PACE Center for Girls


Young girls and women make up an increasing share of the youth in the juvenile justice system, despite a national decline in the overall rate of juvenile incarceration in this country. In 2011, girls made up nearly 30 percent of all juvenile arrests, up from 20 percent in 1980. However, girls account for a very small share of the juvenile arrests for violent crimes and are far more likely than boys to be arrested for non-serious offenses like truancy, running away, and underage drinking. Their low-risk entry into the justice system is often linked to a combination of high-need issues, including trauma, physical and/or sexual violence, neglect, mental and physical problems, pregnancy, substance abuse, family instability, and academic failure. The current juvenile justice system is not well-positioned to meet the unique needs of girls, as most services are rooted in research and practices that are based on experiences and needs of boys.

PACE Center for Girls, Inc., is a school-based, gender-responsive program for at-risk girls. Founded in 1985, PACE has served more than 20,000 girls between the ages of 11 and 18 years in more than 15 nonresidential locations across the state of Florida. The program aims to balance academics and social services in a holistic, strength-based culture, with the intention of promoting protective factors and mitigating risk factors for delinquency among girls. To that end, the program offers year-round academic classes, individual and group counseling, case management, gender-specific life management training, career planning and exploration services, and transition services for its participants. The ultimate goal of PACE is to improve health, well-being, self-efficacy and academic outcomes among girls, preparing them to lead productive lives as engaged members of their communities.

This program is funded by the federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a public-private partnership designed to identify and expand effective solutions to social challenges. The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a SIF grantee, is leading a SIF project in collaboration with MDRC and The Bridgespan Group to identify proven programs that can help low-income young people become productive adults.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is also providing financial support for the PACE evaluation.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The main component of the PACE evaluation is a random assignment impact study that examines how effective the PACE program is at facilitating positive outcomes and reducing risky behavior among at-risk girls, accompanied by analyses of program implementation and cost.

Through the random assignment of eligible PACE applicants into a program group (those given the opportunity to receive PACE services) and a control group, the impact study will answer the following key research questions:

  • Does involvement in PACE lead to more academic progress and engagement for program participants compared to girls in the control group?
  • Do girls that have the opportunity to receive PACE services exhibit less risky behavior, such as involvement with the juvenile justice system, high-risk sexual activity, and substance abuse, than girls in the control group?
  • Are girls assigned to the PACE program group more likely to report positive youth development and better goal-setting for the future than girls in the control group?

In order to contextualize findings from the impact analysis, an implementation study will examine the organizational characteristics of the PACE centers, document the components of the PACE intervention model, and assess the degree to which PACE was implemented as specified by the model during the study period. It will also explore participant characteristics, service usage, and the alternative services available to the program’s target population.

A cost analysis will place the costs of PACE services in the context of its outcomes for girls.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The four-year evaluation will randomly assign more than 1,000 eligible PACE applicants into a program group, eligible to enroll in PACE, or a control group, not eligible for PACE but able to participate in alternative services within the community. The primary data sources for the evaluation will include:

  • Baseline data collected during program intake to describe the study participants and to identify subgroups for analysis. As part of the intake process, PACE program staff gather extensive information on demographics and risk and protective factors for all applicants.
  • Administrative records from the State of Florida to measure academic, juvenile justice, and criminal justice outcomes for both the program and control groups.
  • A follow-up survey administered to the full sample 12 months after study enrollment  to gather information on girls’ outcomes, such as behaviors, attitudes, and service receipt outside of PACE.

The implementation study will rely on a mixed-method approach, using data from PACE’s management information system, qualitative data gathered during visits to PACE centers, and staff surveys. The organization will also provide information on programmatic costs, such as staff salaries and operating costs, for the cost analysis.