Blog Archives

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs Cut


July 22, 2017

All of us at Youth Catalytics were shocked by the notice we received on July 5,
2017, terminating our funding from US Office of Adolescent
Health as of June 30, 2017. We had just completed our first year of a five-year
award to provide capacity-building services to OAH’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention
Program grantees, a diverse group of nonprofits serving the nation’s highest-risk
young people, including homeless youth, young people in foster care and Native
American youth.

In March, we had delivered a successful national training to over 200 youth-serving
professionals, and were working collaboratively with our partners and federal
staff to produce resources to build healthier communities for young people
nationwide. Having been assured by federal staff that our funding was secure
per the Continuing Resolution through the FY2017 omnibus appropriations bills,
we had a number of trainings, coaching sessions and other capacity-building
activities scheduled or in development. All had to be canceled immediately just
as grantees were receiving notices that their own programs would be cut short by
two years, increasing the need for support from the capacity-building providers.

We believe that HHS has violated its own regulations with this action, and that
the purported termination action is not authorized by law. We hope to resolve this
matter with HHS quickly so that we can return to our work supporting evidence-based
programs. In the meantime, we applaud Sen. Patty Murray and other
legislators who are publicly questioning Secretary of Health and Human Services
Price about this decision, and more specifically about why the notification seeking
to end grants was made in advance of Congressional action on FY 2018

See  this letter, signed by Sens. Murray, Baldwin, Booker, Blumenthal, Sanders, Brown,
Leahy, Durbin, Carper, Duckworth, Hassan, Coons, Wyden, Udall, Reed, Casey, Markey,
Van Hollen, Cardin, Hirono, Heinrich, Franken, McCaskill, Warren, Klobuchar, Harris, Nelson,
Feinstein, Bennet, Shaheen, Menendez, Murphy, Whitehouse, Cortez Masio, Gillibrand,
Cantwell and Schatz.

~ Melanie Goodman, Executive Director

Posted in funding, news, uncategorized

Our All-Season Movement


In 1981, Youth Catalytics set out to improve the lives of vulnerable young people by lifting up the programs and professionals who work with them. Since then, the world has changed under our feet. Generally, those changes have been for the good. Sped by advances in technology, our social and biological sciences have matured, producing an enormous body of evidence about what actually works to move young people toward success. Government policy on youth has shaped and reshaped itself many times over, usually, if not always, arching toward progress. Predictably, funding for our programs has waxed and waned, at times threatening to weaken us, but never actually doing it.

Through all this, nine U.S. Presidential elections have come and gone. Five different administrations, with a sixth now to come.  And we’re still here.

This is what’s also still here: Our unwavering commitment to the thousands of people who work tirelessly every day to build strong communities for our next generation.

In the 1970s, our field barely existed. Now it does, because we built it. And we’re not simply fumbling along, doing our best. We’re being effective. There’s incalculable power in that.

It’s easy to get discouraged. Political winds blow this way and that, and we know from long experience that they can blow hard, either propelling us forward or forcing us back a bit. We don’t know what’s going to happen this time around, but let’s look beyond any single moment in time to review our overall trajectory as a field.

In the 1970s, there were no shelters or services for homeless young people, and no public funding to support them. It took dogged effort and patience, but we changed that. Today a robust network of federally and state-funded services works every day to lift vulnerable young people out of poverty and give them a chance for a healthy and productive adulthood. (Yes, that network is still too small, and we acknowledge that. But it exists, and it’s not going away.)

In the 1980s, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. were shockingly high — the highest in the industrialized  world. By 1990 the rate had climbed to a peak of 116 births per thousand. We recognized that having a baby too young was often catastrophic for parents and children alike, and we went to work. What happened? By 2011, the rate had fallen to 52 births per thousand, the lowest number in at least four decades.We tried hard, in lots of different ways, to move the needle for young people, and we succeeded.

In the 1990s, dropout rates among minority students in some high schools were well over 50%. Consider Hispanic teens, the group most likely to drop out. In 1991, 36% of Hispanic youth left school before graduating. Today, 11% do. Perfect? No. But much better. We said we wanted more for our young people, and we figured out how to get it. We won something real for them, something of lasting value, and everyone, not least society itself, is benefiting.

In the 1970s, our field barely existed. Now it does, because we built it. And we’re not simply fumbling along, doing our best. We’re being effective. There’s incalculable power in that, and we can’t be turned back.

So in times of discontent, remember this: We can make things better for youth. We have made things better. Balky systems and unpredictable funding cycles aren’t bigger than us; as a movement, we are bigger than them. We have survived and flourished in all seasons, and we will continue to do so.


