At-Risk Youth in Schools: A Wraparound Delinquency Prevention Program Produces Disappointing Results

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National Institute of Justice on 9/10/2020

A rigorous evaluation of a well-grounded pilot program to boost the school performance and behavior of at-risk youth and improve safety in Palm Beach, Florida, schools revealed few positive or negative effects. NIJ sponsored the research.

On paper, a “wraparound” approach to managing student delinquency while improving school safety makes perfect sense. The idea is to surround at-risk youth with coordinated resources, with school staff, law enforcement, the courts, and service providers all delivering support. The approach focuses on accountability, rehabilitation, and tailored services for targeted students. The goal is to reduce offending and behavioral problems while improving student success and making schools safer.

In practice, however, researchers have found that even a well-designed, well-supported wraparound program can fall short, at least initially.

A pilot initiative in the School District of Palm Beach County — the School Safety and Student Performance Program — proceeded from the premise that improved school safety requires closer attention to law enforcement- and justice-involved youth. The program was a theoretically well-supported set of interventions that engaged various agencies at four county schools. It was designed to identify ways to discourage delinquency and encourage academic success among at-risk youth without being punitive. Another goal was to improve the overall safety of the school setting. (See sidebar for the elements of the experimental intervention.)

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