Today I will be making a Community Solutions Tour stop at Youth Villages in Memphis, Tennessee. Youth Villages serves more than 15,000 children in ten states with one simple mission: to help behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully. When President Obama announced the creation of the Social Innovation Fund, he highlighted Youth Villages as an example of an organization that identifies and supports “the rigorous evaluation and scaling of innovative, promising ideas that are transforming communities.”
Often, we will use this blog to highlight specific examples of broader principles or mission areas embraced by our Office. One of the principles underpinning our Office’s mission is the belief that “strong programs and organizations measure and evaluate what works and why, continuously improve when presented new information, and invest in the most effective solutions.” Youth Villages puts that belief into action.
So just what makes Youth Villages so successful in transforming lives? The answer stems in large part from their results-driven approach to treatment. In addition to a residential program for children facing these challenges, Youth Villages has adopted a preference for home-based treatment of children living with their families in their communities, which has shown solid results.
Youth Villages continually collects and analyzes data from its programs, and drives the knowledge generated from that data back into how they do business. Tracking youth who receive at least 60 days of service at six, twelve, and twenty-four months after they leave the program, Youth Villages followed up with more than 12,000 children and their families in 2009. This diligent process has allowed Youth Villages to amass one of the most comprehensive data sets in the country on the treatment of children with emotional and behavioral problems and their families. More importantly than just collecting the data, they undergo a constant evaluation process that has yielded crucial information and has translated into direct program improvements and improved outcomes for children.
As one example of continuously improving the information at their disposal, Youth Villages has hired some of the best minds in the country to figure out how their already robust tracking of their alumni can be improved to be even stronger. This will allow them to make more conclusive assessments of what their programs are doing effectively, and what could be done better.
As the President recently reaffirmed at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship last week, “I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individual serving their communities.” Starting as a single residential treatment campus in Memphis, Youth Villages has grown to offering a continuum of programs and services to become a nationally recognized leader in the field of children’s mental health.
I look forward to visiting Youth Villages today as part of the Community Solutions Tour. And if you know of organizations that are successfully addressing challenges in your community who are using data in an effective way to drive better outcomes for the communities they serve, please tell us about them.
Sonal Shah is a Deputy Assistant to the President, and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.