~ The Youth Catalytics Team

Posted in motivational, news, uncategorized

Communicating on Teen Pregnancy Prevention: It’s Our Job


preg1For 40 years, Youth Catalytics’ sole mission has been to improve the well-being of vulnerable young people. Almost always, that’s involved strengthening organizations in direct contact with youth — schools, foster care systems, mentoring programs, homeless shelters, jobs programs, juvenile justice services. These settings differ in important ways, but in a fundamental sense, they’re all attempting to do the same thing: give disadvantaged young people the chance for a better future.

In our work, we’ve developed deep expertise in youth homelessness, adolescent brain development, trauma-informed care, and social-emotional well-being. In the last five years, we’ve come to specialize in another area as well: teen pregnancy prevention.

That’s why we’re so pleased to announce that, this summer, we were awarded a grant by the federal Office of Adolescent Health to help teen pregnancy prevention programs improve the way they communicate with local communities, families, researchers and funders. We join four other organizations — Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the University of Massachusetts/Donahue Institute, EngenderHealth, and the University of Michigan/Adolescent Health Initiative — in growing the overall capacity of these programs, helping them be more efficient and effective.

Individually and as a group, we will be supporting 84 organizations around the country working with 1.2 million youth in a wide array of settings, including elementary, middle and high schools, alternative schools, college, after-school programs, teen health clinics, and foster care and juvenile detention systems. Together these organizations are implementing 27 different evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs. Twenty-four organizations are rigorously testing new approaches, and two are developing entirely new programs.

Why is this work important? In 2010-2014, OAH’s very first cohort of pregnancy prevention grantees delivered services to almost 500,000 young people. (Youth Catalytics was among that cohort, leading delivery of the Teen Outreach Program® to high-risk foster care youth in Connecticut.) In those five years, the national teen pregnancy rate fell by 29%. Were these programs alone responsible for that impressive drop? Probably not. But they certainly helped. By funding only programs that actually work, and aiming them narrowly at the subpopulations of youth most at risk of early pregnancy, OAH has created a culture of  scientific legitimacy around sexuality education, taking it out of the realm of morality and into the realm of public health. And that’s been good for youth, their families and their communities.

Simply put, these programs matter. Because they’re important, helping programs operate with fidelity, establish community support, communicate their successes to others, and sustain themselves when the project is over is important, too. That’s what our work is about. We can’t wait to get started.

Posted in adolescent biology, news, uncategorized

Hacking Our Way into Child Welfare

Two weeks ago I attended the White House Hackathon for Foster Care. It was an amazing event. I mean that literally — I was amazed. Yes, technology can connect, edify, make cumbersome processes more efficient, collect kaleidoscopic facts into coherent overviews. We know that. And child welfare has lagged behind other sectors in adopting technology to improve its work. We know that, too. That’s not news.

Here’s what was: throwing a load of tech entrepreneurs together with a bunch of foster care policy makers and administrators. No two professional sectors could possibly be more different. One is bursting with can-do energy, determined to solve any problem that comes its way because that’s how it stays in business. The other is resigned to can’t-do stagnation because for a million reasons, change is just too hard. Change is expensive, it’s complicated, it’s annoying, and it seems always — always — to involve lots of lawyers.

Because you can’t really share, crunch and reorganize data across state agencies.

You can’t really have caseworkers checking their clients’ progress on smartphone apps.

You can’t really develop a web platform that helps foster families and foster kids get along better.

Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy? Please.

But as we heard at the May 26-27 Hackathon, some progressive states, cities, counties and private nonprofits have done all these things and more. First-generation college students are being ‘nudged’ through their application processes by automated text messages; young people in foster care are being mentored via smartphone; young women at high risk for unplanned pregnancy are being reminded via text to refill their prescriptions for birth control pills. Suicidal youth are flocking to textlines, and homeless youth are checking for available shelter beds and booking them by phone.

Colab's hacking team. In 12 hours, these three coders from California developed an app for homeless youth. Next step: piloting it.

Colab’s hacking team. In 12 hours, these three coders from California developed an app for homeless youth. Next step: piloting it.

The technology ‘screen’ is giving youth much-desired anonymity while offering a chance for real connection to real people. The young person decides how far and fast to go.

And it turns out that data-based technological solutions — the cornerstone of efforts by states to really get a handle on, say, so called cross-system youth — are not only possible, but they’re legal, too. Laws preventing agencies from sharing information are more phantom than fact, it seems — and HHS officials have agreed, saying they will create new guidance encouraging state agencies to share information whenever doing so would help them serve a child or family better.

The tech companies who sent hacking teams to the White House — Microsoft, Colab and others — promised ongoing support. It seems that, like lots of other potential allies, they’re more than willing to contribute time and talent if child welfare professionals can frame the projects for them.

