Transitional Living Program Pilot Study of a Randomized Controlled Trial: November 2016 to August 2017

Publication Date: September 30, 2021
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  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. What is the impact of the TLP on safe and stable housing (e.g., homelessness, continuity of housing, residential mobility)?
  2. What is the impact of the TLP on connection to education or employment (e.g., employment status, education status, educational progress)?
  3. What is the impact of the TLP on permanent connections (e.g., supportive relationships with adults and peers)?
  4. What is the impact of the TLP on social and emotional well-being (e.g., symptoms of depression and traumatic stress)?

This report documents the findings from a pilot study of the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s (FYSB) Transitional Living Program (TLP). TLP was created under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to help runaway and homeless youth ages 16 through 21 address barriers to safe and stable housing and long-term self-sufficiency. The TLP was most recently reauthorized under the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008. The program provides a comprehensive package consisting of three core components: transitional housing; intensive case management with an individualized service plan; and wrap-around support services (e.g., mental and physical health care, life skills training, education, and employment services).

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), in partnership with FYSB, contracted with Abt Associates to evaluate the Transitional Living Program. The TLP Pilot Study is one of three studies that is part of the Transitional Living Program Evaluation Studies. (In March 2021, ACF published the TLP Special Population Demonstration Report. In the fall of 2021, ACF will publish the Findings from the Transitional Living Program Youth Outcomes Study report. These publications are available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/project/transitional-living-program-evaluation-studies-2014-2021.)

Purpose

The TLP Pilot Study was conducted to assess the feasibility of using an experimental design with random assignment, also known as a randomized controlled trial (RCT), with the TLP and the vulnerable youth it serves. This report details the lessons learned during the design, site selection and recruitment, study enrollment, and data collection phases of the study, providing valuable information for the human services field, researchers, program administrators, and policymakers. This study was part of a larger ACF research effort aimed at measuring the effects the TLP may have on the lives of runaway and homeless youth.

Key Findings and Highlights

Ultimately, the TLP Pilot Study found that conducting a full-scale RCT of TLP was not a feasible option at the time. However, the study offered important lessons, described in the report, about how the TLP model and grant structure affect the feasibility of conducting evaluation research, and in particular an RCT. These lessons included:

  • Lessons about selecting and recruiting grantees for the study,
  • Lessons learned about developing study procedures, and
  • Lessons about implementing an RCT with runaway and homeless youth.

Methods

The TLP Pilot Study used an experimental design with random assignment, also known as an RCT. An RCT uses a lottery-like process to assign participants either to a “treatment group” that is offered access to the program being tested (i.e., a TLP bed, support services, and case management) or to a “control group” that is not offered access to the program. An RCT is the only design that identifies the changes a program caused. Therefore, findings benefit policymakers, program funders, and practitioners who want to know whether a program is working as intended.

The primary source of data for the evaluation was a set of surveys administered to youth in the treatment and control groups at several points in time.

  • Baseline survey: During study enrollment and before random assignment, youth completed the study’s baseline survey. It collected information about youth’s housing experiences, supportive relationships with adults, symptoms of depression and traumatic stress, employment and educational status, and other relevant experiences. It also collected demographic information and asked about recent service receipt.
  • Follow-up surveys: Two follow-up surveys were planned—at three months and 12 months after random assignment. The follow-up surveys were designed to repeat the questions asked at baseline and also ask youth about the services they had received since baseline (e.g., housing, education, employment, case management, life skills, etc.).

Citation

Walker, Jessica Thornton, Tanya de Sousa, Elizabeth Copson, Tom McCall, Nayara Mowry, Alisa Santucci, and Alvaro Cortes (2021). Transitional Living Program Pilot Study of a Randomized Controlled Trial: November 2016 to August 2017, OPRE Report # 2021-168, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

ACF:
The Administration for Children and Families
CoC:
Continuum of Care
FYSB:
The Family and Youth Services Bureau
HHS:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
HMIS:
Homeless Management Information System
IRB:
Institutional Review Board
ISP:
Individualized Service Plan
RCT:
Randomized Controlled Trial
RHY:
Runaway and Homeless Youth
TLP:
The Family and Youth Services Bureau's Transitional Living Program