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William T. Grant and Spencer Foundations Award Rapid Response Research Grants to Combat Youth Inequality Exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic

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This release was originally shared by the William T. Grant Foundation.

The William T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation today announced two new Rapid Response Research grants, which will support collaborations between researchers and policymakers, with the central goal of reducing inequality in youth outcomes in the United States.

With resource shortfalls and shifting priorities expected to compound existing inequalities in a range of policy areas, the Foundations have committed up to $900,000 in grants to leverage research for smart public policy that can positively impact the lives of young people. The first of the two grants awarded today will support the Boston Mayor’s office to work with Professor Alicia Modestino of Northeastern University to use evidence to design their summer youth employment programs. The second grant will bring together a team of researchers in Drexel University’ Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to inform alternatives to confinement for young people caught in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Foundation will award additional grants on a rolling basis in the coming months.

The swift, systematic review of existing research is jointly designed by both partners to ensure that the questions guiding the synthesis are responsive to real information needs of decision makers.

“The William T. Grant Foundation developed the Rapid Response Research awards to foster agile uses of research to respond to the needs of young people growing up in an uncertain and turbulent social climate,” said Adam Gamoran, president of the Foundation. “This year, we’ve devoted nearly the entire budget of this grant program toward work that is specifically designed to reduce inequality and improve the youth outcomes amid the changing social contexts in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful that the Spencer Foundation has joined this effort, in addition to their own COVID-19 related special grants.”

The cornerstone of the Rapid Response Research grants program is collaboration between researchers and policymakers. The researchers commit to synthesizing the relevant literature within an abbreviated timeframe of six to eight weeks, and both the policy and research partners develop an engagement plan to ensure that the research yields action. The swift, systematic review of existing research is jointly designed by both partners to ensure that the questions guiding the synthesis are responsive to real information needs of decision makers.

The two new Rapid Response Research grants are:

Preserving Summer Employment Opportunities for Inner-City Youth During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Alicia Modestino, Northeastern University, and Midori Morikawa, Director of Business Strategy, Boston Mayor’s Office of Economic Development

The city of Boston, which employs roughly 10,000 youth in summer jobs each year, seeks research evidence to inform their decision about whether and how to hold its summer youth employment program this year given the public health guidelines for social distancing during the pandemic. The Boston Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and intermediary organizations that place youth in jobs seek to understand the impact of summer job program participation on skill development and long-term outcomes for low-income youth; the current availability of youth job opportunities and the feasibility of offering virtual experiences; as well as the elements of traditional summer jobs that might be replicated or substituted in virtual work or learning experiences. The research review on these questions will synthesize the economics literature on the impacts of summer job programs on youth outcomes; workforce development literature related to year-round employment programs for youth; and the psychology and education literatures on youth skill development. The review will be accompanied by a survey of the over 500 businesses that typically employ youth in the summer jobs program. The Mayor’s office will draw upon this work to decide whether and in what form the city might proceed with a summer jobs program. They will also use the research in coordination with leaders from the Office of Workforce Development and the Boston Public Health Commission to ensure that the program provides meaningful summertime experiences that are safe for both youth and their families. The partnership will produce resources and materials that will offer Boston’s leadership insights about pathways for offering employment opportunities to youth, as well as guidance for implementation, which will be shared with cities across the country to assist them in their own summer youth employment decisions.

Judicial Confinement and Release Decisions: Protecting Youth and Communities During the Pandemic and Beyond
Naomi Goldstein, Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab at Drexel University, and Melissa Sickmund, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

Correctional facilities have emerged as hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, and confined youth face an increased risk of COVID-19 infection. Given the overrepresentation of youth of color in correctional facilities, the disproportionate infection and mortality rate of COVID-19 among communities of color is compounded for these youth. While many jurisdictions have already released youth with low-level charges from these facilities, judges struggle with decisions about the release of youth charged with higher-level offenses or violent crimes. To respond to this challenge, Goldstein and her team will review research on the consequences of justice system decisions at the initial detention, disposition/sentencing, and transfer to criminal court stages on youth outcomes; the impact of these decisions on racial and ethnic inequality; and the resources needed to facilitate release from confinement, safely return youth to the community, and prevent both COVID-19 infections and subsequent violent offenses. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will use this synthesis to help judges and other decision makers understand when and under what conditions they can safely prevent youth from being confined or release already-confined youth. The partners will engage in the development of training materials and resources to provide guidance for justice system decision making and implement an advocacy plan involving messaging and technical assistance for organizations and individuals working in juvenile justice.

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