As we at Youth Catalytics work with our partner Think of Us — one of the sponsors of the event — on a relationship coaching app for youth in foster care, we’re keeping a close eye on these heartening developments. As one speaker pointed out, the future is already here, it just hasn’t been evenly distributed.

Now it’s child welfare’s turn.

~ Melanie Reisinger Wilson








Posted in news, uncategorized

Pregnancy Prevention for Youth in Special Circumstances: What It Takes to Do It Right


wymancoverWe’re excited to share a resource for teen pregnancy prevention programs that we developed for Wyman, based on our and others’ experiences implementing the Teen Outreach Program® with young people in foster care and juvenile justice settings (or who have other characteristics that make them special). Biggest takeaway? Working with young people in special situations requires a whole new set of tools and approaches, some adapted to the young people themelves and some to the larger systems that serve them.

We loved all the inteviews, connections and new learning, and look forward to helping other agencies learn from our and our colleagues’ experiences!

See Implementing the Teen Outreach Program® with Special Populations: Lessons Learned from Seven Youth-Serving Agencies

Posted in evaluation, news, organizational development, promising practices, uncategorized

What’s the Future of ‘Pay for Success’?

PFS-Mass.WASHINGTON DC — Utah’s just-completed Pay for Success pilot is the talk of the town in DC, at least among a certain subset of policy researchers.

Not familiar with it? The Salt Lake County, Utah, High-Quality Preschool Program sought to increase the number of low-income children in the county who started kindergarten on track and ready to learn. Based on predictive assessments, the county estimated that, absent of some special effort, 110 of the 600 low-income children in its study cohort would need special education in kindergarten. Their pilot, funded through an outcome-focused public-private investment mechanism called Pay for Success (PFS), determined to change those numbers, and it did. After a year of the PFS-sponsored program, only one – yes, one – child was found to need special education. The win for the children was also a win for the taxpayers. The county says it has saved $281,000 in education expenses; presumably those savings will rise if children stay in mainstream classes over the long run.

Under the PFS financing model, social service providers sit down with public funders, private investors, and a project intermediary. Together they look at the evidence that the provider’s approach works, set numerical targets for success, hash out the cost of running and evaluating the program, and then make a deal. The private investors front the full cost of the program; the provider rigorously tracks outcomes, with the help of outside experts; and a third-party evaluator determines if, after a pre-established period of time, the program has indeed succeeded. If it has, the government steps in and pays the investors back, with interest, sometimes over an extended period as more and more savings are realized.

As a model for funding nonprofit services, Pay for Success is in its infancy in the United States, and the first few projects – those just completed and those still underway– are under intense scrutiny.

A panel at the Urban Institute this week spoke to a standing-room-only crowd (a crowd which, several speakers noted, could have fit into a supply closet just a few years ago) about the future of the model. The panel included Shaun Donovan, director of the OMB (a PFS enthusiast); the Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams; Antony Bugg-Levine, of the Nonprofit Finance Fund; and other policy experts and bureaucrats working with the model. Together, they made an impressive case that Pay for Success can demolish funding silos and create powerful new relationships capable of driving dramatic improvement in services. There’s also a lot that it can’t do, or probably can’t do. In other words, much remains unknown about the true potential of PFS.

The Upside

The PFS approach is highly appealing, at least for some types of projects. It can lead to:

  • More effective services. While government may tolerate mediocre results, private investors will not. Private money focuses attention on results and better aligns incentives and expectations. Service providers are no longer paid to provide a service. They’re paid to produce success. For their part, city, county, state and federal funders get to do more than expand, contract or defund programs and ensure grantee compliance; they get to truly change the lives of the people in their communities.
  • The vigorous use of independent evaluators. This is a very good thing, since programs that conduct or contract out their own evaluations can’t be expected (though surprisingly often, they are) to reach conclusions that are truly objective.
  • More honest conversations between providers and funders. Instead of writing grants that promise the moon, PFS-based discussions focus on what’s actually achievable. The three parties at the table – government, the provider, and the investors – are interested only in what’s concrete and realistic. If outcomes are in fact better than anticipated, as in the Salt Lake County project, that’s great, and everybody has learned something about what is possible. But PFS is an opportunity for government and the private sector to peek behind the curtain of social programs, and they can’t help but gain a more nuanced appreciation of the challenges that make progress difficult.
  • Full funding for programs. It goes without saying that most nonprofits are underfunded, and that public funding rarely pays the full cost of any particular set of services. That means that providers must divert a significant share of their energy and money to fundraising. Anyone who’s ever, say, dived into Boston Harbor in January to raise funds for some program or other knows this all too well. (Yes, that was me. I did that.) Under the PFS approach, providers can get full financial support for a program, eliminating the burden of chasing additional grants or gifts.
  • PFS has bipartisan political support. To liberals, PFS provides evidence that difficult social problems actually can be solved; to conservatives, it shifts both risk and reward to the private sector. PFS can also reduce public cynicism by promoting the expenditure of taxpayer dollars only on programs that demonstrably work.
  • Providers can do their work as they see fit. In PFS projects, service providers aren’t told what to provide or how to provide it. If something isn’t working, they can change it in mid-course. There’s no going back to a program officer hoping for a thumbs-up; the provider is the expert and they decide.

