Chicago Study Shines Light on Supporting At-Risk Youth

A new Chapin Hall study explores the success of the nonprofit Youth Guidance's Becoming a Man (BAM) program for young men from at-risk communities by examining BAM's model, processes and mechanisms.
By: Youth Guidance
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CHICAGO - April 26, 2017 - PRLog -- Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago today released a report on a qualitative study exploring why nonprofit Youth Guidance's Becoming a Man (BAM) program has shown such strong impacts on young men from at-risk communities.

Initial research found that BAM participation reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent and improved graduation rates by up to 20 percent. This new report, "Bolstering Belonging in BAM and Beyond (," explores why the program is successful through analysis of interviews with 29 BAM youth and 10 BAM counselors.

The report concludes that the key program components driving BAM's effectiveness are:

- The creation of safe spaces for youth to express emotions;
- The use of a framework of core values and activities that allows youth to try out new experiences;
- Routine "check-ins" with the BAM group through shared personal reflections, and;
-  The development of authentic relationships with peers and counselor through vulnerability and acceptance.

Such components are believed to foster positive behavioral habits, strengthen personal reflection and decision making and increase empathy for self and others. BAM's values-based curriculum and use of peer group settings is further reinforced by caring counselors who build supportive male mentoring relationships that help youth thrive.

"We get to talk about what we really feel," one BAM participant said. "We get to talk about what's bothering us. In school, we don't get the chance to do that. We either bottle it up like I've always done, or we lash it out on other people and get in trouble for it. In BAM, you get to talk about it and not get in trouble. You get to talk about it and actually get help, you know?"

BAM is a school-based group counseling program that helps young men learn and use social cognitive skills, such as showing empathy for others and identifying and evaluating consequences before acting. The program model integrates cognitive behavioral therapy and rites of passage work and focuses on six core values: integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression, respect for women and visionary goal setting. BAM operates within Chicago Public Schools in many of the city's most disadvantaged south and west side communities.

"We meet youth where they are—physically within schools and emotionally with nurturing adult relationships—to help youth form positive social identities that greatly improve their chances of school and life success," said Michelle Adler Morrison, Chief Executive Officer of Youth Guidance. "Chapin Hall's findings, much like our recent University of Chicago Crime Lab study, give credence to our belief that adolescence is a time of incredible openness—and high school is not too late to intervene in the lives of youth and have a profoundly positive impact."

Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews during the 2014–15 academic year to explore how BAM program components bolster youth development processes and what opportunities and challenges may exist for future program refinement. BAM's core values are found to serve as anchoring points for participants in their decision making and emotional awareness. Findings further suggest that the encouragement of positive behaviors in alignment with the social norms of BAM often extend to other social groups in participants' lives, such as school, sports, work and family.

"This research shows us that there is a window of opportunity at adolescence," said Jiffy Lansing of Chapin Hall. "Adolescence is exactly the time when we can effectively focus on developmental processes related to identity. The young men we spoke with in the BAM qualitative study were striving to know and show themselves in new ways as they grew into adulthood.

"It's broadly acknowledged that intervention in early childhood leads to better outcomes for children living in conditions of poverty and exposure to violence," Lansing added, "Clearly, though, the teen years are another time that we can intervene to help young people do better."

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago is an applied social policy research center focused on improving the lives of society's most vulnerable children, youth and families. The latest report complements a University of Chicago Crime Lab randomized controlled trial that evaluated BAM during the 2013–15 academic years and revealed that BAM participation reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent, reduced overall arrests by 35 percent and improved school graduation rates by up to 20 percent.

Youth Guidance's unique work and evidence base have drawn national attention from civic leaders and inspired former President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced support of the expansion of the BAM program to serve 4,000 young men in Chicago Public Schools in 2017—a 30 percent increase over the prior year.

For more about Youth Guidance and the BAM program, please visit

J. Kirby, MarComm Director, Youth Guidance
M. McMullen, Communications Director, Chapin Hall
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Tags:Chicago, Gun Violence, Counseling
Location:Chicago - Illinois - United States
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