Youth Advocate Programs Gets Federal Stamp of Approval

Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), a rapidly expanding provider of alternatives to out-of-home care in juvenile justice and child welfare, has been named a “promising practice” by the Justice Department.

The Harrisburg, Penn.-based nonprofit, founded 44 years ago by deincarceration pioneer Tom Jeffers, uses professional mentors to work intensely with a small caseload of system-involved young people. The organization now has contracts for services in 28 states, up 18 states in 2013, the year it opened its national policy office.

“We see a growing acceptance — and even desire — that people with lived experience are best-positioned to keep kids stay safely home and out of placement,” said Shaena Fazal, chief of policy and advocacy. “YAP’s model is built on this philosophy and this designation affirms the effectiveness we see in the communities in which we work.”

The program will be added to the Office of Justice Program’s “Programs and Practices” list, which is housed on the website CrimeSolutions.gov and includes nearly 600 different justice-related interventions. YAP made the list on the strength of a quasi-experimental study conducted by researchers Michael Karcher and David Johnson. The 2016 study compared 164 YAP participants to a group of pre-program enrollment youth; one year after discharge, youth who had completed the YAP program reported a statistically significant lower number of “serious dispositions” and improved academic and employment outcomes.

The organization is currently involved in multiple randomized control trials (RCT), which could boost its rating from “promising” to “effective.”

“We’re delighted that the YAP model already warrants OJP and OJJDP ‘promising’ status, and we plan to renew our submission when the RCT research is completed,” said YAP Research Associate Joe Durso in a statement.

The organization received a five-year, $20 million investment from grant maker Ballmer Group last year.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.