Future Learnings

Author: Fran Gallagher, LEO Project Development Manager

LEO recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary as an organization, which is about the same amount of time as our partnership with Catholic Charities Chicago (CC Chicago). One of our original partners, our work with CC Chicago has been both vast and meaningful.

Together, we studied the impact of emergency financial assistance, generating important insights about preventing homelessness. Together, we evaluated community-based care transition programs leading to a new recently launched program run by CC West Virginia. And now, we’re again joining forces to test a new strategy to serve and empower youth with the long-term goal of increasing self-sufficiency.  With funding from the Hilton Foundation, we’re joining the project at the start to not only lead the evaluation, but also participate in design.

Step 1: Design

Starting off the design process with an info gathering tour, LEO led CC Chicago on site visits to a range of programs and organizations—all focused on organizations particularly adept at addressing certain issues or aspects like mental health or workforce development. LEO also authored a literature review to understand both existing research on best ways to serve youth and where there are gaps to fill.

Step 2: See if it actually works!

These efforts led to CC Chicago’s new youth program. Called the Peace Corner Mentoring Program, the intervention takes a proactive and prevention-based approach to address three interconnected obstacles often faced by youth from under-resourced communities: lack of access to safe, welcoming, and accessible spaces; the need for positive and enduring relationships with trusted adults, in addition to those in their family units; and parallel support for their parents on the journeys toward economic self-sufficiency.

How it works

CC Chicago will focus on serving middle school students (ages 10-14, in grades 5-8), and will recruit from key partner schools and programs in the Austin neighborhood. As youth approach 5th grade, they will join an holistic, intensive school year program including mentoring (one-on-one and in small groups of 15 students that will meet 2x weekly), enrichment (focused on developing socio-emotional skills and building resilience and relationships), and trauma-informed mental health supports (also through one-on-one and 1:8 small group counseling) and case management. This program will have a two-generation approach that will include parent education, case management, and family engagement activities for the students’ families.

LEO and CC Chicago are now partnering to design and implement a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to understand the impact of this youth engagement strategy.

Our research question: Does providing intensive support to youth, integrating mentoring with behavioral and mental health, lead to increased self-sufficiency and long-term economic mobility?

We’re planning to track the following outcomes:

For youth:

  • Education outcomes (short-term): grades, test scores, attendance, and behavioral referrals with a particular focus on getting middle school students ready for high school
  • Education outcomes (long-term): high-school graduation, post-secondary attainment
  • Self-sufficiency outcomes (long-term): income and earnings

For parents:

  • Housing stability
  • Income and earnings
  • Education level

Why it matters

Youth mental and behavioral health is important. It’s linked to higher school performance, physical health, and reduced risky behavior. These consequences can affect lifelong mental, physical, and financial wellbeing.Young adolescence may be a particularly important time for intervention as youth are granted more freedoms, assigned more responsibilities, and held to higher expectations by adults. These are the years when they build important friendships, their identities, and future ambitions. During this stage, habits, morality, and social networks are formed. It’s also a time when many lifelong mental health conditions, including behavioral and anxiety disorders, manifest. Complications associated with these conditions, such as bullying, violence and substance use can affect their peers’ learning and development, compounding any direct impacts. Due to these factors, this age group is particularly crucial for identifying possible needs, resolving any emerging issues with mental or behavioral health, and establishing coping mechanisms for difficult emotions and stressful situations.

This research study will allow CC Chicago and the Hilton Foundation to understand if investment in intensive services for youth and families has a long-term impact on self-sufficiency outcomes. It could also inform funders, policymakers, and countless other organizations across our country providing similar services on the best way to serve disadvantaged youth.

LEO and CC Chicago are also planning to conduct an implementation evaluation of this new program in order to (1) understand and document the components of the new program; what they are, how they work together, and how they are delivered; and (2) understand the factors of a successful implementation. If we find the program is impactful through the RCT, we’ll have a tool-kit in place for other providers wanting to replicate in their communities.