America’s youth are facing a crisis. Twenty percent of American children live in poverty. 1.3 million drop out of high school each year, putting them at substantial risk for chronic unemployment, substance use disorders, and incarceration. Indeed, on any given day, 70,000 American youth are incarcerated. Many suffer heavily from trauma and depression from a range of issues starting at home. We are in danger of losing the potential of the next generation.
In Chicago, the story is similar. Of the 200,000 boys in Chicago Public Schools, it is estimated that 25 percent—50,000—are at-risk.
Youth Guidance (YG), founded in Chicago in 1924, implements school-based programs that provide the social and emotional support at-risk youth need to overcome significant obstacles and ultimately succeed in life. When life outside the classroom is wrought with violence, poverty, discord at home, and instability, students often struggle to focus at school. With programs like WOW (Working on Womanhood) and BAM (Becoming a Man), YG is working to restore the potential of adolescents during a critical developmental period of life.
Offering supportive groups at school to at-risk youth in the city of Chicago—where some communities have a violent crime rate more than twice the national average—YG creates a safe space for students in grades 7-12 looking to avoid negative influences and stay on the right track to success. Serving around 1,750 women in WOW, and 6,150 men in BAM, YG creates a supportive environment for youth conducive to engagement that drives positive connection.
Operating in around 90 schools, BAM’s success has been nothing short of staggering. Studies show that BAM has reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent, with a 30 percent reduction in other crimes. School engagement improved by 20 percent and student on-time graduation improved by 19 percent. While around 94 percent of girls joining WOW have suffered trauma and 70 percent reported depression, studies show that they report a significant decrease in feelings of depression by the end of the program year. Additionally, a study from the University of Chicago found the social impact of BAM to be a return on investment of $30 for every $1 invested in the program, from the realized reductions in crime alone. Given BAM’s impact on high school graduation, the potential impact on future earnings for participants likely makes the true return on investment far higher.
The secret? BAM and WOW incorporate several clinical approaches to counseling into an authentic and culturally competent youth engagement program. It all takes place in the natural setting of school, and removes the air of stigma, allowing youth to speak honestly and openly. BAM and WOW create a space where students can be vulnerable and connect with trusted mentors and peers alike, realizing that they are not alone. And, with it all, students have a counselor—with a master’s degree in a clinical field, a background in education and social and emotional learning, or years of professional experience working with youth in underserved communities—whom they can trust, and who meets with them weekly. The result? A change in behavior in schools and in communities, driving youth toward success.
Youth Guidance was founded in 1924 as The Church Mission of Help to help serve young women with shelter, clothing, medical care, financial help, legal assistance, and educational opportunities. In 1962, the Church of Mission Help merged with an agency serving boys in family court and became Youth Guidance Youth Services.
In 1969, Youth Guidance entered into a partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and established its first full-time offices within area schools—laying the foundation for the innovative, school-based initiatives that are the cornerstone of the Youth Guidance of today.
Youth Guidance is a 2017 S+ Catalyst. Through participation in the Catalyst Program, Youth Guidance receives training from industry experts in organizational development, branding, measurement and growth, and strategic relationships to amplify their impact and strategically expand their reach.