Safe Passage

January 1, 2005

How Philanthropy Is Working Together to Help
All of America’s Youth Connect by Age 25 safe passage
1 Chapter 1: Why All of Us Should Care about America’s Older Youth
4 Chapter 2: The YTFG Vision: Connected by 25
6 Chapter 3: Creating Multiple Pathways to College and Careers
12 Chapter 4: Promoting Opportunities and Alternatives to Incarceration
18 Chapter 5: Helping Youth Who Are Involved in the Foster Care System
22 Chapter 6: Beyond the Tunnel Problem: The Need for Systemwide Reform
26 Chapter 7: A Call to Action
30 Chapter 8: References and Resources
Although their paths may vary greatly, all young people need
to arrive at the same place: ready to work or take advantage
of college-level education with the skills they need to
participate fully in the workplace, become parents or assume
family responsibilities, and participate in the civic life of their
communities. Further, they need opportunities and support
systems in place. Unfortunately, our society has no coherent
social or public policy approach to support young people as
they negotiate these transitions—and many vulnerable youth
are not given the chance to do so successfully. Our vision is of
a society dedicated to providing young people with the skills,
supports, and opportunities to transition into meaningful and
productive adult lives.
Cover Image: © SW Productions / Photodisc Green / Getty Images
S A F E P A S S A G E 1
“The one million students who drop out
of high school each year cost our nation
more than $260 billion dollars. That’s in
lost wages, lost taxes, and lost productivity
over their lifetimes. …When you lose a
million students every year that has a
tremendous impact on our economy. And it
represents the American Dream…denied.”
Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education 1
Most young people make the
transition from adolescence to
adulthood with the support of
their families, communities, and schools.
However, 5.4 million of our nation’s most
vulnerable youth—youth aging out of
foster care, teenage parents, out-of-school
students and those in danger of dropping
out, and youth involved in the juvenile
justice system—lack the services and
social supports they need to succeed as
productive workers, responsible parents,
and engaged citizens.2
The fate of these young people
impacts us all.
Today, at least a quarter of students
starting ninth grade does not graduate from
high school on time. In many of our
nation’s high-poverty districts, only half of
the students of color who attend public
high schools graduate. Many youth without
a diploma face a lifetime of dead-end jobs,
poor benefits, and reduced earnings.3
While youth violence and crime rates
are down, the number of young people
involved in the juvenile justice system is
up. In the 1990s, the national juvenile arrest
rate for major violent offenses went down
by 33 percent, while the number of juveniles
confined in correctional institutions went
up by 48 percent. Our nation spends more
than $1 billion annually to lock young
people in poorly run facilities where they
receive little education, job training, or
In addition, each year, 20,000 young
people leave foster care and many do so
why all of us should care about
america’s older youth
c h a p t e r 1 :
1 Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education, September, 2005; available at
2 Andrew Sum et al, “Left Behind in the Labor Market: Labor Market Problems of the Nation’s Out-of-School Young Adult Populations” (Center for Labor Market
Studies, Northeastern University, 2002), p. 11; available at
3 See Michael Wald and Tia Martinez, “Connected by 25: Improving the Life Chances of the Country’s Most Disadvantaged 14–24–Year–Olds” (Stanford University, 2003);
available at Also see Gary Orfield et al, “Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis” (The Civil Rights Project at
Harvard University, 2004); available at
4 For more information, go to the website of Building Blocks for Youth, an initiative to reduce the overrepresentation and disparate treatment of youth of color in the
justice system, while promoting fair, rational, and effective juvenile justice policies. Fact sheets are available at
without the transitional assistance they
need to get an education, a job, or a home.
Many become teen parents struggling to
complete their education and to support
their new families.5
Nationwide, this means that as
many as one in five young people will
become disconnected from school, work,
and family at some point between the ages
of 14 and 24.6 Research shows that youth
who become disconnected from their support
systems or who are unable to finish their
education are likely to carry social,
emotional, and physical scars from their
“lost time” on the streets. As a result, they
are more likely to use drugs, engage in
criminal behavior, and end up unemployed
or dependent on welfare.
Here are some startling realities:
n Over the next decade, a new generation
of children will be born to young
parents whose ability to provide for
them financially will be severely
compromised. Research shows that the
children of these youth will be at risk of
many of the same negative outcomes
experienced by their parents.
n Every year our nation loses a sizable
portion of its potential labor market as
young people’s lives are challenged by
interruptions in education, early parenthood,
and involvement in systems of
public care. As a result, billions of dollars
in earnings and tax revenue that could
flow into our economy are wasted.
n A large number of court-involved
youth—even if convicted of minor
crimes—will lose their rights to vote
and thus to participate in the civic
voice of many American communities.
As a society, we cannot afford the high
costs that result from ignoring the plight of
struggling youth. In order to keep our
economy strong, our communities safe and
vibrant, and our young people on track, we
must work together to create opportunities
to connect all youth to the education,
employment, and support they need to
transition into a successful adult life.
Fortunately, a host of social ills—
from violence and urban decay to
persistent poverty and homelessness to
lost wages and the high costs of
incarceration—can be prevented by
investing in cost-effective community
supports that help young people who are,
or who are in danger of becoming,
disconnected. The strategies outlined in
this publication highlight some of the
ways we can make more prudent and
effective investments in our young people.
S A F E P A S S A G E 2
5 Michael Wald and Tia Martinez, “Connected by 25: Improving the Life Chances of the Country’s Most Disadvantaged 14–24–Year–Olds” (Stanford University,
2003), p. 23.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
© Gale Zucker Photography
S A F E P A S S A G E 3
“Our focused attention on older youth
insists upon the inherent value of all youth,
no matter how bumpy their roads
to successful adulthood.”
Lisa McGill, Director, YTFG
The Youth Transition Funders Group
(YTFG) began in 2001 as a funders’
network committed to ensuring
that all young people between the ages of
14 and 24 become “Connected by 25” to
caring adults, institutions, and support
systems that will enable them to succeed
throughout adulthood.
