The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Mark Courtney: Transitional program helps young adults YVLifeSet boosted earnings by 17%; decreased homelessness by 22%

MDRC, with Professor Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, conducted a rigorous random assignment study of the Youth Villages’ Transitional Living Program (now called YVLifeSet) in Tennessee. The program involved more than 1,300 young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The evaluation is being funded by The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Key findings after one-year include:

“These young people are often the most vulnerable youth in our communities,” said Patrick Lawler, Youth Villages CEO. “At Youth Villages, we measure all our work, and in the late '90s, we noticed that older teens who had spent the most time in foster care were the youth who had the worst outcomes. We developed the YVLifeSet program in 1999 to address their needs specifically. We’ve gotten great results with the program and are excited that the study shows the program’s effectiveness.”

Young people who have spent time in the foster care or juvenile justice systems often experience poor outcomes as adults. Compared with their peers, they are less likely to obtain a high school credential or to be employed, and more likely to experience homelessness, criminal justice involvement, and mental health concerns, among other issues. The largest random assignment evaluation of a program serving this population, the MDRC study shows that YVLifeSet is one of the only programs that improves multiple outcomes for youth aging out of foster care and juvenile justice.

What’s Next?
Results for America and Youth Villages are convening a roundtable of experts to discuss the findings and their broader policy implications on Wednesday, May 20, 8:30-10:30 am, in 2168 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. To register, visit


In 2016, MDRC will release two-year impact findings based on administrative data in the education, employment and earnings, and criminal involvement domains, as well as findings from a benefit-cost analysis.