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Evaluation of after-care interventions

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Young people leaving care comprise a vulnerable sub-population with more social problems than youth in general. Compared to other young people, formerly cared-for children are less likely to get an education, they are less likely to get a job, they are more involved in crime, and in general they have poorer health. Therefore, we are seeing increasing focus on the challenges these young people are facing when they leave care and try to establish an independent adult life.

The National Board of Social Services in Denmark has initiated a number of intervention projects to strengthen after-care activities for youth leaving care. The projects will start in 2011 and end in 2015. Four of the projects will be evaluated by SFI - The Danish National Centre for Social Research. The aims of the projects are to improve young people's transition to independent adulthood, thus enabling them to: get an education, become established in the labour market, create social networks, etc.

The designs of the evaluations are based on experience from previous studies in the field and on research on vulnerable adolescents in general. Each of the evaluations includes a qualitative part and a quantitative part. The qualitative part is based on focus group interviews with key stakeholders and interviews with the young people. The interviews will be conducted in the middle of the project period, when the interventions have been implemented and they will be repeated at the end of the projects. The quantitative part is based on register data. In Denmark all citizens have a unique identification number, and researchers can get access to various registers for research purposes. The register-based outcomes, which will be the focal point of the quantitative evaluation, include: education, employment rate, crime, treatment for abuse, health and housing.

The quantitative evaluation will include measurements before and after the interventions for all participants in the four projects. The design does not allow us to study causal relations between intervention and outcome, but the descriptive analyses will give us indications of how the young aftercare recipients are performing on a number of key parameters. However, we have to take the age effect into account, i.e. more 20-year-olds than 16-year-olds have committed a crime. To enhance the usability of the findings, we will compare results on the specific outcomes from the formerly cared-for young people with the national average for their peers.

The interventions of the projects are targeting at different levels. The first and most ambitious and costly project focuses on strengthening aftercare through a new organizational model that involves all stakeholders in the municipality. By strengthening the collaboration between the different stakeholders, the aftercare interventions should become more effective in helping the young people on their way to education, job and independence. In the second project the aftercare intervention is performed by voluntary organisations. Our hypothesis is that voluntary organisations have a better chance of providing successful aftercare services for groups of youths who are fed up with the municipal system. Participation is based on voluntary activity, and there are no formal controls, sanctions or regulatory functions. The aim of the third project is to help the young people get a relationship to the labour market before they leave care, e.g. through work-experience placements or jobs in cooperation with local firms. In the fourth project a new type of aftercare will be implemented and tested. The young people will live with a host family in a transition period before they move to their own housing, and this is expected to reduce the risk of uncertainty, e.g. in terms of unstable housing conditions. Furthermore, the host families are expected to help the youth to cope with daily routines and to establish social networks.

A mid-term evaluation will be published in 2013, and the final evaluations will be published in 2015/2016. 

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