At-Risk Youth (Industry Perspective)

The Forum for Youth Investment is helping state and local agencies use data to more flexibly deliver the right service mix to youth ages 14 to 24, often referred to as disconnected or opportunity youth.


Youth deserve all the help they can get to prepare for college, work and life. Currently, disadvantaged youth have access to a variety of uncoordinated, inflexible and imprecise services. Juvenile justice, labor, health, education, housing and human service agencies work independently, creating a fragmented system in which youth can be overlooked and underserved.

It is difficult and confusing enough to transition from childhood to adulthood. But imagine the complexity as vulnerable young people try to navigate a multifaceted system — in some cases, on their own. Even fundamentals, such as the age at which a youth is considered an adult and their eligibility for programs and services vary from system to system.

When critical services don’t reach youth at the time of need, a host of problems can arise: gang involvement, lack of education or trouble finding a job, to name just a few. To address these service delivery challenges, the Forum for Youth Investment is helping state and local agencies use data to more flexibly deliver the right service mix to youth ages 14-24, often referred to as disconnected or opportunity youth.


There is abundant point of service and research data scattered across labor, education, child welfare, justice, health and other agencies. Aggregating this data opens new opportunities to better tailor services to the needs of the individual, and it offers a chance to learn what works.

In collaboration with Accenture, the Forum is working with agencies to use data to identify services that will deliver the best outcomes. Analytics on data collected from state, local, federal and provider databases is providing insights about which youth are most vulnerable and at risk.

There’s a lot more integrated data can do, including:

Provide caseworkers a granular view. If data from all local, state and federal public services a youth receives were fed into a centralized protected case management system, caseworkers could see, at an individual level, which services would benefit that youth the most.

Measure and reward performance. Aggregated data provides insight into which interventions and services are getting the best results, while also opening new avenues for policy makers and service providers to measure their own performance against their peers.

Reveal important trends. Integrated data can help agencies to better understand, on a macro level, if they are achieving desired results. For instance, by tracking key indicators of well-being, demographics and participation levels, agencies will be able to identify trends in rates of high school graduation, youth employment, health, safety and beyond. Early identification of problems can lead to earlier intervention with solutions.

Most importantly, coordinating data will allow agencies to work together to match the right provider with the right individual to deliver better results faster.


Data sharing remains a nascent — and somewhat uncomfortable — concept in the public sector. The subject gained traction through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, when Congress took bold steps to include funding for the integration of state data on children and youth in education systems. Since that time, Congress has authorized an innovative initiative, Performance Partnerships, which will ultimately allow up to 20 communities to blend funds across multiple education, criminal justice, labor and other programs to better meet the needs of their disadvantaged youth populations.

Data sharing is, after all, really just a proxy for getting people to work at common purpose.  So sharing of resources is critical as dollars are often so constrained by the time they reach local providers that organizations must stretch themselves to meet eligibility, reporting, program requirements and other policy rules built into the funding. Performance Partnerships allow multiservice organizations and partnerships the flexibility to design a bottom-up approach to serving vulnerable youth.

These are among the communities signing on to measure and achieve better outcomes in exchange for increased flexibility:

Children’s Services Council of Broward County, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.Leaders in Broward County believe that Performance Partnerships can allow them to remove the roadblocks that have kept them from providing comprehensive services that support high school graduation, post-secondary attainment and labor market success. In an effort to increase high school graduation rates and successful transition to post-secondary education or employment, the council has proposed to:

  • Blend funds from state and federally funded programs at the local level.
  • Develop common eligibility.
  • Create a shared client database to streamline intake, client tracking and outcome measurements which would then reduce the number of staff needed to administer the program and allowing each youth to get the service they need in the amount they need.
Berea Partners in Education in Berea, Ky., wants to ensure that disconnected youth in their rural promise zone receive the comprehensive supports they need to build academic skills, lift aspirations and connect to career pathways. With the goal of providing a comprehensive suite of services, the team proposed a Performance Partnership to move toward shared eligibility and performance standards, and monitoring across multiple federal funding streams.

These and other Performance Partnership pilot sites commit to achieving significant improvements for disconnected youth in educational, employment and other key outcomes in exchange for new flexibility. Data, especially when shared across agencies and providers, can reveal whether those key outcomes are being achieved.


The promise of data sharing doesn’t stop with the youth population. This concept could be applied to other public services to reshape service delivery for a variety of segments. The data itself will ultimately prove that agencies equipped with complete information can deliver better outcomes with the funding they are given.

This article was adapted from an earlier article published in Policy & Practice, the journal of the American Public Human Services Association, by Elizabeth Gaines, Forum for Youth Investment, and Gary Glickman, Accenture Health & Public Service.

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