YTFG members work together to
help America’s youth achieve five critical
n Educational achievement in preparation
for career and civic participation,
including a high school diploma, postsecondary
degree, and/or vocational
training certificate.
n Gainful employment and/or access to
career training to achieve life-long
economic success.
n Connections to a positive support
system—namely guidance and trusting
relationships with family members and
caring adults, as well as access to health,
counseling, and mental health services.
n The ability to become a responsible and
nurturing parent.
n The capacity to participate in the civic
life of one’s community.
While a set of complex conditions often
contributes to the reasons that any one
young person is unable to establish
meaningful social and economic links by age
25, research shows that there are at least
three primary transition points at which
many youth become disconnected. YTFG
has focused its efforts on increasing
philanthropic investments for youth who
experience transitions that put them at high
risk of long-term disconnection from families
and communities. The transition points are:
Interrupted Education.
Youth who leave school prematurely
are at very high risk of
long-term disconnection and persistent
poverty, especially when they are given
no opportunity to re-engage in learning
and complete their degrees. Conversely,
nearly all youth who attend college—even
for a short time—have better access to
economic opportunity.
S A F E P A S S A G E 4
the ytfg vision: connected by 25
c h a p t e r 2 :
S A F E P A S S A G E 5
Court Involvement.
Incarcerated youth, many of whom
are detained for “status” or other
nonviolent offenses, face an especially high
risk of long-term disconnection. Recidivism
rates for youth are more than 50 percent,
and incarceration reduces the odds that a
young person will complete school and
have favorable employment prospects.
Foster Care Placement.
Youth placed in foster care as
teenagers are an especially vulnerable
population. Most lack much-needed
familial and social support, do not have
adequate access to educational opportunities,
or suffer from mental and physical
health problems or substance abuse. Without
adequate transition assistance, many foster
youth drop out of school and/or become
involved in the justice system.
The next few chapters explore the
emerging philanthropic investments of
YTFG members, part of an effort to
address the challenges of youth who are
out of school, involved with the courts, or
in foster care. Each of these Connected by
25 investments is part of a larger initiative
to address the critical transition points
mentioned earlier and to identify specific
strategies to help foundations, policymakers,
and elected officials help young
people stay on the right path to successful
Despite the diverse perspectives of YTFG
grantmakers, our members and partners are
in strong agreement that the following factors
should guide philanthropic investments in
our communities:
n Youth Development Principles: Integrating
well-tested principles of youth development
that have proven successful in working
with at-risk youth.
n Access to Education: Promoting
educational access, learning, high school
graduation, and flexible postsecondary
options for all young people, especially
those in public care.
n Promoting Physical and Mental Health:
Supporting the physical and mental
health of young people as critical
components of their ability to survive,
thrive, and transition successfully to
adulthood from school, foster care, the
juvenile justice system, and other
n Lifelong Connection to Family and
Caretakers: Advocating on behalf of
policies and strategies that facilitate
and strengthen the connections between
youth and their birth, foster, or extended
S A F E P A S S A G E 6
“We know the education pipeline is
leaking—and we know where those who
fall out are likely to end up. At best,
they gain tenuous footholds on the low
rungs of the economic ladder. At worst,
they wind up in prison or dead.”
Kevin Walker, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Ahigh school education is critical if
young people are to stay on course
and succeed in life. And yet,
despite our best efforts to improve
elementary and middle school education,
fewer than 70 percent of our nation’s
students graduate from high school in four
years, and many out-of-school youth do
not have the tenth-grade educational level
required to participate in GED prep
The problem is far from new, and it
cannot be explained away by criticizing No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) or the standards
movement. However, it is safe to say that
school systems that are adapting new
methods of serving student populations
and responding to federal mandates need
to do more to ensure that all young people
receive an adequate education.
Our Connected by 25 collaboration on
education reform was launched in 2004 to
help cities and other communities better
understand what it takes to stop the
stream of youth out of the school system
and to help them recover those who have
become disconnected.
Led by the YTFG Out-of-School
Youth/Struggling Students Work Group,
YTFG identified a group of cities in 2003
that were making progress in their efforts
to re-engage students whose education
had been interrupted: Boston, New York,
Portland (OR), Philadelphia, and San Jose.
Thanks to the leadership and learning of
these cities, YTFG has identified and
begun to invest in seven promising practices
for connecting struggling students and outof-
school youth. These seven practices
Early Intervention.
Although it is impossible to
predict exactly which children
will drop out of school, recent research
indicates that the transition between the
eighth and ninth grades is critical. Earlycreating
multiple pathways to
college and careers
c h a p t e r 3 :
S A F E P A S S A G E 7
intervention efforts should identify students
who need a helping hand before they reach
high school to ensure that they make the
transition; provide accelerated learning
and extra academic support for students
whose skills are not sufficient; invest
heavily in developmental supports to
ensure that students perceive themselves
as students and have the internal
motivation to learn; and provide better
system coordination and communication
to make sure that students are well served.
Adequate Supply of
Choice-Based, High-
Quality Alternatives.
In many cities and regions, there are
simply not enough “slots” in existing
alternative programs to serve the number
of students seeking these options. Further,
some of the existing alternative programs
are not up to the task of effectively
educating students, which does not serve
youth well in the long run. To remedy the
situation, communities must determine
the mix and scope of programming needed
to meet the educational needs of youth.
This will require schools and communities
to fully budget for educating all of their
youth and to ensure that all new and
existing pathways are of high quality. To
accomplish this, schools must develop
quality standards, student performance
benchmarks, and program evaluation tools.
Shared Responsibility
and Systemic
Adults must move beyond concerns for
students in “their school” or “their
program” to a broader, more inclusive
view that encompasses concern for every
child in the community. A perspective of
shared responsibility is a critical part of
marshaling the resources and the public
support needed to prepare all students for
college and work. Sharing responsibility
will also result in the sharing of data and
information about youth.
Capacity to Refer
and Re-Enroll.
The doors to alternative pathways
must “open both ways” through flexible
referral and re-enrollment policies.
