Striving for Independence: Two-Year Impact Findings from the Youth Villages Transitional Living Evaluation

New York: MDRC

80 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2017  

Date Written: November 21, 2016


Young adults with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody often experience poor outcomes across a number of domains, on average, relative to their peers. While government funding for services targeting these groups of young people has increased in recent years, research on the effectiveness of such services is limited, and few of the programs that have been rigorously tested have been found to improve outcomes.

The Youth Villages Transitional Living Evaluation is testing whether the Transitional Living program, operated by the social service organization Youth Villages, makes a difference in the lives of young men and women with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody. The program, which was renamed “YVLifeSet” in April 2015, is intended to help these young people make a successful transition to adulthood by providing intensive, individualized, and clinically focused case management, support, and counseling.

The evaluation uses a rigorous random assignment design and is set in Tennessee, where Youth Villages operates its largest Transitional Living program. From October 2010 to October 2012, more than 1,300 young people were assigned, at random, to either a program group, which was offered the Transitional Living program’s services, or to a control group, which was not offered those services. Using survey and administrative data, the evaluation team measured outcomes for both groups over time to assess whether Transitional Living services led to better outcomes for the program group compared with the control group’s outcomes.

This is the third major report in the evaluation. The first report provides a detailed description of the Transitional Living program model and assesses its implementation. The second report assesses whether the program improved key outcomes during the first year after young people were enrolled in the study. That report relies largely on survey data to analyze the program’s impacts in the six domains that it was designed to affect: education; employment and earnings; housing stability and economic well-being; social support; health and safety; and criminal involvement. This third report uses administrative data to assess the program’s impacts in three of the original six domains — education; employment and earnings; and criminal involvement — during the second year after study enrollment. Taken together, the one- and two-year results show that participation in the Transitional Living program had modest, positive impacts on a broad range of outcomes. The program boosted earnings, increased housing stability and economic well-being, and improved some outcomes related to health and safety. However, it did not improve outcomes in the areas of education, social support, or criminal involvement.

These results indicate that the Transitional Living program can improve multiple outcomes for young adults with histories of foster care or juvenile justice custody, a notable finding given how few other programs that serve these populations have been shown to have an effect. As a next step, Youth Villages aims to build on the areas where the program has already been successful by testing modifications to the YVLifeSet model; the hope is that such modifications will further improve young people’s outcomes, particularly in domains where the program has not yet produced positive impacts.

Keywords: juvenile justice, foster care, random assignment, disconnected youth

JEL Classification: I38

Suggested Citation

Skemer, Melanie and Jacobs, Erin, Striving for Independence: Two-Year Impact Findings from the Youth Villages Transitional Living Evaluation (November 21, 2016). New York: MDRC. Available at SSRN:

Melanie Skemer (Contact Author)

MDRC ( email )

19th Floor
16 East 34 Street
New York, NY 10016
United States

Erin Jacobs

MDRC ( email )

19th Floor
16 East 34 Street
United States

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