Youth Villages stories

While former foster children nationally are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration, a report released today shows that former foster kids in Tennessee are achieving higher rates of success through a program that may save taxpayers more than $130 million in long-term costs.

The report gives 10 years of data on the Youth Villages transitional living program, a public/private partnership with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, The Day Foundation, one of Tennessee’s largest philanthropies, and other private donors. The program is also part of a randomized rigorous evaluation that may bolster today’s report and lead to evidence-based solutions for helping former foster children across the country.

The report details the outcomes of more than 5,000 young people who have participated in the program since 2000. Findings include:

  • 84 percent of the young people who completed the program are successfully living independently or with family two years later.
  • 77 percent report no involvement with the law two years later.
  • 83 percent are in school, have graduated or are employed two years after completing the Youth Villages program.

“The TL program is a result of an innovative financial match,” said Patrick W. Lawler, chief executive officer for Youth Villages. Since 1999, Youth Villages has invested $22.4 million in the program, including $6.5 million from its own employees giving through payroll deductions. In his lifetime, philanthropist Day contributed $7.5 million. After his death, The Day Foundation gave a $42 million challenge grant to continue the program and support Youth Villages’ overall growth plans. The state of Tennessee has contributed $9 million toward the program over the past three years.

Using conservative cost estimates for incarceration and probation services, Youth Villages estimates that the state saves $2.6 million for every 100 young adults who complete its transitional living program successfully. By cutting the national average for incarceration rates of former foster youth in half, which adds up to $130 million in cost savings.

“Tennessee provides more resources for this population than any other state in the country,” said Lawler. This year, the state also opted into the Fostering Connections program, allowing young people who meet certain requirements to stay in their foster homes until age 21.

Mark Courtney, senior researcher at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, is leading the study of the TL program conducted by MDRC, a national social service research group. The study is measuring the program’s effectiveness as compared to usual services in the community. Courtney is the principal investigator for the Midwest Evaluation of Former Foster Youth, the country’s most significant evaluation of youth who have aged out of foster care.

“The Tennessee study is one of the largest experimental evaluations ever conducted in the child welfare services field and the largest by far of a program focused on improving the transition to adulthood for foster youth,” Courtney said. “It will provide invaluable evidence to the field regarding ‘what works’ for foster youth.”

Researchers from MDRC already have begun one-year follow-ups with participants, with first findings due in 2015.

The Youth Villages program provides specialists who help young people secure housing; pursue educational and employment goals; access health and mental health services; learn such independent living skills as budgeting, cooking, cleaning and shopping; and create and maintain healthy relationships with family and others.

Youth Villages is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully. Founded in Memphis in 1986, Youth Villages will help more than 20,000 children, young people and families in 11 states and Washington, D.C., through its Evidentiary Family Restoration™ approach. Youth Villages’ wide array of programs, including intensive in-home services, residential treatment, foster care and adoption, transitional living services, mentoring and crisis services, emphasizes on the five components of EFR: family, measurement, community, intensity and accountability.

Headquartered in Memphis, the organization helps thousands of children and families across Tennessee from locations in Chattanooga, Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Dickson, Dyersburg, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Linden, Morristown, Nashville and Paris.

Named one of the Top 50 Nonprofits to Work For by Nonprofit Times and Best Companies Group in 2010 and 2011, Youth Villages has been recognized by Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report, and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations. For more information about Youth Villages, visit