Students should have a choice in selecting
the setting that best meets their needs.
Students should also be able to re-enroll in
either their local high school or alternative
schools in a timely fashion without
bureaucratic barriers.
Credit for Proficiency.
Students with interrupted education
must have ways to accelerate
their learning. Reliance on “seat time” to
generate course credits is one of the
greatest barriers for struggling students
and out-of-school youth. It is critical that
districts and states work together to create
strategies for accelerating learning and credits.
Resource Allocation and
Financial Incentives.
The tracking, budgeting, and
allocation methods used in most schools
obscure the real costs per child and
shortchange the students who need the
most assistance. Through fiscal coordination
and strategic budgeting approaches, schools
can plan for increasing enrollment, school
holding power, and dropout recovery.
Moreover, financial incentives must be
created to make it worthwhile for schools
and alternative programs to succeed with
the students under their care. For
example, if local high schools improve
their ability to meet the needs of all
learners, they should receive funds
S A F E P A S S A G E 8
The YTFG strategic assessment process has already
helped to encourage the attention among key
stakeholders and funders to the expansion of
educational options for out-of-school youth and
struggling students.
n In Boston, the strategic assessment process
(and an opinion editorial in the Boston Globe)
heightened the attention paid by the School
Committee to struggling students and out-ofschool
youth and helped spur a collaboration
between the school department and the YTFG
partnership on using data to better understand
the dropout issue and possible solutions.
n The Oregon Community Foundation, an active
member of Portland’s YTFG partnership, has
begun to identify donors likely to have an
interest in supporting initiatives for struggling
students and out-of-school youth and is
planning efforts to inform donors about the
challenges facing this group of young people.
n In San Jose, the demands of parents and youth
for quality alternative education has brought the
County Superintendent, the County Board of
Education, and District Superintendents to the
table, and these stakeholders have begun to
take steps to acknowledge responsibility for
increasing the quality and quantity of alternative
education slots for youth in San Jose.
n In Philadelphia, a retrospective longitudinal
analysis of dropouts revealed critical warning
signs as early as the sixth grade—red flags
for which an appropriate response could
potentially reduce the scope and nature of the
problems faced in high school.
In these four cities, and in New York, the collaborative
framework of the work has become the central
vehicle for advancing the aims of the strategic
assessment process, cultivating stakeholder
attention, and building community involvement.
S A F E P A S S A G E 9
traditionally allocated to alternative
programs. Conversely, funding should
“follow the student” when a communitybased,
accredited program offers older
students a second chance to complete high
school requirements.
Student Advocacy.
For many out-of-school youth and
struggling students, obtaining a
transcript, getting a referral for special
education testing, or requesting a letter of
recommendation from a former employer
is an overwhelming task. These young
people need knowledgeable adult advocates
to help them negotiate the public and
educational support systems.
As a result of the success of the preliminary
work among the YTFG national and
regional foundations, local intermediaries,
and national organizations, YTFG is
continuing investments in at least five
cities as lighthouse sites for a communitywide
systemic reform aimed at dropout
prevention and recovery. Boston, New York,
Portland (OR), Philadelphia, and San Jose
are focusing on the following four areas:
n Using data across systems to better
understand why and when youth are
disconnecting from school and to
develop early identification systems
that can respond proactively to the
needs of struggling students.
n Assessing policy and funding conditions
that impact the development and
sustainability of alternative learning
n Increasing the supply and quality of
learning options for struggling students
and out-of-school youth.
n Mobilizing stakeholder and policymaker
support for developing and sustaining
learning options.
Our vision is to build on the
successes of YTFG lighthouse sites to
coordinate longer-term investments that
improve educational options and outcomes
for all young people by creating multiple
pathways to college and careers. YTFG
expects to expand our Connected by 25
investment in education reform to
additional communities in the near future.
S A F E P A S S A G E 10
S A F E P A S S A G E 11
lthough the phrase “alternative school” often
refers to disciplinary schools, the original idea
was for these schools to be student centered.
One size does not fit all, especially when trying to support
students who face substantial challenges. Here are just a
few examples of schools or models funded by YTFG
members that are designed around the needs of youth:
n ALTA Academy, Houston: Understanding that youth
may need to balance work, family, and school, ALTA
offers three four-hour sessions per day. Students
focus on two courses at a time over nine-week
sessions. This process provides them with timely
feedback and a sense of successfully advancing
toward their goals.
n Diploma Plus: Schools that adopt the Diploma Plus
model use a competency-based approach to teaching
and learning so that students become responsible for
their own achievement. In order to support students
in the transition to the next stage of their lives, the
final year is focused on coursework at community
college, internships, and participation in communityservice
n Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School:
Manhattan Night and Day Comprehensive, an integratedservices
model, serves 800 nontraditional students
ages 17 to 21. Students can attend either night or day
classes, while working full-time and attending to other
responsibilities. More than 90 percent of seniors
graduate; 60 percent go to college immediately, and
virtually all the rest finish high school already employed.
n Maya Angelou Charter School (MACS), Washington, DC:
Originally designed for court-involved youth, MACS
integrates a strong humanities curriculum to engage
youth in critical thinking, provides vocational and
youth leadership opportunities, and offers mental
health and other social services.
n Performance Learning Centers: Developed by
Communities in Schools, in Georgia, the Centers offer
individualized instruction, a self-paced online
curriculum, a businesslike learning environment,
specially trained and certified teachers, internships,
mentors, job training, and dual enrollment in local
colleges and technical programs.
Go to for more information.
YTFG Snapshot
Opposite page: © Stockbyte / Stockbyte Platinum / Getty Images. This page: © Susie Fitzhugh
S A F E P A S S A G E 12
“Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that when
people are incarcerated, their voices are
suddenly missing from the community and
from conversations about their destiny.”
