Building Evidence Through Trusting Relationships Among Latino and Black Youth and Adults in Washington, D.C.

Posted December 14, 2021
Teens at a table share ice cream with an adult

Photo credit: Wide Angle Youth Media

Can a pro­gram that builds strong com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions for young peo­ple in the short term show long-term ben­e­fits in their employ­ment and well-being? As part of its work to build evi­dence of what works to help youth suc­ceed, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has been sup­port­ing the sec­ond phase of a rig­or­ous eval­u­a­tion of Pro­mo­tor Path­way®, an inten­sive long-term men­tor­ing and case man­age­ment pro­gram that helps youth dis­con­nect­ed from school and employ­ment make a safe, healthy tran­si­tion to adulthood.

Designed by the Latin Amer­i­can Youth Cen­ter (LAYC), a mul­ti­cul­tur­al youth devel­op­ment non­prof­it serv­ing some 5,000 young peo­ple at sites in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and near­by Mary­land coun­ties, Pro­mo­tor Path­way seeks to address many of the bar­ri­ers to suc­cess immi­grants and low-income youth of col­or face — includ­ing lack of hous­ing, sub­stance abuse and court involve­ment. The ulti­mate aim of the pro­gram: improve edu­ca­tion and employ­ment out­comes, boost life skills and encour­age healthy behavior.

We focus on rela­tion­ship build­ing and youth-dri­ven goals,” says Susana Mar­tinez, LAYC’s chief strat­e­gy offi­cer and nation­al direc­tor of Pro­mo­tor Path­way. For some, it might mean going into col­lege or voca­tion­al school. For oth­er youth, that might mean find­ing sta­ble employ­ment, or for oth­ers that might mean becom­ing a strong and healthy par­ent to their children.”

Begin With Small Wins

Based on the con­vic­tion that a strong rela­tion­ship with a car­ing adult is crit­i­cal to a young person’s abil­i­ty to achieve suc­cess, the Pro­mo­tor Path­way pro­gram con­nects a youth advo­cate, called a Pro­mo­tor, with a young per­son, ages 11 to 24, to pro­vide long-term sup­port, men­tor­ship and inter­ven­tion. Exten­sive­ly trained by LAYC, the major­i­ty of Pro­mo­tores are peo­ple of col­or whose expe­ri­ences and com­mu­ni­ties match those of the program’s pre­dom­i­nant­ly Lati­no and Black youth.

A cen­tral fea­ture of Pro­mo­tor Path­way is long-term engage­ment with young peo­ple. In most cas­es, the pro­gram stays con­nect­ed with youths from two to four years. Some­times, that con­nec­tion can last for six years, depend­ing upon the age a youth enters the pro­gram. Anoth­er dis­tin­guish­ing aspect of the pro­gram: the Pro­mo­tores are avail­able to young peo­ple around the clock for any cri­sis or emergency.

Based in com­mu­ni­ty sites and schools, Pro­mo­tor Path­way receives refer­rals through word of mouth with­in LAYC and from gov­ern­ment agen­cies, schools and oth­er non­prof­its. In the first few weeks of a Promotor’s rela­tion­ship with a youth, the pro­gram seeks what Mar­tinez calls small wins” to help estab­lish trust. For exam­ple, a school coun­selor might rec­om­mend that a young moth­er apply for the Spe­cial Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Pro­gram for Women, Infants, and Chil­dren and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram, unaware that the youth does not have the valid iden­ti­fi­ca­tion nec­es­sary for access­ing these ben­e­fits. A Pro­mo­tor will go with the young mom to get the ID, which opens the door for services.

Pro­mo­tor Path­way was well posi­tioned to respond to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, which exac­er­bat­ed school, work and oth­er chal­lenges faced by young peo­ple of col­or. Like many youth-serv­ing non­prof­its, LAYC large­ly shift­ed its pro­gram­ming to vir­tu­al con­tact with clients. Pro­mo­tor Path­way, how­ev­er, nev­er stopped main­tain­ing some lev­el of in-per­son con­tact with young peo­ple. Pro­mo­tores were able to assess needs and deliv­er food or dia­pers and even take peo­ple to doc­tors,” says Martinez.

Long-Term Results

An Urban Insti­tute eval­u­a­tion of Pro­mo­tor Path­way, pub­lished in 2016, pro­vid­ed the ini­tial evi­dence of the program’s pos­i­tive effects on young peo­ple. Four hun­dred sev­en­ty-six youth, 99% of whom were peo­ple of col­or with an aver­age age of 18, were ran­dom­ly assigned to either a treat­ment group that par­tic­i­pat­ed in Pro­mo­tor Path­way or to a con­trol group that did not enroll the pro­gram but could still access oth­er LAYC services.

After 18 months, youth in the treat­ment group were:

  • 33% more like­ly to be engaged in school than the con­trol group;
  • 33% less like­ly to have a child; and
  • 60% less like­ly to have slept in a shel­ter or on the streets.

Phase two of the Urban Institute’s eval­u­a­tion, sched­uled for release in spring 2022, will pro­vide insights into longer-term effects of Pro­mo­tor Path­way and include the results of fol­low-up sur­veys with orig­i­nal mem­bers of the treat­ment and con­trol groups. Sum­ma­riz­ing a recent­ly com­plet­ed analy­sis of the sur­veys, Mar­tinez says: We were real­ly, real­ly hap­py to see that our youth, in many cas­es three to four years after exit­ing the pro­gram, were earn­ing much more than the con­trol group, had more sta­ble employ­ment and had more sta­ble surroundings.”

Suzanne Barnard, direc­tor of Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group, says the Foundation’s invest­ment in LAYC’s eval­u­a­tion work will help build the evi­dence base not only for Pro­mo­tor Path­way but also for what it takes in gen­er­al to engage and remove bar­ri­ers for young peo­ple of col­or. By gath­er­ing and shar­ing these insights, we hope to encour­age more devel­op­ers to design pro­grams that suc­ceed for young peo­ple of col­or because they are firm­ly root­ed in and respon­sive to their back­grounds, com­mu­ni­ties and cul­ture,” Barnard says.

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