New Guide to Program Evaluation Released

The Vera Institute has released a guide to help organizations interested in creating or strengthening a research base for their work. Although written primarily for juvenile justice initiatives, the guide may be helpful for other youth-serving programs as well.

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Juvenile-involved Murder Rate Holds Steady

Youths are involved in murders, either as victims or perpetrators, at about the same rate as they have been for the last few years, according to newly gathered statistics. Both figures are far down from an early 1990s peak. In 1994, juveniles were involved in committing more than 2,300 murders. The year before that, nearly 3,000 minors were murder victims.

In 2010, the statistics had fallen to 788 and 948 respectively, according to data recently published by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which complies figures voluntarily reported by many jurisdictions nationwide, including the largest urban areas in the country. For the past decade, neither number has gone above 1,100.

birth control

More Teens Using Contraceptives, Says CDC

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) unveiled new data suggesting more teen girls are using birth control. Part of the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” the data was compiled from several National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) cycles. According to the report, approximately 60 percent of sexually active teens reported using contraceptive methods considered “highly effective” by the CDC, such as hormonal treatments or intrauterine devices – an increase from 47 percent in 1995. Additionally, the CDC report estimated that 57 percent of females ages 15 to 19 reported they’d never had sex, up from 49 percent in 1995. The new report analyzed NFSG data collected from three different intervals – 1995, 2002, and a five-year survey encompassing findings from 2006 to 2010.

alcohol ad teens

States Failing to Reduce Youth Exposure to Alcohol Marketing

A new study finds that states are failing to do much if anything to keep young people from being exposed to advertisements promoting alcoholic beverages. The report, issued by the Center on Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health notes eight methods, referred to as best practices, for states to limit and reduce youth exposure to such advertisements. And according to the new research findings, only 11 states implement more than one “best practice” policy – with 22 implementing none at all. In State Laws to Reduce the Impact of Alcohol Marketing on Youth: Current Status and Model Policies, CAMY researchers conclude that most states are doing inadequate jobs of keeping children from being exposed to alcohol ads in both traditional and untraditional media formats. The report found the legislative and regulatory steps taken by most states to be both “disappointing” and “inactive.”

The report assessed states on their utilization of best practices established by CAMY guidelines, including measures which prohibit alcohol advertising targeting minors, restrict outdoor alcohol ads in places children may frequent and establish jurisdictions over in-state television and radio advertising.

college success

Performance-Based Scholarships May Improve Academic Progress of College Students

A new policy brief states that performance-based scholarships – financial aid incentives allotted to students based upon one’s ability to achieve certain academic benchmarks – may serve as a catalyst for both improved grades and greater odds of finishing college, especially for low-income students. The brief, Performance-Based Scholarships: Emerging Findings from a National Demonstration issued by the Manpower Demonstration Research Center (MDRC) was published earlier this month. The policy brief examines the effects of performance-based scholarships on students in select colleges in, among other states, New York, California and Florida, with the authors saying that their findings seem to indicate a slight, yet positive impact on the academic progress of students enrolled in such financial assistance programs.

In 2009, an MDRC report on Louisiana’s Opening Doors program exhibited improved grades, higher credit accumulation levels and greater likelihoods of retention for several college students that were enrolled in the performance-based scholarship program. A year earlier, MDRC began a six-state study, the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, to gauge the overall effectiveness of scholarship programs contingent upon ongoing student academic progress. Although the authors say that the preliminary findings for the six states surveyed for the brief were not as pronounced as the Louisiana data, they still noted that performance-based scholarship programs resulted in several statistically-significant influences for students, including an increase in credits earned and an increase in students’ abilities to meet end-of-term benchmarks during program terms.

MDRC research on the impact of performance-based scholarships will continue until December 2014.

Youth Involved in Both Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Struggle At Unexpected Rate, LA Study Finds

Crossover youth, as young adults with dual involvement in foster care and juvenile justice systems are called, face a variety of challenges when entering adulthood, and they carry a high public cost. That is according to the first-ever study of youth in foster care and on probation in Los Angeles County. Although it’s widely known that crossover youth are worse off than other youth, this study — Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent or Delinquent Care in Los Angeles County, which was funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation — shows that crossover youth experience negative outcomes at twice the rate. “We didn’t realize crossover youth would have such striking distance,” Dennis Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s six authors, told Youth Today. “We knew it would find they’d be troubled, but didn’t expect this difference of degree to show up.”

Currently, according to examined data from 2002 to 2009, crossover youth cost about three times more public service dollars than youth who are only in foster care.

Across the U.S. Increasing Numbers of Kids Are Taken From Deported Parents and Put Into Foster Care

If you deport the parents, let them take their kids with them. This may sound like common sense — and research shows that kids do better with their families than in foster care — but increasingly more children from across the United States are being separated from their families because their parents have been deported. National research, conducted by the Applied Research Center between August 2010 and August 2011, and published on (which is run by the Research Center) in November 2011 shows, for the first time, that the problem is happening widely. At least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. And, in at least 22 states, children in foster care face boundaries to reunification with their detained or deported mothers and fathers.

Young People Use Slurs Online, See Them As Jokes

Young people are more likely to use slurs online, and most see discriminatory language as joking, according to an Associated Press-MTV poll of 14- to 24-year-olds conducted nationwide in 2011. Seventy-one percent say they are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person. Also, most young people don’t worry about whether the words they post on their cellphones and laptops could reach a wider audience or get them in trouble, according to the ABC Action News article. “People have that false sense of security that they can say whatever they want online,” Lori Pletka, 22, told the reporters. Although most people see slurs as joking — 57 percent say people are “trying to be funny” — a significant number of youth are getting upset, especially when they are in the group being targeted.

Serious Juvenile Offenders: Do Mental Health Problems Elevate Risk?

The general adolescent population is estimated to have a rate of 9 percent to 21 percent in occurrence of diagnosable psychiatric disorders. In comparison, researchers have established that the juvenile offender population has a disproportionately high rate of mental health problems, with estimates suggesting it is as high as 50 percent to 70 percent. Additionally, a majority of the diagnosable youth in the juvenile system have a co-occurring substance-use disorder. Many initiatives dealing with mental health problems in juvenile offenders have treated them as a criminogenic risk factor; positing that, if these problems are addressed, youth’s risk for repeat offenses will decrease and their involvement in pro-social activity will increase. It is important that mental health problems be addressed for these youth,  but we require a better understanding of the role mental health problems play for offending to better inform program development.

Americans Believe in Treatment Over Incarceration for Youth, New Poll Finds

A majority of Americans favor rehabilitation and treatment of youth over incarceration, new national poll found. The survey, commissioned by the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), also found most Americans, 76 percent, believe youth should not automatically be sent to adult court. The poll was given to 1,000 U.S. adults.

“This public opinion research demonstrates Americans’ strong support for rehabilitation and treatment for court-involved youth, over incarceration and automatic prosecution in adult criminal court,” stated CFYJ’s President and CEO Liz Ryan in a press release. “In light of this research, it is urgent that state officials accelerate youth justice reforms to reduce the incarceration of youth and prosecution in adult criminal court, and that Congress and the Administration reject deep cuts to juvenile justice funding.”

Other highlights from the poll include:

A large majority of the public, 89 percent, would prefer youth to receive treatment, counseling and education.
Family is an important component in the juvenile justice system. Eighty-six percent of Americans favor involving the youth’s family in treatment while ensuring youth remains connected to their families.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe children should not be placed in adult prisons and jails.
Many Americans, 71 percent, favor providing more funds to public defenders to represent youth in court.
Eighty-one percent of Americans trust judges over prosecutors when determining if a child should be tried as an adult.