Delivering an impact evaluation of the Amber Foundation’s residential programme for young people experiencing homelessness

Jan 31, 2024

Our Evidence and Evaluation Manager, Vera Stiefler Johnson, and our Head of Evaluation (Programmes), Hannah Murphy, discuss our progress towards delivering a theory-based impact evaluation of the Amber Foundation’s residential programme for young people experiencing homelessness.

Almost 120,000 young people aged 16 to 24 living in England approached their local authorities because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness in the 2022-2023 financial year, an increase of 6% from the previous year (Centrepoint, 2023).  

Experiencing homelessness can profoundly impact every area of life, including employment outcomes. Common barriers to employment for young people experiencing homelessness include disrupted education and a lack of qualifications; instability in their personal lives; and mental and physical health issues (Centrepoint, 2023). These challenges may be further intensified for young people already facing marginalisation in the labour market due to their ethnicity, gender identity, geographic location, or some other characteristic. 

At Youth Futures, we want to understand what works to support young people experiencing homelessness to access stable housing and good work. In November 2020, we funded the Amber Foundation to deliver their residential programme: 

Sarah Johnson, Operations Manager, Amber Foundation, said:

The Amber Foundation works with young people experiencing homelessness, often with additional support needs related to substance use, trauma experience, offending behaviour, mental health conditions, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Our programme has four residential centres located in Devon, Kent, Surrey, and Wiltshire, accommodating up to 30 young people at each centre. We offer 24/7 supported accommodation and a full-time employability, health, and well-being programme, comprised of group-based activities and individual case management.” 

Alongside the delivery funding, we commissioned independent evaluators at Cordis Bright to conduct a process study of the programme. Its aim was to develop and test the programme’s Theory of Change and understand more about residents’ outcomes. The study indicated that the programme’s strengths include its staged approach to addressing resident’s immediate needs and building their capabilities, compassionate and skilled staff members, and opportunities for residents to connect to their local communities. To read the final report, click here. 

Evaluators at Cordis Bright also explored the feasibility of delivering an impact evaluation of the programme. They concluded that there were prohibitive challenges to undertaking a ‘traditional’ economic impact evaluation of the programme, such as a randomised controlled trial (RCT) or a quasi-experimental design (QED).    

Some of these challenges were ethical: The Amber Foundation provides support to young people who may be in crisis, which presented an ethical issue when randomising support access to the intervention or comparison group. Other challenges were practical: Establishing a suitable comparison group was complicated by the breadth and complexity of experiences of the young people Amber works with and determining what a ‘business-as-usual’ service offer might look like for a comparison group was complicated by the programme’s diverse referral routes. 

Considering these challenges and their implications, we concluded that a ‘traditional’ economic impact evaluation of the programme was not optimal in this case. But the journey does not end there: the study also highlighted opportunities around using alternative, theory-based methods. These methods were assessed as suitable for an impact evaluation of this small-cohort programme serving young people with complex individual needs and facing multiple systemic barriers to good employment.  

So, in October 2023, we commissioned evaluators at the National Centre for Social Research to continue our work with the Amber Foundation and deliver a theory-based impact evaluation of the programme. The study will use methods, such as process tracing and qualitative comparative analysis, that allow us to understand much more about the complex and variable relationships between the outcomes that young people achieve and the drivers of these. This approach will ultimately give us a more complete and useful understanding of the programme’s impact on young people. 

Young people facing homelessness experience significant marginalisation within the labour market. Through our continued partnership with the Amber Foundation and independent evaluators, we aim to learn more about what works to support this group of young people into good employment. We will share more about this important work as it develops. For more final reports of youth employment evaluations funded by Youth Futures Foundation, click here 

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