A simple youth development program can break the cycle of generational poverty


According to a study from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago published in the journal, a free youth development program for black children and adolescents living in a low-income, segregated community demonstrated positive educational and financial outcomes. long-term among his former students. BMC Public Health.

A 33-year follow-up found that former college graduates were twice as numerous as their peers who had not participated in the youth development program. For each year of enrollment in the program, former students were 10% more likely to complete college. Graduates were also more likely to save money at the end of the month and report a better standard of living than their parents.

Our study shows that a relatively simple intervention can break the cycle of generational poverty, especially as young people spend years in the program. »

Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, lead author

Dr. Karen Sheehan is Medical Director of the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Education and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dr. Sheehan also served as Chairman of the Chicago Youth Programs Board and Medical Director of the clinic associated with it.

Dr. Sheehan co-founded the Cabrini Green Youth Program with Joseph DiCara, MD, hospitalist at Lurie Children’s and lead author of the study, when they were both medical students. Since then, what is now called Chicago Youth Programs has grown into an organization serving youth and families in at least 30 of the city’s 50 neighborhoods.

The programs offer recreational activities in a safe and stimulating space, as well as reading, tutoring, college preparation, career counseling and a medical clinic. Participants typically spend eight to ten years in the program.

“Forming long-term relationships with caring adults outside of the family creates a strong stabilizing force for the children in our program, and the impact of these social connections is remarkable,” said Dr. Arnold-Gorter Family Professorship in Healthy Communities. “Our results demonstrate that this approach is effective, even despite all the structural challenges young people face growing up in poverty and experiencing neighborhood violence. We can make a huge difference in children’s lives just by being there for the long haul.


Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Journal reference:

Sheehan, K. et al. (2022) Long-term effects of a community-based positive youth development program for black youth: health, education, and financial well-being in adulthood. BMC Public Health. doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13016-z.


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