Program Goals/Target Population
Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) is an intervention designed to help system-involved youth satisfy court mandates and prevent future criminal activity through short-term, high-intensity relationships with paid mentors, referred to as Advocates. Additionally, the intervention seeks to provide system-involved youth with opportunities to become assets to their communities, through alternatives to institutional placement. YAP targets youth who are at immediate risk of institutionalization due to violent or repeat property offenses.
Youth are referred to YAP from juvenile justice, child welfare, and behavioral health agencies under a “no reject–no eject” referral policy (meaning that all youth referrals are accepted into the program). YAP provides wraparound services in a process that begins with a strength-based family assessment occurring within 48 hours of referral. Staff members meet with the family to introduce the program, learn about the family, complete four assessment tools, and address any immediate safety concerns. After this assessment process, a team of formal service and informal supports (e.g., family members, pastors) is gathered to identify the family’s needs and strengths, to develop a plan to meet these needs, and to develop a thorough safety plan.
YAP Advocate mentors are matched with youth based on shared interests and other similarities, when possible, including living in the same zip code. Advocates are expected to form trusting relationships with youth to help them meet court-mandated goals (when required) and to strengthen family and community relations that will help deter the youth from future harmful behavior. Advocate mentors and youth ideally meet for at least 7.5 hours per week, and sometimes for up to 30 hours per week, over a 4- to 6-month period. Advocate mentors work with youth to implement individual service plans (ISPs) that are developed with each family. ISPs include the youth’s goals and timeframes to meet those goals; these are updated throughout the period of each youth’s intervention.
Though differences in activities and expectations exist among YAP sites, Advocates and youth are generally free to schedule their own individual and group activities. These activities are driven by the needs and interests of the specific youth and his/her Advocate mentor. Examples include working on homework, doing community service, looking for employment, and recreational activities such as going to the movies and playing basketball. Advocate mentors also engage families and communities through group activities, such as cookouts, and by providing wraparound services.
Advocate mentors are paid, trained, and provided with weekly supervision; when possible, they reside in the same communities as the youth. Full-time Advocates carry caseloads that vary in size, according to location and current need, with reported caseload sizes ranging from 4 to 10 mentees per mentor (Karcher and Johnson 2016).
YAP operates in accordance with the TEAM (Theoretically Evolving Activities in Mentoring) Framework for youth mentoring relationships (Karcher and Nakkula 2010), which comprises three main areas. The first, Focus, refers to the degree to which mentorship activities are directional (i.e., goal oriented) or relational (i.e., learning about one another). YAP Advocates focus on trust building early in the relationship, to help mentees achieve their goals over time. The second, Activity Choice or Authorship, refers to who “drives” the mentoring activities. YAP Advocates encourage youth and their families to take an active collaborative role in the development of their individualized service plans. The third area, Activity Purpose, refers to the outcome expected from a particular mentor-mentee activity or conversation. For YAP, the purpose of a given activity is driven by the youth’s individual service plan, in addition to the interests of the mentor and mentee.
Another relevant theory, Jessor’s Problem Behavior Theory (Jessor and Jessor 1977), states that youth participation in few conventional activities (i.e., serious, goal-driven, usually adult-driven) and frequent unconventional activities (i.e., problem behaviors, usually peer-focused) contributes to juvenile delinquency.
Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy is also relevant. Fifteen states participating in YAP have incorporated Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations (Williams, Johnson, and Bott 1998), an intervention that uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help youth reduce conflict and build prosocial skills.
Karcher and Johnson (2016) found that, at 1-year post-discharge, Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) graduates scored lower on most serious disposition, compared with untreated youth. This statistically significant reduction indicated a large estimated program effect.
At 1-year post-discharge, YAP graduates scored higher on educational engagement, compared with untreated controls. This statistically significant improvement indicated a large estimated program effect.
Karcher and Johnson (2016) examined the effectiveness of the Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) using a recurrent institutional cycle (RIC) quasi-experimental design, in which program graduates are compared with a counterfactual comparison group of youth of similar ages, who have yet to participate in the program. Data were collected from five separate cohorts of youth (n = 164) at four program sites (Toledo, Ohio; Camden, New Jersey; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Lebanon, Pennsylvania) before their intervention cycle, and at 2 months (n = 133) and 4 months later (n = 103). Program sites were selected for their geographic locations and because the size and the makeup of their youth populations were representative of YAP sites.
At intake, 38.4 percent of participants were African American, 26.8 percent were white, 23.8 percent were Hispanic, 0.61 percent were Asian American, 0.61 percent were Pacific Islander, 8.54 percent were biracial, and 1.22 percent were classified as other. The average age of participants was 15.5 years old, and 78 percent of participants were male. Participants were referred to the program for legal reasons (46.7 percent), child welfare issues (24.3 percent), mental health issues (12.9 percent), school issues (10.8 percent), and other issues such as substance abuse (5.3 percent).
The outcomes of interest were educational engagement and most serious disposition. Data were regularly collected internally by YAP and used to measure educational engagement. There were three response options for educational engagement or attendance, which was primarily measured as follows: 1) the youth was enrolled and attending 4 to 5 days of school per week, 1) the youth was enrolled and attending 1 to 3 days of school per week, or 3) the youth was enrolled but not attending school. A single-item measure was used to assess the youth’s most serious disposition; the response options were none, non-criminal and/or status offense, misdemeanor/citation, or felony.
Multiple imputation was used to account for missing outcomes at the 2-month and 4-month marks, and for follow-up data 1 year after program discharge. Cross-cohort and pooled sample tests were computed to investigate within- and between-group differences. A two-level, whole sample hierarchical analysis was also conducted, with pre- and posttest scores nested within each person to account for the dependency of the data. The study authors did not conduct subgroup analyses.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Evans, Douglas, Megan O’Toole, and Jeffrey A. Butts. 2016. Savings Rate: How Wraparound Advocacy May Reduce the Consequences and Costs of State Commitment for Justice-Involved Youth.
New York, N.Y.: Research & Evaluation Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. (This study was reviewed but did not meet CrimeSolutions.gov criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)https://johnjayrec.nyc/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/savingsrate.pdf
Jessor, Richard, and Shirley L. Jessor. 1977. Problem Behavior and Psychosocial Development: A Longitudinal Study of Youth.
New York: Academic Press.
Karcher, Michael J., and Michael J. Nakkula. 2010. “Youth Mentoring with a Balanced Focus, Shared Purpose, and Collaborative Interactions.” New Directions for Youth Development
Williams, Ellen, Judith J. Johnson, and Cristine A. Bott. 1998. “Evaluation of a Program for Reduction of Childhood Aggression.” Psychological Reports