The Downside

Yet if PFS continues to expand, either as a discrete funding mechanism or as a general philosophy that shapes funding for social services, there are obvious reasons for concern.

  • A self-defeating focus on data. Just as a pervasive, laser-beam focus on outcomes could be a game-changer for the social service sector, it could also undermine the validity of services whose impacts are important but unmeasurable. Everyone in human services knows that proving success can be phenomenally difficult, and not just for the obvious reasons. A program may produce fabulous success, but not necessarily of the type, or on the scale, it intended to. Or it may indeed produce the success it desired, but the success may go undocumented because the provider didn’t apply the right tools and protocols. Or – a much worse scenario, and a common one – because the right tools and protocols haven’t been developed. Human beings are uniquely complicated, after all, and the outcomes of any particular intervention could be long distant and linked to a set of experiences and services that are interconnected. Benefits to clients can be real without being documentable, and ignoring that fact won’t help anyone in the end.
  • Fairly narrow ‘suitability’ criteria. PFS is one financial tool of several, and it only makes sense under particular conditions. Despite the almost palpable excitement about the model among providers and policy wonks alike, it may well be the case that only a minority of social service providers should even consider it. For one thing, by its very nature PFS can only support prevention programs, because those are the programs that, if done right, can produce large cost savings down the line. PFS-funded programs must be replicable and scalable, and capable ultimately of reaching large numbers of people. Most important of all, providers interested in PFS should already have clear and compelling evidence that their approach works. While investors vary in their motives and their tolerance of risk, none will happily lose their money, which is what will happen if program outcomes aren’t met. Proving to investors that your program will be successful isn’t a small thing, and you can’t do it on the fly. An intense orientation toward evaluation must already be ingrained in organizational culture; playing catch-up in hopes of attracting PFS investors won’t work.
  • Conducting PFS-funded projects can be difficult in ways that providers don’t anticipate. PFS projects can be taxing for social service providers, who under this financial scheme must focus single-mindedly on outcomes and the various processes and software packages that document them, sometimes to the exclusion of the more human work they’d rather be doing. Not all providers will find the trade-off worth it.
  • PFS involves risks to providers as well as to investors. Many social service providers are happy with the current system. Being paid a certain amount per client to provide a certain service is good enough. They feel their service works for their clients, and perhaps even know it works, anecdotally and through whatever data they’re already required to collect. Their public funders are satisfied, their clients seem satisfied, so why risk their program by developing intense numerical goals that perhaps they don’t end up meeting?
  • Government complacence. For that matter, many government bureaucrats are satisfied with the current compliance regime as well, or at least used to it. Pay for Success can feel enormously complicated, not least because the funding silo that pays for a prevention program may not be the same one that reaps savings down the road. And, as we all know, programs are often funded regardless of the evidence for them. That is to say, evidence matters, but politics usually matters more, making the whole evidence-based enterprise feel a little creaky. Which services require the intense focus of PFS, and which ones are protected from intense focus? This question would become particularly important if PFS moves beyond discretionary public spending (a relatively small slice of the budget pie) and into entitlement spending.
  • Perverse incentives. No one on the panel mentioned it, but I wonder if, with so much money on the line, clients may get pushed to the finish line too soon or be deemed “successful” too hastily. As one Utah resident skeptically noted in a newspaper article on that state’s early education PFS project, gains made by children in pre-K enrichment programs often disappear after a year or two. Is “success” a single-point-in-time determination, or up for reconsideration as time goes on?

Future Directions

Dozens of additional PFS projects are in some stage of development, and policy folks are watching them closely for new lessons. They’re developing toolkits, sponsoring webinars, and fielding questions from interested nonprofits. As they themselves point out, much will go right, but much may go wrong as well, as PFS grows and evolves. There is a great deal of work to be done in making PFS more than a boutique funding approach. The Urban Institute panel identified two important tasks:

  • Search for new ways to produce evidence of outcomes. Randomized controlled trials are expensive and time-consuming. Building knowledge about outcomes must necessarily fold in other kinds of less-expensive data, such as data automatically collected when former clients use public services or enroll in entitlement programs down the line. But there are inevitable privacy issues in mining this kind of data, and no one’s figured out a way past them quite yet.
  • Develop a tiered-evidence PFS project paradigm, so that incubator projects that are promising but lack solid evidence still have a chance at being funded. A second tier might involve projects that have been highly successful with a particular subpopulation and or in a single place but that must be proven with larger groups or in different locations.

