Evaluating LEAP’s Early Years

Posted September 14, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
MDRC recently released an evaluation of how LEAP partners implemented programs to help young people connect to work and school

In 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and the Cor­po­ra­tion for Nation­al and Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vice launched the first phase of Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™ — an ambi­tious, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ini­tia­tive to boost employ­ment and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple ages 15 to 25 who’ve expe­ri­enced home­less­ness or been involved in pub­lic systems.


The effort has been dri­ven by 10 local part­ner­ships in eight states, which have used two proven mod­els — Jobs for America’s Grad­u­ates (JAG) and JFF’s Back on Track — to help these youth suc­ceed in school and at work.

A new study from non­prof­it research firm MDRC eval­u­ates the part­ner­ships’ ear­ly imple­men­ta­tion of these mod­els, includ­ing ways they’ve recruit­ed and retained youth, devel­oped cross-sys­tem part­ner­ships and inte­grat­ed wrap­around ser­vices to cre­ate path­ways to opportunity.

Our goal with LEAP has always been to adapt estab­lished strate­gies in ways that meet the unique chal­lenges young peo­ple who are out of school and out of work face and that build on their immense tal­ents and skills,” says Patrice Cromwell, Casey’s direc­tor of youth eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty. This eval­u­a­tion is an impor­tant step in that direc­tion because it high­lights what core strengths we should be build­ing upon in the next phase and what areas we may still need to explore or improve.”

In its analy­sis of enroll­ment, imple­men­ta­tion, ear­ly out­comes and cost, MDRC found that:

  • LEAP sites enrolled near­ly 2,800 young peo­ple dur­ing their first three years. Among that group, more than 80% are youth of col­or; 51% have been involved in fos­ter care; 37% have been involved in the jus­tice sys­tem; and 50% have expe­ri­enced homelessness.
  • Many of these young peo­ple have faced bar­ri­ers that con­strained their poten­tial and made it hard to suc­ceed in tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion and employ­ment pro­grams. These obsta­cles includ­ed lim­it­ed fam­i­ly sup­port, hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty and trauma.
  • Near­ly 70% of Back on Track par­tic­i­pants — a major­i­ty of whom had a high school diplo­ma and pre­vi­ous work expe­ri­ence pri­or to enroll­ment — pro­gressed into a post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion or job-train­ing pro­gram. Forty per­cent of these young peo­ple already com­plet­ed their first year.
  • Among young peo­ple who com­plet­ed JAG’s Active Phase” — dur­ing which the major­i­ty of ser­vices are deliv­ered — 40% earned a high school cre­den­tial. And of that group, 76% were either employed or in school at some point dur­ing the fol­low­ing six months.
  • Cross-sec­tor part­ner­ships are essen­tial for align­ing resources, recruit­ing eli­gi­ble young peo­ple and con­nect­ing them with the ser­vices and sup­port they need to succeed.
  • One-on-one learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, flex­i­ble sched­ul­ing, pause” options and oth­er tar­get­ed sup­port can help keep young peo­ple engaged in ser­vices when fac­ing unex­pect­ed life challenges.
  • The costs of pro­vid­ing LEAP ser­vices, includ­ing out­reach and fol­low-up activ­i­ties, range from $5,300 to $7,300 per par­tic­i­pant, depend­ing on pro­gram struc­ture and local context.

We’re encour­aged by the ways LEAP sites are adapt­ing JAG and Back on Track to help youth meet their post­sec­ondary and employ­ment goals,” says Louisa Treskon, a research asso­ciate at MDRC and one of the report’s authors. We want to con­tin­ue help­ing part­ners iden­ti­fy and pro­mote promis­ing strate­gies that gar­ner pos­i­tive out­comes and use evi­dence to spur broad­er take-up among oth­er youth-serv­ing systems.”

As LEAP enters its next phase, a new part­ner has joined the net­work: NMCAN in Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co. LEAP now oper­ates in 11 sites in 55 cities and nine states and includes a grow­ing net­work of fun­ders and four nation­al orga­ni­za­tions: Jobs for America’s Grad­u­ates, JFF, MDRC and School & Main Institute.

Casey and our part­ners are eager to build on what we’ve learned to cul­ti­vate addi­tion­al rela­tion­ships with pub­lic sys­tems and posi­tion LEAP as a scal­able solu­tion for recon­nect­ing youth with edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties,” says Cromwell. In the years ahead, we will deep­en our focus on racial equi­ty and con­tin­ue help­ing young peo­ple expand their future oppor­tu­ni­ties while advo­cat­ing for — and meet­ing — their imme­di­ate needs.”


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