Victoria Samartino, Founder and Director, Voices UnBroken
(a New York City youth program)
Nationwide, more than 100,000
teenagers, two-thirds of whom are
youth of color, are held in custody
at costs ranging from $100 to more than
$300 per day. While some are serious or
chronic offenders, most have committed
nonviolent property or drug crimes or
misdemeanors. Many of these young
people are housed in large, congregatecare
corrections facilities that are
overcrowded, unsafe, and unequipped to
provide youth with the safety, education,
and care they require.7
In addition, confinement in a secure
facility all but precludes healthy psychological
and social development. Without the freedom
to exercise autonomy, the gradual process of
maturation—the development of self-direction,
social perspective, and responsibility—is
effectively cut off. If we want reform rather
than recidivism, then we should incarcerate
nonviolent youth only when absolutely
Our Connected by 25 collaboration on
juvenile justice reform focuses on
addressing the many challenges faced by
court-involved youth. Led by the YTFG
Juvenile Justice Work Group, YTFG
supports systemwide mechanisms to
divert youth from secure confinement into
community-based alternatives, while holding
youth accountable and providing every
young person with the opportunity to
connect to caring adults, education, and
employment opportunities.
YTFG members coordinate investments
to build the capacity of programs and
nonprofits that actively seek to:
Reduce Institutionalization.
Imprisonment of young people
should be seen as a last resort.
Youth who can be safely supervised or
treated in the community or in nonsecure
promoting opportunities and
alternatives to incarceration
c h a p t e r 4 :
7 See Building Blocks for Youth’s juvenile justice fact sheets at
S A F E P A S S A G E 13
facilities—the majority of court-involved
youth—have no place in a state’s most
expensive and secure institutions. Locked
facilities can be replaced by communitybased
alternatives to detention and
incarceration. Various tools, such as riskassessment
instruments and sentencing
guidelines, can help jurisdictions distinguish
between youth who are dangerous and
those who would be better served by a less
restrictive setting.
Keep Youth Out of
Adult Prisons.
During the 1990s, most states
altered their laws to increase the number
of minors who could be tried as adults.
Roughly 210,000 minors nationwide are
now prosecuted in adult courts each year.
Adult jails and prisons are extraordinarily
dangerous for young people. Studies show
that youth held in adult facilities are five
times more likely to report being a victim
of rape, twice as likely to report being
beaten by staff, and 50 percent more likely
to be attacked with a weapon. Moreover,
youth sent to adult court generally return
to crime at a higher rate. In response, some
states are adopting reforms to keep some
youth out of adult prisons. For example, in
2002, Illinois passed a reverse waiver law
that allows for the cases of some youth to
be returned to the juvenile court.
Reduce Racial Disparity.
In the United States, people of
color are far less likely than
whites to receive fair and equal treatment
when arrested, at hearings, and during case
dispositions. Studies show that youth of
color receive harsher sentences and fewer
services in the juvenile justice system than
white youth who have committed the same
category of offenses. With support from a
number of foundations, officials in some
jurisdictions are beginning to address
disproportionate confinement of minority
youth. Many reforms focus on specific
decision points in the juvenile justice
system, with the aim of advocating for
equal treatment and equal access to
community-based services for youth of
color. Some strategies being adopted
include the analysis of racial data on
incarcerated youth, the use of objective
screening instruments for determining
sentencing and services, and efforts to
increase diversity among the adult staff.8
Ensure Youth Access
to Quality Counsel.
Youth need access to qualified, wellresourced
defense counsel throughout the
juvenile or criminal court process. Studies
indicate that better representation results
in less incarceration and better outcomes
for youth. Providing legal representation
8 For more information, see Building Blocks for Youth, “And Justice for Some” (Youth Law Center, 2000). Available at
to a young person requires special skills
and training. Juvenile defense counsel
must understand the impact that adolescent
development and early childhood trauma,
disabilities, or lack of maturity can have on
the outcome of the case. Some promising
approaches include early assignment of
counsel, creation of policies that ensure
that all youth have legal representation, and
cross-system representation when they are
involved in multiple systems.
Create a Range of
Several jurisdictions are creating continua
of community-based alternatives to
confinement that offer various degrees of
youth supervision. For youth with the
highest risk of re-offending, jurisdictions
are implementing evidenced-based programs
that have demonstrated success in
preventing youth crime. Two of these
programs, Functional Family Therapy
(FFT) and Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST),
involve intensive, home-based counseling
for the family. A third, Multidimensional
Treatment Foster Care (MTFC), combines
short-term therapeutic foster care for the
youth and intensive counseling for the
biological family. All three programs focus on
the family, and none involves incarceration.
Recognize and Serve
Youth with Specialized
The juvenile justice system is often a
dumping ground for youth whose primary
problems include serious emotional
disturbance, developmental disabilities,
S A F E P A S S A G E 14
6 5
S A F E P A S S A G E 15
substance abuse, or a combination of these
challenges. High-quality mental health and
substance abuse services are a vital part of
facilitating the rehabilitation of youth with
specialized needs. Juvenile justice involvement
should be seen as appropriate only when
delinquent behaviors—and not disabilities—
are the primary reason for confinement.
When community-based programs for mentally
and developmentally disabled youth are
strengthened and increased, jurisdictions
have more appropriate and cost-effective
options to serve these specific populations.
Create Smaller
Some states recognize the wisdom of
phasing out large, prison-like youth
institutions. In their place, they are
creating small, home-like, secure facilities
for the remaining youth who need close
monitoring. These facilities are run by youth
specialists, provide extensive individual
programming, and engage families in the
rehabilitation process. To the extent possible,
they are being built close to youths’ home
communities to facilitate residents’ ultimate
reintegration into the community.
Improve Aftercare and
For the nearly 100,000 youth
released from custody annually, the transition
back home is their best “second chance” to
succeed. Returning youth need a smooth
transition back into their communities and
schools and strong support from family or
other caring adults. Collaboration among
multiple government agencies and nonprofit
providers is essential. The best re-entry
programs begin while a youth is still confined.
Youth should be enrolled in school
immediately or have a job waiting.
Workforce development programs that
help young people make money often
motivate youth and increase enthusiasm
for learning. Youth must also have access to
the same kind of mental health and
substance abuse services they received
while in residential care.