There’s a lot to learn about Pay for Success and its suitability for any given provider and project. Read more at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and the Urban Institute. The Urban Institute is hosting a free webinar to potential PFS applicants on Oct. 27.

~ Melanie Reisinger Wilson, YC Research Director

Posted in evaluation, funding, news, organizational development, uncategorized

Cultural Humility in Hawaii


A Youth Thrive group exercise, Honolulu, 2015.

In July, I went to Honolulu to lead a Youth Thrive training for 14 youth-service providers under the auspices of the Hawaii Youth Services Network. The providers were an amazingly diverse group. They worked with young people between the ages of 7 and 24 in middle and high schools; in reproductive health programs; and in programs for runaway and homeless youth. Among the group was someone from every Hawaiian island and three from Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Marianas.

If you’ve ever brushed up against the US Census, you know that these folks are collectively known as “Pacific Islanders.” So they’re one race, ethnicity, and culture, right? Wrong. Well, they’re essentially the same, right? Wrong.

What this training really drove home for me was how many subcultures exist within our large demographic constructs. And that’s just what demographic umbrellas are: a construct, something we make up for our own convenience. (Anybody want to weigh in on what “the white community” thinks about Donald Trump? Or what “the American community” thinks about the current refugee crisis in Eastern Europe? If you’re white or American, you know those very questions are nonsensical.) Which is why, in Hawaii, without doubt the most ethnically diverse of all American states, social service providers talk about the importance of being “culturally humble.”

Making genuine connections with young people is the basis for doing any successful work with them — as a teacher in a school, as a nurse in a health clinic, as a youthworker on the street. And no genuine connection can happen if you assume, consciously or otherwise, that your culture makes more sense than theirs.

In Youth Thrive, we combine the most recent findings of adolescent neuroscience with four decades of accrued knowledge about approaches that work — really work — to help young people realize their full potential. Youth Thrive teaches us that it’s not about changing them;  it’s about changing ourselves so that we can truly, finally “meet them where they’re at.”

Cultural humility is part of that, a change we impose on ourselves so that we can see the young people in our lives without judgment.

At the end of the three days, Claudia ‘Lala’ Fernandez (who is Director of Programs  Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii-Leeward), helped us close by arranging us in a circle. Circles, she explained to me later, symbolize the equal respect we shared and the bonds we had created during three days of work. She asked each of us to share the makana (gift) that we would take back home with us, and to offer our ko’okupu–our intention to nurture the gift back home, so it takes root and grows.

Finally, she thanked each one of us in Hawaiian, ending with this benediction: ‘Olelo no’eau, a’ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka halau ho’okahi,’ which means that not all knowledge is taught in one school or place. Another reminder of what we gain when we are humble and assume others may know something we don’t.

 ~ Cindy Carraway-Wilson, Youth Catalytics Director of Training


Posted in news, organizational development, promising practices, trainings, uncategorized

Rolling Out Youth Thrive in Vermont

kidswallIf you teach social service and law enforcement personnel how to develop more productive relationships with youth, will the outcomes for youth improve? As a side benefit, will the professionals feel they’re being more effective, and thus be more satisfied on the job?  We’ll be finding out in Vermont, where we’ve been hired to conduct three-day intensive cross-sector trainings in Youth Thrive™ in two communities and smaller half-day overview trainings in four more. The goal is to train professionals of all types who interact with young people involved with, or at risk of involvement with, the juvenile justice system. The project, funded by the Vt. Children and Family Council for Prevention Programs and the state Dept. of Children and Families under a grant from OJJDP, is focusing on the communities with the highest rates of school suspensions, school dropouts, youth on probation and youth in detention.

Youth Thrive is a brain science-based youth development training that teach adults how to engage with youth differently — in ways that not only won’t backfire (too often the case now), but that will actually produce better outcomes over both the short and long term. In the two high-focus areas, we will provide the full 18-hour training to professionals across disciplines, including those working in mainstream and alternative schools, law enforcement, and state and private nonprofit social services.

Outside of New Jersey and Florida, Vermont is the first state to use Youth Thrive to build capacity and knowledge in city, county and state systems. The rollout of Youth Thrive there gives us the chance to evaluate both the knowledge that participants gain and — more importantly — the changes they take back to their workplaces. We’ll be following up with the participants after six months to see what they’re doing differently and what impact those changes are ultimately making in their system and personal practice. We’ll  also, of course, be tracking selected youth outcomes to see what changed for young people, and at which levels of the system.

Looking for the new frontier of youth development? It’s here. Give us a call and we’ll let you know how we can bring this indispensable training to your community.

