programs across the spectrum of youth services. Programs are labeled exemplary, effective or promising depending on their research results.
- For issues related to sexual health, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy maintains a database that lets users filter results—so you can look for programs that lead to a particular outcome, have been evaluated in a certain way or have been used with a particular age range of teens.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Guide publishes findings from systematic reviews of public health interventions. The guide’s adolescent health section includes more than a dozen programs, addressing issues such as substance abuse and job training, that have been found either effective or lacking in evidence.
- As NCFY has already shared, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices for preventing and treating substance abuse and mental health problems can be filtered to show interventions for teens and young adults.
And if you need help assessing the credibility of an evaluation study or identifying programs backed by evidence, you can contact the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which has a help desk and online video workshop.
As executive director of Worth Our Weight, a nonprofit culinary arts apprenticeship program in Santa Rosa, CA, Evelyn Cheatham has taught over 100 at-risk young people the skills to cook and manage a restaurant. Youth in the program plunge right in to the food service world. In addition to taking cooking classes and doing skills-building exercises, they cook and serve meals to paying customers every day at Café WOW.
That immersion has led to more than a job for at least one graduate. Last fall, an alumnus of the 7-year-old program invited Cheatham her to bring WOW’s current class of thirteen apprentices to visit the restaurant he now owns.
Gainful employment is an important part of any young person’s path to self-sufficiency, and the restaurant industry is particularly well suited to youth who lack skills and experience but are willing to learn. By providing opportunities to learn the trade, apprenticeship programs like Cheatham’s help youth gain a perennially in-demand skill set that also has relevance to life outside the kitchen.
“We teach life skills, skills you need to cope with every job,” says Luis Arocha, executive director of Café Hope, a New Orleans lunch spot staffed entirely by at-risk young people. “The program teaches work ethic, being tenacious, not letting anyone hold you down, having hope for yourself and pride in what you do.”
Demanding a Commitment—and Repaying It
Arocha’s staff look for young people who are ready to work long hours in a job where there’s always something to do and more skills to learn. In return, he says, “We let these kids know that we care about them and will do anything to help them. For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve heard that.”
Café Hope, which is run by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, accepts about half a dozen older teens and young adults into its seven-week training program. Youth work 8:30 to 4 every day at the restaurant. In addition, they work toward a food safety certification, which is valuable for potential restaurant employment, and they learn about resumes and job interviews.
Worth Our Weight participants commit for a year, during which they work a four-day week arranged around their school schedules. The apprentices at Café WOW also cater several events a month and operate a food truck donated by Food Network host Guy Fieri.
Youth at both programs learn a host of skills, from kitchen management and regional and seasonal cooking to teamwork and time management.
“Culinary skills are the foundation but everything gets taught around that: math, money management and managing of people,” says Cheatham.
Cheatham says her board members and volunteers recruit youth for the program from high schools, local human service offices, and juvenile justice agencies. Arocha’s youth are often referred by graduates of the program, the café’s customers and probation officers.
Café Hope works to place every graduate with an employer, which requires good working relationships with local businesses. Volunteers check with employers to make sure graduates are doing well.
“If they’re at risk of getting fired, we get involved,” says Arocha. “We want them to be successful.”
Cheatham says her program has similar goals. Rather than just making good chefs, her mission is to give at-risk youth a direction in life. “I’m doing something that helps them become a better person,” she says.
More From NCFY
As of January 15, 2013, the National Runaway Switchboard begins doing business as the National Runaway Safeline.
Simply put, the word "switchboard" no longer resonates with today’s youth. When we were founded over 40 years ago as Metro-Help, operating out of a tiny storefront in Chicago, it wasn’t uncommon for telephone operators to manually connect calls using switchboards.
However, when we asked today's teenagers what they thought a switchboard was, the responses were varied, from "DJ board" to "1920s telephones" to "outdated". The word loses its meaning in a world where technology allows humans to connect with others around the globe with the press of a button.
In addition, "switchboard" no longer reflects the various ways youth in crisis can connect with our services. Since our founding, we grew into a national organization and expanded our crisis intervention offerings to include bulletin boards, crisis emails, and live chat.
The new name reflects the 21st-century ways that the organization, which has been the federally designated national communication system for runaway and homeless youth since 1974, helps young people in need.
A number of studies have shown the challenges that youth in foster care have in establishing healthy romantic relationships. Experiencing abuse and neglect can hinder their ability to connect with others. Youth in foster care also lack role models to give them a picture of what healthy interactions look like.
It stands to reason, then, that youth in foster care might benefit from formal relationship education, like that provided through the Family and Youth Services Bureau's Personal Responsibility Education Program. But when Senior Researcher Mindy Scott and her colleagues at Child Trends, a nonprofit research center in Washington, reviewed the research on programs that teach foster youth about healthy dating and romance, they found few that rigorously measured relationship education outcomes.
Child Trends’ findings are detailed in “Putting Youth Relationship Education on the Child Welfare Agenda: Findings from a Research and Evaluation Review.” Scott talked to NCFY about what can be done to put relationship education in place for youth in the child welfare system.
NCFY: You told me about the importance of making healthy relationships an outcome in studies. What other things would you like to see happen?
Scott: We have a couple of recommendations in the report. Just first recognizing positive relationships and positive romantic relationships as an important factor for vulnerable youth, just seeing that it’s important to try to focus on improving relationships among youth in foster care and that it can have important impacts for other areas of life. And then putting more emphasis on evaluating relationship education programs, but making sure that those programs specifically address the needs of youth in foster care, I think is really important.
And just thinking about how to design programs effectively for youth in foster care. That came up a lot in our discussions with youth. We heard and learned a lot about the structure of the services and the programs that they’re already receiving and that there’s not a lot of room to add on another class or another program. So we talked a lot about how to integrate relationship education into existing services for youth in foster care.
NCFY: So it would be part of teen pregnancy prevention and part of life skills training and—
Scott: Yeah, exactly. All of these services and programs that are already in place—kind of adding in elements.
Another thing that came up is thinking about teaching relationship skills to not just the youth but to case managers, for example, so that they can more effectively communicate to the youth what healthy relationships should look like and how to build those skills. So having youth workers have more training on healthy relationships. And then thinking about biological and foster parents having more training on healthy relationships. Just so there’s kind of a comprehensive approach to helping youth learn about and see the importance of healthy relationships and how to have healthier and more positive relationships.
NCFY: So that they have those role models they haven’t had.
Read the paper (PDF, 810KB).