The Future of Executive-Skills Coaching and Behavioral Science in Programs that Serve Teens and Young Adults
Lessons from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Pilot Project
Executive skills are the cognitive abilities that make it possible for people to set goals, regulate impulses, and complete the steps necessary to achieve their objectives. Examples of these skills include time management, emotional control, and organization. Richard Guare and Peggy Dawson have developed a coaching strategy based on executive functioning, and three programs serving young people conducted a pilot of that strategy with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Executive-skills coaching (ESC) puts participant-driven goal setting at the center of the coaching interaction. Participants gain an understanding of their executive skills profiles and use the coaching sessions to define goals and monitor progress. The grantees involved in the pilot project were:
New Moms, a job-training, housing, and family-support program in Chicago
Teen Parent Connection (TPC), a support network for pregnant or parenting teens in state custody in the metropolitan Atlanta area
Women’s Resource Center, a program offering various career and educational services to single mothers in Grand Rapids, Michigan who are involved in the criminal justice system
This was the most diverse group of programs that had ever tested the Guare and Dawson ESC approach. MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) provided technical assistance to the grantees to help them use behavioral science to design “environmental modifications”: strategies to reduce the demands on attention, organization, and follow-through that programs may unwittingly place on participants.
This report summarizes how programs implemented ESC, with an emphasis on how they adapted the coaching model to fit their program contexts, the challenges coaches faced, and the diverse experiences of participants. Overall, the grantees described the pilot project as a positive experience — and in many cases a transformative one. Coaches found that ESC helped them to approach their practice more systematically and to clarify their role. They believed it empowered participants in a way that traditional case management does not. While there are limits to ESC and a critical need to define the organizational factors that contribute to successful implementation, the pilot seems to indicate that the model has promise. The final section of the report suggests next steps for researchers, technical-assistance providers, and funders to further support the refinement and spread of ESC in programs that serve at-risk young people.