The Vermont work is funded in part by OJJDP grant No. 2013-MU-FX-0555.

Posted in evaluation, news, promising practices, trainings, uncategorized

Conn.’s Plan for Ending Youth Homelessness

openingdoorsIn 2014, Youth Catalytics facilitated a ten-month planning process in Connecticut aimed at designing a comprehensive service system for homeless and unstably housed youth. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has prioritized youth homelessness in recent years, and states are beginning to tackle the question of how they can ensure that all young people have safe and stable housing. The work we did was contracted by the Center for Children’s Advocacy and Partnership for Strong Communities with funding from Melville Charitable Trust, and included a series of meetings with three work groups—ones focused on housing, data integration, and services and supports for young people. The result of this work was a formal plan that will act as a road map for CT’s Opening Doors initiative.

While all state Continuums of Care have been tasked with intentionally addressing youth homelessness, some states are further along than others. Having recently released the new Opening Doors for Youth Plan places Connecticut at the forefront of a select group of states that are prioritizing this work and actively building capacity to serve youth and young adults in a coordinated way.

Connecticut’s document was informed by work group discussions, input from youth consultants, and our own research into other efforts to end youth homelessness around the country. One recommendation that came out of this research, for example, was the creation of a statewide coordinator position. Having a dedicated person whose job it is to oversee the implementation of system changes and ensure that available services are low-barrier and developmentally appropriate for youth is key to making sure Connecticut reaches its goals. Other states would do well to follow their lead in prioritizing funding that supports not just direct services to youth but also the administrative capacity to coordinate efforts across regions and advocate for legislative or system changes.

As an early-phase document, the plan also emphasizes the need for better data on homeless youth and strategies for evaluating the impact of changes on young people. In fact, one of the first steps taken by the data work group was to organize Connecticut’s first-ever rigorous homeless youth count, which took place in early 2015. This statewide count process included a unique element—a school survey that uses peer reports to estimate the number of unstably housed youth in any given district. The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness contracted with Youth Catalytics to coordinate this survey, based on our success piloting the instrument in other New England states. In Connecticut, we surveyed students in 11 schools; while findings from Connecticut have not yet been released, early analysis suggests they’ll be in line with results from earlier projects. Stay tuned for more.

~ Jen Smith, Research Associate

Posted in news, promising practices

The Huge Youth Thrive Surprise

Over the last 30 years, we’ve conducted hundreds of trainings for professionals who work with young people. We’ve seen every trend come and go at least twice, and we’re pretty good at predicting how the field will respond to each one. In short, not much can surprise us. But something just has. Meet Youth Thrive™, the one training that has us so busy that it’s been hard to keep up. Why?  Because Youth Thrive is PYD 2.0, the new, improved version that includes the latest information on adolescent neuroscience, trauma and resilience, plus practical help in applying what you learn to your particular setting.  Simply put, it’s the new frontier of youth development.  Want to know more? We think you need to know more. Below is one of our upcoming trainings in Maine. Join us, and find out what all the buzz is about.

Lighting the Bumpy Path to Adulthood: A Youth Thrive™ Overview

2015 Positive Youth Development Institute
& Summer Training Academy
July 20-22
University of New England
Biddeford, Maine






Research conducted by The Center for Social Policy Study has identified a set of key competencies that have been shown to help young people increase protective and promotive factors while reducing risk factors. Research shows that these supports help young people move beyond trauma and under resourced environments to become more resilient in addressing their developmental needs.

This workshop will present the key components of the Youth Thrive™ Framework including adolescent brain development and the impact of trauma on young peoples’ brain development, youth resilience, the importance of social connections, helping young people better understand their own development, concrete supports in times of need, and cognitive & social-emotional competence in youth.

Participant Outcomes:

  • Become familiar with a set of guiding premises that support key practices with an application of the Youth Thrive™ Framework
  • Explore the Youth Thrive™ Protective and Promotive Framework and key research behind each of its five components
  • Learn how these promotive and protective factors, important for all youth, work together to increase the likelihood that youth develop characteristics associated with healthy adolescent development and well-being
  • Consider important connections or overlaps with other important frameworks such as the Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets


Cindy Carraway-Wilson, MA, CYC-P
Director of Training, Youth Catalytics

Hector Sapien, LCSW, CYC-P
Independent Practitioner

Register here.

Learn more about Youth Thrive™. Interested in bringing this transformative training to your city or state? Contact Cindy Carraway-Wilson at 207 319-6009

Posted in adolescent biology, news, organizational development, promising practices, trainings, uncategorized

So You Want Your Indirect Costs Covered? Done.

graphic overhead
It’s about time.

