Giving Compass' Take:

• PACE Center for Girls is a nonprofit organization that serves girls who are at risk of being involved with the justice system. In this MDRC post, the authors discuss how the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation’s Social Innovation Fund contributed to the collaborative research for evaluating PACE's program model.

• PACE's program stands apart because it is gender responsive, and attends to the needs of girls specifically. How can donors encourage more gender-responsive programs? 

• Check out the Giving Compass Gender Equality Guide for donors. 

PACE Center for Girls is a Florida-based nonprofit organization that serves girls of middle school and high school age who are at risk of involvement with the justice system. Girls who fit this profile often face challenges distinct from those faced by at-risk boys: They are more likely to have histories of abuse, trauma, truancy, substance abuse, and academic disruption. PACE aims to get these girls back on track by taking a gender-responsive approach, providing a blend of academic and social services that are shaped by an awareness of girls’ particular development and gender-specific needs.

MDRC has worked very closely with PACE on every step of the evaluation, which was funded mainly through the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation’s Social Innovation Fund. The foundation was a key collaborator and supported the research-practice partnership throughout the evaluation.

MDRC’s evaluation found that the PACE model positively affected girls in the short term, helping them to be more engaged in school and on track academically. Engagement in school is a protective factor against future justice system involvement, and the program’s academic impacts may lead to higher rates of high school graduation to help keep girls on a positive trajectory. Examining these potential benefits would require following the study sample for additional years. There was no real pattern of effects across self-reported measures of youth development and risky behavior in the 12 to 18 months following study enrollment.

The encouraging evidence on academic outcomes supports the findings from MDRC’s implementation analysis that while the content of academic classes at PACE was similar to what girls would learn in regular public schools, the holistic model reengages girls in school in a way that is different from a traditional school’s approach: It offers smaller classes, access to frequent individual academic advising, case management, counseling, and connections to other services in the community (like transportation or health care) in an environment that recognizes the strengths and individual needs of its girls.

Gender-responsive programs have been part of the landscape of services provided to girls and women in or at risk of entering the justice system for more than three decades. MDRC’s evaluation of PACE Center for Girls offers an opportunity to understand how a large and well-known gender-responsive program implements its model consistently in a diverse set of communities, and the encouraging short-term findings contribute to the growing literature on the effectiveness of such programs.

Read the full article about helping at risk girls by Megan Millenky at MDRC