Methods: Data for these analyses come from two evaluations of independent living programs for foster youth. The first program, Life Skills Training (LST), is a classroom-based life skills training program serving foster youth in Los Angeles. The second program, Adolescent Outreach Program (AOP), provides intensive case management to youth placed in family foster homes in Massachusetts. In both evaluation sites, youth were randomized to program and control groups. Youth in both groups were interviewed in person three times over a period of two years, and data were collected concerning a number of different outcome domains related to the transition to independence. Baseline response rates averaged over 90 percent and follow-up response rates averaged over 80 percent.
In the evaluation of LST (N = 411), 24 percent of control group youth violated the random assignment protocol by participating in the LST program. As a result, differences in outcomes between assignment groups were not thought to be reliable indicators of the impact of LST program participation. Using random assignment as a means to instrument program participation, IV models were estimated to examine the impact of program participation on youth outcomes.
In the evaluation of AOP (N = 179), program youth were found to be more likely than control youth to attend college and to stay in foster care past their 18th birthday, which raised questions about whether continued child welfare system involvement, rather than AOP per se, was the operative mechanism leading to college attendance. Using random assignment as a means to instrument continued system involvement, IV models were estimated to examine its impact on college outcomes.
Results: Results of the IV models of LST program participation and youth outcomes are consistent with findings based on standard intent-to-treat analyses: no program impact on any targeted outcome. Results of the IV models of continued child welfare system involvement and youths' college outcomes suggest that continued involvement significantly moderates the relationship between AOP participation and college outcomes.
Implications: This study illustrates the utility of IV models in experimental evaluation of social programs. IV models can generate unbiased estimates of program effects even when adherence to the experimental condition is not ideal and can help identify mechanisms underlying experimental effects.