Maximize Youth,
Family, and Community
Jurisdictions engaged in juvenile justice
reform understand the value of including
youth, family members, and representatives
from community-based organizations in the
process of designing and implementing
juvenile justice programs and policies.
Using techniques such as family conferencing,
jurisdictions are learning to work with
parents, rather than against them.
Jurisdictions are also successfully
experimenting with ways to build community
participation and youth feedback into the
system. This kind of collaboration improves
© Andersen Ross / Photodisc Red / Getty Images
programming and policy and encourages
young people to organize and advocate
for reform.
A few years ago, YTFG members implemented
grantmaking strategies, based on welldocumented
models across the country, to
coordinate funding to support reforms that
significantly reduce the incarceration of
youth. As an example, our emerging work
includes the following investments that
leverage the individual grantmaking of
YTFG members:
n The Annie E. Casey Foundation has
worked in partnership with government
officials and several funders, including
The California Endowment and the
JEHT Foundation, to reduce reliance
on juvenile detention that confines
youth in secure facilities away from
their families and neighborhoods while
they await trial. Juvenile Detention
Alternatives Investment (JDAI) model
sites—Cook County, Illinois; Multnomah
County, Oregon; and Santa Cruz
County, California—have demonstrated
remarkable success at reducing recidivism
and reducing reliance on secure detention
by developing alternatives to incarceration,
using data to drive decision making,
improving case processing, and reducing
detention of youth of color.
n The Connecticut-based Tow Foundation
partnered with the JEHT Foundation to
create the Connecticut Juvenile Justice
Alliance to educate Connecticut politicians,
criminal justice practitioners,
and the public about juvenile justice and
to advocate for statewide reform. The
advocacy of the Connecticut Juvenile
Justice Alliance helped prompt the
state’s governor to direct the closing of
Connecticut’s only juvenile training
school in 2008. Both foundations are
encouraged by increased efforts to raise
the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16
to 18 and by the public funding of more
community-based services in Connecticut.
n Policymakers in California are exploring
ways to reform the California Youth
Authority, one of the world’s largest and
most debilitating youth prison systems.
Funders from around the country have
responded, including these YTFG
members: the Open Society Institute,
the JEHT Foundation, the Zellerbach
Family Foundation, and the Walter S.
Johnson Foundation.
We seek to build on the early
successes of our grants in California,
Connecticut, Oregon, and other communities
to coordinate longer-term investments
that improve options and outcomes for all
court-involved youth. To achieve this, we will
promote opportunities for community-based
programs and advocate for alternatives to
S A F E P A S S A G E 16
© Susie Fitzhugh
S A F E P A S S A G E 17
S A F E P A S S A G E 18
“I like to think of foster care as an
opportunity rather than a punishment. I
know if I had not been in foster care I
would not have my wonderful adoptive
family, I would not have graduated high
school, I would not have graduated
college, and most importantly I would not
be the person that I am.”
Mary Lee, Former President,
National Foster Youth Advisory Council
mong the youth at greatest risk of
becoming disconnected are the
more than 300,000 older youth
who live outside their birth families,
in foster families, group homes, and
institutions. Research suggests that, without
the extended support that most young
people receive from their families, foster
youth face enormous challenges in making
a smooth transition to adulthood and
building successful lives.
Foster youth often bear the painful
burden of abuse, neglect, abandonment,
and families that threaten their health
and well-being. In most cases, the
government has become their guardian
because the parents who brought them
into the world are unable or unwilling to
provide proper care and nurturing. While
the goal of the child welfare system is to
provide care until foster youth can be
reunited safely with their parents or
placed permanently with other family
members or an adoptive family, the first
foster care placement is rarely the last.
Usually, finding a permanent arrangement
takes many months, if not years. Too
often, it does not happen at all.
What, then, determines whether a
young person leaving foster care will
transition safely into adulthood? There is
no simple answer; often, the difference
between success and failure is no more
than the intervention of a caring adult.
However, a focus on economic success is
often a potent and predictive measure of
how well youth will manage a number of
fundamental aspects of adult life, including
housing, family stability, safety, health,
and social well-being. Helping vulnerable
young people acquire the means to
achieve economic success empowers them
to improve their lives, make choices, and
take charge of their own development. It
helping youth who are involved
in the foster care system
c h a p t e r 5 :
S A F E P A S S A G E 19
also provides them with the knowledge,
skills, and confidence they will need to
address the inevitable difficulties of life.
Our Connected by 25 collaboration on
foster care reform seeks to address the
many challenges that face youth in the
foster care system and those who are aging
out. Led by the YTFG Foster Care Work
Group, YTFG encourages investments that
strengthen and reform the child welfare
system and provide foster care youth with
pathways to lifelong economic well-being
and financial success.
YTFG has identified six interrelated
strategies that are components of a
comprehensive approach for addressing
the needs of youth in foster care and young
adults leaving foster care. Our communities
should aim to:
Support Child Welfare
Our nation’s child welfare
system should be strengthened and
reformed. At a minimum, the system
should protect vulnerable children and
address the devastating effects of child
maltreatment, ensure that medical and
mental health needs are identified and
met, help foster youth maintain positive
connections to their families, minimize
the disruption of repeated changes in
placements in foster homes and group
homes, ensure that there is permanency
and stability in their care, and strengthen
independent living programs.
Advocate and Support
Foster youth need academic support
programs to help them become lifelong
learners, complete high school, and
complete either postsecondary education
or a skills training program that will
enable them to pursue careers in their
chosen fields.
Facilitate Access to
Workforce Development
Foster youth need to develop skills,
knowledge, and work habits that will
make them employable. They need access
to programs that will help them get and
retain stable jobs, advance beyond entrylevel
positions, and pursue self-supporting
Promote Financial
Foster youth need access to
instructional support programs that will
help them acquire financial literacy and
personal financial management skills.
Specifically, foster youth need assistance
with learning how to develop budgets,
manage their money, obtain credit, pay
taxes, and respond to unanticipated
financial problems and crises.
