PathNet: Helping At-Risk Kids Stay in School and Avoid Justice System Contact in King County, Washington

With funding from the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Models for Change initiative, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) provided technical assistance and research support to King County, Washington to monitor and tailor its PathNet initiative, an integrated “path of networked community organizations” working to prevent system-involved youth from dropping out of school.

With local data indicating a troubling percentage of youth dropping out of school or failing to graduate on time, King County stakeholders created PathNet to connect young people at risk of not earning a high school diploma or GED to community-based organizations and services for case management and individualized educational and vocational support. During the pilot phase of the project, PathNet targeted young people who had dropped out of school and were on probation. County leaders reached out to CYJ to analyze those served by the program’s pilot phase, its preliminary outcomes, and implications for future practice.

CYJ analyzed data and compiled two reports to explore the characteristics of youth enrolled in the first two years of the PathNet pilot (2010-2012). Specifically, CYJ conducted a quantitative analysis to explore the characteristics of participating youth, including demographics, risk/needs factors, and educational backgrounds. It further analyzed the preliminary outcomes of the pilot, including GED progress of participants, vocational attainment, and justice system contact. These analyses were intended to help leaders understand how well the program was serving the needs of its target population and addressing the relationship between dropping out of school and system involvement. CYJ also provided technical assistance to the Puget Sound Educational Service District (which runs PathNet) to help program leaders identify strengths-based assessments, student-driven plans, case management, and connectivity to services as the “four cornerstones” (core elements) of PathNet.

CYJ also produced a combination report comparing the two years and identifying promising trends over the full pilot. In addition to examining trends in youth characteristics and preliminary outcomes, CYJ offered recommendations to PathNet leaders about how to build upon the program’s successes and respond to challenges. Overall, CYJ found that participating high-risk and high-needs youth achieved positive preliminary educational outcomes, with almost half obtaining a GED.

Why we need this work

Like many jurisdictions around the country, King County, Washington has seen significantly high school drop-out rates in recent years, especially among justice system-involved youth. The King County Education Integration Task Force designed PathNet to connect young people at risk of dropping out of school to a network of community-based organizations so they can receive the necessary help and services to realize their school and career goals while avoiding contact with the justice system. Analyzing Pathnet’s preliminary outcomes will help leaders determine where the program was meeting its intended goals and objectives, and where additional focus needed to be placed to ensure that every young person involved received the necessary guidance to fulfill their potential.

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Former Director, Center on Youth Justice