ANALYZING THE SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT IN YOUTH INTERVENTION PROGRAMS

A Framework for Minnesota:

March 2007

Prepared by: Paul A. Anton, Wilder Research Prof. Judy Temple, University of Minnesota
Wilder Research 1295 Bandana Boulevard North, Suite 210 Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108 651-647-4600 www.wilder.org

Acknowledgments:

This study is funded by the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association.

Much of the basic research on which this study relies was conducted jointly with a contemporaneous study commissioned by the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota. That study was funded by:
The Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota Center for 4-H Youth Development, University of Minnesota The Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation IWCO Direct

All of these funders made the joint products of this research possible.

Principal thanks must go to J. Scott Beaty, former executive director of the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) for his support and cooperation along the way. He opened up the resources of his organization to us and introduced us to leaders in member organizations who helped us understand scope and depth of their programs. We also wish to thank those YIPA program leaders for being generous with their time for interviews and follow-up questions and requests.

We also wish to thank Joellen Gonder-Spacek, executive director of the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota and Dale A. Blythe, Associate Dean of the Extension Division of the University of Minnesota for their role in promoting and shaping the research agenda that led to this study and its companion. In addition, Ms. Gonder-Spacek and her associate Polly Roach opened up the resources and membership of their organization in the same way as Mr. Beaty of YIPA.

Finally, thanks go to Brent J. Bolstrom, then a graduate research assistant at the Center for 4-H Youth Development at the University of Minnesota, both for his survey work on social return on investment quoted in this study and for supplying us with a database on youth programs that he had compiled.

SROI of Youth Intervention Programs Wilder Research, March, 2007

Executive Summary:

Youth intervention programs perform an important social service by redirecting the lives of “at risk” youth into more productive channels, both increasing their chances of success in life and reducing the expected educational and social costs generated by their likely problem behavior as juveniles and adults. This study puts forward a framework for quantifying the value of the benefits of intervention programs and comparing them to program costs in order to calculate the social return-on-investment (SROI) of such programs.

Major Findings:

While there may be broad societal awareness of the value of youth programs, there have been few studies that attempt to quantify and compare the costs and benefits of specific programs. Most of the formal analyses that have been done have focused on more general youth mentoring programs, rather than on intervention programs with “at risk” youth.

Effective intervention programs are likely to produce some of the highest returns of any youth programs since they deal with more concentrated populations, many of whom have been identified through truancy, juvenile crime, or other problem behaviors.

Based on our study of intervention programs in Minnesota, effective youth intervention programs can produce some or all of the following direct benefits whose values can (in principle) be quantified:

  • Reduced truancy – resulting in reduced school costs and, ultimately, reduced high school dropouts and increased lifetime earnings
  • Improved school performance – leading to increased graduation rates and higher lifetime earnings
  • Reduced near-term court costs – saving court costs through youth diversion programs
  • Reduced costs of adult crime – both the crime losses of victims and the societal costs of prosecuting and incarcerating adult offenders
  • Reduced needs for social services – both near-term cost of family counseling and long-term costs of public assistance

SROI of Youth Intervention Programs Wilder Research, March, 2007:

Improved health outcomes – including reductions in teen pregnancy, reduced or delayed use of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs
This paper puts forward a framework for comparing the dollar value of costs and benefits of youth intervention programs in Minnesota and, potentially, in other states. This framework can be used to calculate the social return-on-investment (SROI) of such programs.

Based on outcomes data that have been collected by Minnesota youth intervention programs and conservative assumptions about outcomes that are in line with the experience of Minnesota youth programs, we provide an SROI analysis of two fictional representative programs. One is a comprehensive program designed to redirect a youth’s life path; the other is a targeted program focused on a particular destructive behavior. Using conservative assumptions for program outcomes, we estimate that:

An effective comprehensive program costing around $2,000 per participant returns benefits of $4.89 for every dollar of cost, based on very conservative assumptions about effects and valuations. Moreover, the program returns $14.68 for every State dollar invested, assuming a 2 to 1 match of other funding.

  • A targeted program to reduce recidivism of property crimes costing approximately $200 per participant returns benefits of $8.18 per dollar invested.
  • If strictly public benefits are compared to public costs, the comprehensive program produces $2.33 for every public dollar, while the targeted program produces $8.18 for each public dollar invested.

The actual returns for a particular program would depend on the outcomes and expenses of that particular program. We believe that returns in the examples presented here fairly represent the returns that are achievable for well-run, effective youth intervention programs. In some cases, it is quite possible that returns could be even higher than these examples.

To produce more accurate and detailed analyses of individual programs, more detailed data on program participants will need to be kept in order to measure and document juvenile and adult outcomes more precisely. This data collection could include an intermediate-term (5- to 10-year) longitudinal study of participants and similar youth who do not participate in intervention programs.

SROI of Youth Intervention Programs Wilder Research, March, 2007

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