Chicago Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. staff members recently celebrated with the first young people to complete Chicago Public Schools (CPS)’ Back to Our Future (B2OF) program. Launched a year ago, Back to Our Future gives Chicago residents ages 12-20 who have dropped out of or otherwise disengaged from school a safe system of support to continue their education.
YAP, a 48-year-old national nonprofit in 35 states and the District of Columbia, provides services in homes, schools, and other community sites that give youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, education and other systems partners alternatives to incarceration and residential placement. In recent years, communities have also partnered with YAP to apply the nonprofit’s “no reject, no eject” unconditional caring service delivery approach to help curb violence. YAP is one of CPS’ three Back to Our Future service providers.
“CPS launched Back to Our Future, a highly intensive education reconnection and support services program, to reach youth disconnected from Chicago Public Schools,” said CPS Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou. “B2OF is centered around community-building. Our partner organizations provide these youth with a familiar space where they can establish strong community connections and receive access to services they need to get them back on track towards a successful future.”
As a Back to Our Future partner, YAP is there every step of the way, providing program participants with 12 weeks of paid workforce and skills development training, high-level mentorship, and life coaching, as well as trauma support. Back to Our Future participants also receive family support as the program empowers them with tools to reconnect back to the education system.
Back to Our Future participants are young people who have dropped out of school because of complex challenges that may include a history of chronic absenteeism, involvement with the youth justice system and/or have been impacted by community violence.
“We approach this work the way we do with all of YAP’s services,” said YAP Back to Our Future Program Director Monique Crisp. “We ask young people and their parents, guardians, and other family members, ‘What do you need? How can we help? How can we work together as equal partners? And how can you help others in your community?’”
In addition to earning high school diplomas and completing general education requirements, many of the program participants are enrolled in colleges, universities, and trade schools.
“This program is about meeting the young people where they are and giving them and their families individualized educational, economic and emotional tools they need to thrive,” said YAP Chief Program Officer David Williams.
YAP, in collaboration with BrightPoint, also partners with CPS to provide Choose to Change™ programming, which serves students identified as at the highest risk of becoming engaged in violence. Participants receive YAP’s youth and family services along with BrightPoint’s weekly Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions. A University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab evaluation found that youth who completed the program had 48% fewer violent-crime arrests at the end of the program than their control group peers.
“By providing these young people with educational and other tools to succeed, we’re empowering a safer community for individuals, families and neighborhoods, which contributes to a safer Chicago,” Chou said.