Nonprofit leaders, grant writers, and program managers are high-fiving in response to a new rule governing ‘pass-through’ funding—states, local governments and other entities that use federal funds to hire nonprofits for service delivery are now required to reimburse nonprofit indirect costs. Although some government contracts have allowed for indirect cost rates in the past, rates vary widely by state, and most were set at less than 10 percent of the actual costs nonprofits incur.

The change to OMB’s Uniform Guidance rules reflects growing recognition that failing to fund the true indirect costs of service provision leaves a big (and unfair) gap for nonprofits. In fact, over half of organizations participating in Urban Institute’s 2013 survey about nonprofit work under government contracts said that uncovered administrative costs were a significant problem for them. Further, 24 percent of respondents reported operating under contracts that provided no funds at all for indirect expenses.

What’s left for nonprofits to do?

The National Council of Nonprofits gives several recommendations, including accurately tracking your nonprofit’s indirect costs, advocating at the state level for any changes needed to comply with new requirements, reporting back your experiences, and holding pass-through entities accountable for following through. (Note: the interim final rule says the right to indirect cost reimbursement cannot be waived. So, if a pass-through entity asks you to sign off on a waiver, stand up for your rights.)

Learn more by checking out this guide that helps assure nonprofits understand their rights and know how to benefit from these changes. To comment on the interim final rule that covers Uniform Guidance modifications, submit remarks online by February 17.



Posted in funding, news, organizational development

Watch This: When Foster Youth Feel Safe, They Open Up

All young people in foster care have experienced difficulties, and some display emotional and behavioral challenges because of those difficulties. This subset of foster care youth can be particularly difficult to engage. There are ways to do it, though. We know, because, via our OAH-funded demonstration project focusing on teen pregnancy prevention in Connecticut, we found one!

This short video is the first is a series looking at what it’s like delivering the Teen Outreach Program to teens in therapeutic settings — alternative and charter schools, group homes, and other community-based programs. Watch it to find out what TOP is like, but also feel inspired about what’s possible.

Click on the video below, or here: When Foster Youth Feel Safe, They Open Up

See also ‘Let’s Do Something for Dogs,’ another video in our series.


Posted in motivational, news, promising practices, uncategorized

Yes, There’s an App for That, and No, It Doesn’t Work. But That’s Changing.


appIn any 12-month period, 21% of youth will have a diagnosable mental health disorder. In the US alone, that adds up to millions of young people every year. Even if we could identify them all, not all of them could be treated—at least not in the traditional way. But isn’t the traditional way all there is?

Well, no, says Dr. David Mohr, Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies (CBIT) at Northwestern University. Mobile phones, tablets, sensors and computers have tremendous capacity to deliver mental health treatment and support in far easier and cheaper ways—ways that can reach many more youth who need help. We just need to figure out the best ways to do it.

Mohr cautions that we’re not quite there yet.

To make his point, Mohr, who appeared last month at a National Institute of Medicine-sponsored panel in Washington, D.C. on prevention science in children’s mental health, pointed to the 40,000 health-related apps currently available for smartphones. About 2,000 of them are for specific conditions. Most of them are free. So much for the good news. The bad news is that most have never been studied for effectiveness; most that are downloaded aren’t used; those that are used aren’t used consistently; and there’s no way of knowing what small percentage of them ever reach the people who could actually benefit from them.

“Stand-alone web-based treatments probably work for some people, but generally do not have a big impact. If you put a human behind it in the form of a coach, you get much larger effect sizes — effect sizes that start to look like the kind of effect sizes you see in treatment.”

Even if they have been studied and are targeted to exactly the right people, they still probably won’t work very well. Mohr cites MoodGYM, a popular app from Australia that is supposed to prevent depression. Yet evaluations showed that people who used the app did just as well by visiting informational websites about depression.

Not surprisingly, simply referring young people to a canned resource, even one with interactive features, isn’t enough to change complex behaviors. For that, youth need actual people, even if those people are behind-the-scenes coaches who the youth never or rarely actually see.

“Stand-alone web-based treatments probably work for some people,” Mohr said, “but generally do not have a big impact. If you put a human behind it in the form of a coach, you get much larger effect sizes—effect sizes that start to look like the kind of effect sizes you see in treatment. And this coach support does not have to be 45 minutes with the therapist on the phone. A lot of this coaching [involves only] very brief phone calls or text support.”

Checking in with a client—even conducting substantial therapy—online, via email or text, isn’t as flimsy an idea as it sounds, Mohr says, since research indicates that “leaner” communication stripped of traditional visual cues forces both parties to make positive assumptions about the other. The client simply has to believe the practitioner wants to help and is an expert in helping. Both sides are accountable to the other, but in e-relationships, the accountability is embedded in the technology itself.