Encourage Savings and
Asset Development.
Programs must be developed to
provide youth with the knowledge, skills,
and opportunities that will increase their
personal income and help them accumulate
material assets, such as cars, homes,
savings accounts, retirement funds, and
ownership interests in property and other
items of value.
Create Entrepreneurship
Savings and asset development
are not enough to fully achieve economic
self-sufficiency and create wealth. Data
show that there is a greater concentration
of wealth in the hands of entrepreneurs—
families that run their own business—
than all other families. Foster youth are at
a disadvantage, given the tenuous nature
of their family connections and their
limited exposure to entrepreneurial
principles. Foster youth should be exposed
to the world of business ownership and
entrepreneurship. They need access to
programs that can teach them how to
successfully navigate the workplace,
develop ideas for a business venture, write
and implement a business plan, and start
and grow a successful business.
In 2004, YTFG members launched an
ambitious co-investment enterprise to
build the capacity of communities to
effectively support young people in
transition, to initiate and strengthen
federal and state policies to support youth
who are leaving foster care, and to raise
public awareness of the needs of foster
youth and of effective ways to help them
become successful adults. This collaborative
effort includes a national demonstration
in Indianapolis, Indiana; Tampa, Florida;
and the state of California.
Together, members of YTFG are
actively building a national movement of
funders, community leaders, young
people, policymakers, practitioners, and
researchers with a shared focus on
supporting successful futures for foster
youth. In each of the demonstration
communities, local leaders are coming
together around the YTFG vision for
foster youth and shaping efforts to
S A F E P A S S A G E 20
“All my life, I had prayed for a family.”
Alfonso Torres, deceased, former foster care youth
© Susie Fitzhugh
prepare foster youth for successful
adulthood on the basis of the unique
needs and resources in their community.
YTFG coordinated investments of
funders to support these programs:
n The United Way of Central Indiana is
completing an environmental scan and
developing an implementation proposal
for ways to better support youth who
are aging out of the foster care system
in Indianapolis. This demonstration
community will provide education advocates
to support academic achievement
of foster youth and will partner with
Goodwill Industries to implement
workforce development activities.
n A small cohort of counties in California
is building a comprehensive continuum
of services that support foster youth
ages 14–24 years who are transitioning
to adulthood. This effort is closely
aligned with the California Family to
Family Initiative, a child welfare system
reform initiative whose goal is to provide
state and local child welfare systems
with the principles, strategies, and tools
to build a network of family-based care
and community partnership to support
abused and neglected children. Participating
counties include Alameda, Fresno,
San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus.
n Hillsborough Kids, Inc., is working with
partner organizations to provide education
advocates, intervention specialists, and
peer telephone counselors to youth in
Hillsborough County, Florida.
Our aim is to document the
implementation process and assess the
impact of our coordinated efforts in these
demonstration sites. We also support
others in their efforts to replicate the
demonstration across other communities.
S A F E P A S S A G E 22
“We will only be successful if
we embrace the fact that, although
we often fund in programmatic areas,
these silos really don’t represent
the world in which our youth live.”
Gary Stangler, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
lthough YTFG has identified interruption
in education, incarceration,
and foster care as key transition
points that cause many youth to disconnect,
our members constantly work to build
their knowledge, awareness, and grantmaking
craft around the cross-cutting nature of the
issues that affect our most vulnerable
young people.
While many elected officials, foundations,
and nonprofit organizations are
working hard to tackle youth-related
challenges, many of the public policies
and systems designed to assist struggling
young people actually exacerbate their
problems. From schooling practices that
make it easier for struggling students to
drop out than to complete their education
to juvenile justice policies that fail to take
developmental issues into account,
current policies and practices can
contribute to the causes of disconnection.
YTFG believes that effective solutions will
include systemwide reforms that engage
the many different agencies that currently
serve youth.
In order to be more effective grantmakers
and to support innovative solutions to the crosscutting
challenges faced by older youth, YTFG
has recently launched an effort to align our
support for the following systemic strategies
with our Connected by 25 investments:
Improve Youth-Related
Information Systems.
Sadly, the “Information Age” has yet to
reach the world of youth development.
School districts, public care agencies, and
policymakers are all notoriously poor at
collecting and sharing data and case
information regarding youth at risk. Often,
the data that do exist are woefully
outdated. This information gap makes it
nearly impossible for adults to know whom
they are serving, whom others are serving,
and who is falling through the cracks. In
order to design and improve interventions
for youth, states, organizations, and
agencies must make data collection and
beyond the tunnel problem:
the need for systemwide reform
c h a p t e r 6 :
S A F E P A S S A G E 23
To understand the importance of thinking about
youth issues in a holistic manner, consider how
efforts to improve education and other systems that
serve youth can unintentionally create new policies, regulations,
and procedures that in reality push youth out of education
and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. Often
referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline” or the “prison
track,” many school policies actually undermine the efforts
of No Child Left Behind and high school reforms. The pipeline
is made up of four components, each of which contains a
number of inappropriate or ineffective responses to children
and youth as they negotiate the chaos of adolescence:
n Damaging Attendance Policies and Procedures:
In many communities, schools neither notify parents in a
timely manner that their children are not in school nor
offer “catch-up time.” Instead, these schools use
punitive measures and resort to failing and retaining
students. As students get older, many communities
depend on police and court interventions that result in
the arrest of students for truancy.
n Disciplinary Schools: The dramatic increase in
suspension and expulsion of students for “behavior
issues” is creating a separate and unequal system of
education. Students are increasingly sent to disciplinary
schools that, in most cases, are simply “pre-jail”
institutions. There has been no research to demonstrate
that these schools are effective learning options for
students or that they result in skill development,
regular school re-enrollment, or graduation.
n Lock-’Em-Up Strategies: Despite an overall drop in
crime, most states have made their juvenile justice
systems more punitive over the past decade. Except for a
few exemplary states, most juvenile justice systems
have a dismal record of helping students get back on
a positive path. And, once again, young people of color
are treated differently every step of the way.
n Denial of Education: Once released from incarceration,
students often face nearly insurmountable barriers to
re-enrolling in school and getting back on track. Some
states have policies that bar students from returning
to their home school. Bureaucratic rules and hostile
school environments are common. Many systems make
it difficult for youth to get transcripts and transfer
credits. These factors all decrease the likelihood of
In order to fully address the challenges that face youth
in our nation’s high schools, the prison track must be
factored into assessments of all education reforms.
