Choose To Change

Systemic racism, segregation and disinvestment have created fundamental disparities in safety, schooling and economic opportunity that continue to impact communities of color across the country and in Chicago. The impact of community trauma and chronic stress often show up in various ways, including difficulty engaging in school and behavior that could put young people’s safety at risk. Research has shown that mental and behavioral health supports can make meaningful differences for youth by providing them with tools to navigate these challenging environments. But organizations providing these supports often find it challenging to engage youth disconnected from traditional institutions likely to provide social services, such as schools, or who have needs that prevent them from fully engaging in programming.

Children’s Home & Aid and Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. created Choose to Change: Your Mind, Your Game to help fill this gap in services and reach an underserved youth population. Choose to Change engages youth heavily impacted by violence and trauma by connecting them with intensive advocate and wraparound supports along with trauma-informed therapy to help them live safe and successful lives. The six-month program aims to help young people begin to process their trauma and develop healthy decision-making tools. 

Since its launch in 2015 following a citywide call to action to address youth violence, Choose to Change has served hundreds of youth across the South and West Sides of Chicago. Choose to Change partnered with the Crime Lab and Education Lab to rigorously evaluate the program’s impact on behavioral and academic outcomes through a randomized controlled trial. The Labs found that:

  • Choose to Change youth attend an additional seven days of school in the year after starting the program compared to their control peers.
  • They also have 32% fewer misconduct incidents in school than their control peers in the year after starting the program.
  • And by the end of the program, participants have 48% fewer violent-crime arrests than their control peers and continue to have 38% fewer violent crime arrests in the year and a half after the program concludes.

For more details on the program model and mid-study results, please see the Research Brief released in February of 2020.