Other uses of mobile technology  include:

  • Directly texting young people to remind them to take a medication, or even having a ‘smart’ medication dispenser that texts the practitioner when the client has missed a dose.
  • With  permission, using ‘mobile sensing’ to harvest data from clients’ phones, such as where they are and what they’re looking at on the internet—information that could be critical for clients at risk.

Better apps are coming, too—ones that actually work when used consistently and in tandem with a practitioner. In the meantime, Mohr advises mental health experts to build the principles behind the treatment, not the apps themselves. That should be done in partnership with the tech folks, who can be charged with rapidly developing prototypes (many of which can include components that have already been developed), and then helping to test them. Practitioners also need to be thinking about how BITS can be embedded in existing mental health delivery systems, because how practitioners adapt to them is as important as how clients do.

~ Melanie Wilson, Youth Catalytics Research Director



Posted in news, promising practices, uncategorized

Carolyn A. Lin Joins Youth Catalytics as Advisor

caroline_linWe’re delighted to welcome Carolyn A. Lin, Ph.D., to our board of advisors. Dr. Lin is a communications professor at the University of Connecticut and founder of the Communication Technology Division at the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication.  Her research and teaching programs encompass the areas of communication technology, eHealth, social marketing, advertising, public relations and intercultural/international communication.  She has published over 100 journal articles and book chapters, in addition to four books and other publications.  One of her recent publications examines effective community strategies for reducing substance use among under privileged youth.  Her research and consultation work has been supported by the NIH, CDC, NSF, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.  She is currently engaged in research addressing nutrition communication, STI/HIV-testing promotion, social media and social capital, among other projects.

Posted in news, uncategorized

Fitting In Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

image3What’s worse? Being a teen who fits into society’s stereotypes or not? It turns out, neither is great. I recently attended a webinar focused on the impact of gender stereotypes on adolescents. This is an issue we’ve explored ourselves from various angles – first, from our perspective as allies and trainers on sexual diversity sensitivity; and secondly, from our view as researchers studying the early sexualization of girls.

In this webinar, Dr. Bryn Austin from Harvard’s School of Public Health presented new research that examines health disparities among adolescents, across a spectrum of gender conformity. The study showed that young people who are most gender non-conforming (i.e., those who least fit into society’s preferred gender roles), had higher rates of PTSD, depression, cigarette use and pain impairment. Researchers suggest this is because of stress pathways—that people who don’t conform to gender norms are more likely to suffer bullying and abuse. In fact, these young people have higher rates of psychological, physical and sexual abuse than their gender-conforming peers, and the harassment they suffer comes from both peers and adults alike.

However, study participants who most conformed to gender stereotypes (i.e., those who ‘fit the mold’ of masculine or feminine ideals), were at high risk for negative outcomes, too—just different ones. For example, highly gender-conforming males were more likely to smoke cigars or chew tobacco, and to abuse steroids or other supplements, while females on this end of the spectrum were more likely to use tanning beds, be physically inactive, and abuse laxatives (as a diet aid). So, whether young people are being punished by the ‘gender police’ for non-conformity, or whether they’re buying into dangerous gender roles themselves, the bottom line is: gender stereotypes are bad for virtually all adolescents.

This particular study focused on increased cancer risks, but as discussion leader Sophie Godley from Boston University’s School of Public Health pointed out, the impact of gender stereotyping reaches into every corner of public health. How do our own research decisions and program practices contribute to the ‘gender policing’ of young people? Are we reinforcing the gender binary—the traditional idea that gender only comes in two opposing options? In most cases, yes, and it’s probably because we don’t understand the alternative. Do we even consider gender-related factors when evaluating program effectiveness? What about the activities we offer to young people engaged in our services, the language we use, the way we label our bathrooms?

Youth Catalytics’ own work on early sexualization was sometimes criticized for its sole focus on girls – “What about boys?” became a common refrain – so we’re attuned to questions about how what we study impacts how we think about and present the issues. Webinar presenters encouraged people not to become embroiled in a battle over whether stress pathways or societal norm pathways were more important to address, but instead, to take a larger view—to examine how systems themselves perpetuate gender stereotyping, including acknowledging the feminization of the public health field as a whole. When asked for examples of how to do better, presenters offered two programs that move the needle on gender stereotyping: Rowing Strong, Rowing Together (a rowing team for teen moms in Holyoke, Mass.) and the school-based Coaching Boys into Men model.

I took away several questions, which I pass on to you for consideration: What are three ways your work unwittingly encourages young people to conform? Where are you making space for non-conformity? And finally, how can we ensure that when we talk about the alarming trajectories of various subpopulations of youth (e.g., young men of color or disadvantaged girls), we’re not overpowering the stories of the most resilient gender non-conforming youth we know?

~ Jen Smith

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