Treating these issues as interrelated will ensure that state
and district leaders are aware of the potential of punitive
policies for pushing out students and undermining
education reform. Equally important are reforms in the
juvenile justice system to reduce racial disparity and
increase alternatives to confinement that help youth
finish their education.
YTFG Snapshot
S A F E P A S S A G E 24
information sharing a priority. If kids really
count, then we need to count our kids.
Direct Funds to Effective
Today, states are increasingly directing
their dollars toward the consequences of
youth disconnection by beefing up police
forces and youth correctional facilities,
instead of targeting the problems that often
lead to youth disconnection. Policymakers
and funders need to refocus their resources
on programs and initiatives that have a
track record of successfully intervening at
critical points in young people’s lives.
Eliminate Punitive and
Exclusionary Policies.
Equally important as using effective
practices, our nation must eliminate
policies that lead to the disconnection of
students from their schools, families, and
communities. When we exclude students
from school and the community without
offering effective programs to help them
learn the skills they need and address the
underlying emotional issues, we are only
shutting the door on their future and our
own. Policies related to truancy, discipline,
access to education, and higher-education
funding need to be reviewed to ensure
that they are being implemented in a way
that promotes connection and learning.
Work Together Across Agencies.
The lack of coordination among adults in
schools, public care agencies, and the
courts has tragic consequences for youth.
For example, all too often, the entry point
of a child into the public care arena
defines the response and that young
person’s future course. A young person
arrested for petty theft might experience
consequences through the court system
when the real problem stemmed from a
school issue about which the courts will
never learn. Likewise, when young people
are simultaneously involved with multiple
agencies, the individual responsibility of
any one agency is reduced. As a result,
young people in the system often slip
through the bureaucratic cracks or are
passed repeatedly from one agency to
another. To effectively assist all young
people, it is necessary to promote
systemwide accountability and interagency
“Our youth need to be able to come back to the
communities that they are from and receive
coordinated support. The great programs in
the network can make this possible.”
Marlene Sanchez, Co-Chair of the Community Justice
Network for Youth ©
Susie Fitzhugh
S A F E P A S S A G E 25
a call to action
S A F E P A S S A G E 26
“To borrow from the cliché “talk is cheap,”
it is now time to put our ideas and words
into action. We must remain committed
to finding resolutions to common issues
and difficulties that youth experience in
the child welfare system.”
April Curtis, former foster youth
Every grantmaker and policymaker
faces a choice: Support effective
and proven strategies that keep
youth on the right path or throw money at
ineffective methods that close the door on
the future of our young people. YTFG
hopes that this publication prompts
grantmakers, policymakers, and advocates
in your community to get serious about
helping all youth to connect by age 25.
The best way to begin is to identify
the unique issues that face youth in your
community. The following assessment
tool and policy checklists provide a
framework for beginning a dialogue about
current practices in your state and asking
the hard questions that need to be asked.
But don’t stop there. After assessing the
unique issues in your community, log on
to our website at to learn
more about how to invest in systematic
reforms that will benefit all youth.
This tool is designed to help funders ask
key questions that will help them to better
assess challenges in the communities
where they invest.
n Are we offering a future or poverty?
What is our four-year high school
graduation rate (excluding GED)? How
great is the racial disparity in the
graduation rate? Has the rate increased
or dropped over the past 5 years?
n To what extent is institutional racism
at work in our policies? To what extent
does youth disconnection have a
disproportionate impact on youth of
color in our city or state? Which
communities in our state have been
effective in reducing racial inequity in
education, juvenile justice, foster care,
and teen pregnancy?
n How are we doing as guardians? Many
students are in public care. What is the
high school graduation rate for youth in
foster care or on welfare? Has it increased
or dropped over the past 5 years? What
percentage of youth is homeless within
a year after leaving foster care?
n Do paths lead to helping hands or
closed doors? What are the literacy
rates for court-involved youth? What is
c h a p t e r 7 :
S A F E P A S S A G E 27
the high school graduation rate for
youth who have been imprisoned or
detained? Are suspension and expulsion
rates going up or down? How many of
the children who are court-involved or
suspended/expelled have health issues
or disabilities (cognitive problems,
substance abuse problems, mental
health problems), and how many
receive effective treatment?
n Do policies challenge or reinforce racial
disparities? How do policies, assessment
tools, and information systems help
guide effective methods for reducing
racial disparities in promotion and
graduation? Which communities or
systems have been effective in reducing
racial disparities? Which have tried?
n How effectively are public funds used?
What percentage of available federal
youth funding is being accessed at the
state and local levels? How effective are
the systems designed to help prepare
youth for the adult world? How do the
systems in your city compare to those
in other cities in your state? How do
programs in your state compare to the
best in the country?
n How accessible is the information? If
you have difficulty collecting data to
answer these and similar questions,
you have a lot of work to do!
These checklists are designed to help
state and local officials explore how their
policies impact specific segments of the
youth population.
Youth with Interrupted
1. What percentage of students who have
left school, recently immigrated, or been
retained receive their high school
2. What policies enable or undermine
the ability to provide the most flexible
learning environments so that students
with responsibilities to work or care
for families can graduate?
o Exit exams and graduation requirements
aligned only with four-year
college admissions
o Programs linking the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) to
traditional high schools (6 hours of
classroom per day)
3. What policies allow students who have
left school or who have been retained
to accelerate their learning (e.g., credit
for proficiency, dual credit)? What
policies support educational advocates in
helping youth solve cross-cutting issues?
4. Are graduation requirements and exit
exams aligned to provide the greatest
access to college?
