Episcopal Community Services, Philadelphia, PA

Using Cognitive Behavioral Skills to Improve Educational Outcomes for At-Risk Youth

Abstract: In 2010-11, Episcopal Community Services (ECS) embarked on a pilot project with support from the Barra Foundation. The goal was to determine whether cognitive behavioral skills can be used in a social service setting to improve the educational attainment of homeless youth. In undertaking the pilot, ECS’ hypothesis was that, even in a non-clinical setting, cognitive behavioral skills could be used to challenge teens’ negative thoughts and, thereby, improve their educational outcomes. Between November 2010 and April 2011, the pilot project served 29 young people aged 14 to 21. Most of these teens grew up in families with histories of chronic homelessness. The pilot’s results were promising, showing a direct connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that could lead to significant changes in long-term educational success.

Pre- and post-test survey data indicated an increase in the number of teens who had identified career plans (7% increase), knew the educational requirements for their career (11% increase), were thinking of attending a school or job training program after high school (6% increase), and could identify the barriers that might keep them from completing these tasks (21% increase), after participating in the project.  A “vocation belief survey” also revealed a significant (68%) change in the teens’ understanding that “my thoughts affect my behavior” after participation in the pilot.

The project results have generated significant interest and recognition from others in the field.  ECS will continue to test, implement and refine this innovative model of using cognitive behavioral skills to improve client impact.  The agency is also disseminating the pilot’s findings and practice manual to individuals and organizations interested in replicating or adapting it for their own work.

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