Approximately 4.5 million young people ages 16 to 24 are considered opportunity youth, meaning they are disconnected from work and school. Over the past decade, programs that support opportunity youth to connect to and advance along educational and employment pathways have increasingly engaged in research and evaluation. The Reconnecting Youth project is a systematic effort to identify and describe the range of programs that support opportunity youth, as well as their practices; synthesize existing evaluations of these programs; and identify next steps for research. The Reconnecting Youth website describes a summary of project findings, including two useful tools for program, policy, and research audiences: a program compendium and an evidence gap map. Together, these resources point to areas for which additional research and evaluation are needed to bridge gaps between practice and evidence.

To build the compendium of programs and evidence gap map, the Reconnecting Youth project team gathered and analyzed information about programs and their practices involving opportunity youth and related program evaluations. The team obtained information from a variety of sources, including existing scans of the field; websites of various research and policy organizations, foundations, and well-known programs; clearinghouses and electronic databases; research journals; professional conference proceedings; and a qualitative questionnaire administered to programs that support opportunity youth. Numerous subject matter experts contributed their knowledge to the development of the project and its findings, including experts focused on opportunity youth and methodological experts in systematic review and the design of evidence gap maps.

Findings from the program compendium and evidence gap map can be used to inform program development and build a research agenda. More specifically, these resources can:

  • Deepen the field’s knowledge base by exploring practices and outcomes with a concentration of studies.
  • Explore gaps in evidence to build a research agenda.
  • Leverage existing evidence to strengthen evaluation design and explore innovative evaluation designs.
  • Learn what programs work for whom by building evidence to better understand the experiences of subgroups of youth and identify opportunities to address disparities among youths’ connections to school and/or employment including the root causes of inequities.

Resources

Funder

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Child Trends Staff

Jan DeCoursey

Vanessa Sacks

Partner

MDRC