5. How do funding streams and policies
create incentives or disincentives for
school holding power? For recovery of
youth who have dropped out?
Court-Involved Youth
1. How can states prevent the transfer of
youth to adult prisons?
2. What policies ensure that the juvenile
justice system operates as a rehabilitation
3. How do policies ensure that young
people have access to counsel?
4. What incentives are in place to
encourage the development of effective,
small residential facilities rather than
ineffective, large institutions?
5. What policies support after-care and
re-entry services?
Foster Youth
1. What services are available to foster
youth through age 21? Health care
through Medicaid? Housing assistance?
Tuition? Case management?
2. To what degree are foster youth
accessing magnet, charter, and small
schools? What policies are in place to
ensure that they are exempt from
geographic or zoning requirements for
school selection unless they choose
not to be? What policies are in place to
ensure that they have immediate access
to all enrichment and support services?
3. What policies are in place to ensure
that foster youth can attain economic
self-sufficiency? Access to job development?
Individual Development Accounts?
Financial literacy and life skills?
Teen Parents
1. How many teen parents are in your
city, region, or state? What are the birth
rates for teens, and how do they
disaggregate by race, ethnicity, and
socioeconomic status?
2. What services are in place to help teen
parents stay in school or re-enter
3. What services are available to help teen
fathers improve their relationships with
the mothers of their children? Are
parenting-skills classes offered to fathers,
as well as to mothers? Are job-training
services available for young fathers?
4. What services are available to teen
parents? Medical? Welfare? Educational?
To what extent are services offered by
different agencies coordinated within
cities, regions, or the state?
Much is already being done to
answer these questions and to get our
older youth at risk back on track. Funders
working across the fields of justice,
education and foster care are making
strategic investments through small,
moderate, and large grants. Foundations
S A F E P A S S A G E 28
© Susie Fitzhugh
S A F E P A S S A G E 29
are supporting research and policy reform,
funding innovative programs, convening
government and community-based stakeholders,
and supporting training for
government and nonprofit leaders.
But there is much more to do.
Through the Youth Transition Funders
Group, grantmakers in all fields that affect
older youth can align their efforts, share
strategies and knowledge, coordinate
investments, capitalize on one another’s
expertise, avoid duplication of effort, and
expand opportunities to build upon one
another’s work. Increasingly, we are
finding occasions to fund together.
We hope to entice other grantmakers—
especially from the private, corporate,
and public sectors—to seize this call to
action to support the safe passage of
America’s youth to successful adulthood.
After all, these are all of our children. Let
us profit from what they become.
Reach out to YTFG and find out more.
S A F E P A S S A G E 30
S A F E P A S S A G E 31
Our members work in partnership to
support nonprofits, initiatives, and policies
that include the following strategies and
n Fostering Collaboration between Funder
and Field: Efforts by foundations and
grantees to work together more effectively
by sharing strategies, coordinating
investments, and sharing knowledge.
n Creating Common Communications:
Development of tools to help advocates
create clear, common messages about
young people in transition that can then
be used to persuade policymakers to
become involved in the issue.
n Addressing Disproportionate Negative
Outcomes for Youth of Color: Efforts
to confront structural racism through
awareness building and careful consideration
of policies and practices that
disproportionately impact young people
of color.
n Seeking Systemic Reform: Initiatives
that move beyond local programs to
strategies that improve policies and
reform the education, justice, child
welfare, and mental health systems that
serve youth.
n Promoting Youth Engagement and
Advocacy: Efforts to partner directly
with young people to better understand
the barriers they face and to shape
strategies for improvement and reform.
references and resources
c h a p t e r 8 :
n Lisa McGill, Director
n Out-of-School Youth/Struggling
Students Work Group
n Juvenile Justice Work Group
n Foster Care Work Group
© Patryce Bak / Photodisc Red / Getty Images
S A F E P A S S A G E 32
Portions of this document were previously published in the following reports produced by
YTFG work groups and partners. These documents can be found at
n “Beyond the Tunnel Problem: Addressing Cross-Cutting Issues that Impact Vulnerable
Youth,” Timothy Ross and Joel Miller, Vera Institute. Part of a briefing paper series, a
partnership between the Youth Transition Funders Group and The Annie E. Casey
n “Connected by 25: Improving the Life Chances of the Country’s Most Disadvantaged
14-24-Year-Olds,” Michael Wald and Tia Martinez, Stanford University, 2003.
n “Connected by 25: A Plan for Investing in Successful Futures for Foster Youth,” YTFG
Foster Care Work Group with the Finance Project, 2003.
n “A Blueprint for Juvenile Justice Reform,” YTFG Juvenile Justice Work Group, 2005.
n “The Alternative Pathways Project: A Framework for Preparing All Students for College
and Work,” J.D. Hoye and Chris Sturgis, 2003.
n “Powerful Pathways: Framing Options and Opportunities for Vulnerable Youth,” Youth
Transition Funders Group, 2001.
Youth advocates communicate with one another and keep up with the latest in youth transition issues. Here
are a few ways for youth advocates, practitioners, board members, and those in public positions to connect
to the latest news:
n Funders can find out more about YTFG membership by sending an e-mail to
Also, funders can subscribe to the YTFG e-newsletter by sending an e-mail to and
placing “Newsletter” in the subject line.
n Advocates can join the Connected by 25 e-list sponsored by Connect for Kids at
n Local policymakers can join the National League of Cities Municipal Network for Disconnected Youth

207 East Ohio Street, #392
Chicago, IL 60611
The Youth Transition Funders Group and
its work groups include leaders from the following
grantmaking institutions:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Atlantic Philanthropies
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The California Endowment
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Casey Family Programs
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
The Children’s Trust
Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth
Eckerd Family Foundation
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
Edward W. Hazen Foundation
Girl’s Best Friend Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation
JEHT Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
Lumina Foundation for Education
Open Society Institute
Stuart Foundation
Surdna Foundation
The Tow Foundation
Walter S. Johnson Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
William Penn Foundation
W. K. Kellogg Foundation
Zellerbach Family Foundation