Many youth in America are not on track for labor market success. One factor that increases the risk of poor labor market outcomes among these youth is dropping out of school. Youth who drop out of school are at greater risk for job instability and for lower long-term earnings. They are also more likely to struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues. These challenges are compounded for youth who have early involvement with the juvenile or criminal justice systems. Even low levels of involvement can disrupt school attendance and increase the likelihood of dropping out of school. Additional collateral consequences—including restrictions on financial aid, employer discrimination, and occupational licensing restrictions— also create barriers to future labor market success. Youth with prior involvement in the justice system need targeted support to overcome these barriers.
The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe (YC) Program is an evidence-based program for helping youth who have dropped out of high school get back on track. MDRC’s evaluation of this program for youth ages 16 to 18 found that three years after program entry, YC participants were more likely than the control group to have obtained a GED or high school diploma, earned college credits, and be employed. The YC model includes a 20-week, community-based residential program followed by a year of post-program mentoring that aims to build youth confidence and maturity, teach practical life skills, and help youth obtain a high school diploma or GED. Building on this successful model, the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the U.S. Department of Labor funded YC programs in three states, to expand their YC programs to include more court-involved youth and to create a follow-on residential occupational training program called Job ChalleNGe (JC).
DOL’s Chief Evaluation Office (CEO), in partnership with ETA, contracted with Mathematica and its subcontractors, Social Policy Research Associates and MDRC, to evaluate the JC grants. The evaluation examined the implementation of these grants and the outcomes for youth participants related to postsecondary education, employment, and criminal justice involvement in the two years following program involvement. This report describes the findings and presents lessons from the experiences of the three grantees and participating youth.