Comprehensive Social Services for Vulnerable Adults: Evaluation of Better Futures Minnesota

The Better Futures Minnesota (BFM; formally titled Network for Better Futures) program offers support to chronically homeless ex-prisoners. Is BFM having a positive impact on participants? WestEd researchers sought to find out.

BFM provides participants in Minneapolis, MN, with a tiered system of support—including subsidized housing—to help them maintain stable housing, find suitable employment, stay off drugs and out of crime, make child support payments if necessary, and reduce their health care costs.

WestEd conducted an evaluation, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations Program, on BFM’s impact on ex-prisoners’ employment, health, and crime outcomes.

During its first phase of work, WestEd conducted an “evaluability assessment” to determine whether the program was suitable for a more rigorous quasi-experimental outcome evaluation. Researchers conducted:

  • An assessment of the BFM’s Information System to determine if data were available in the program’s files to assist in conducting an impact evaluation
  • Interviews with key policymakers across the Minnesota state government to identify data that could be used to track BFM participants and a suitable comparison group
  • Identification of possible quasi-experimental designs that could be used in a larger impact evaluation
  • Development of a revised logic model for BFM to guide an impact evaluation

The evaluability assessment indicated that a quasi-experimental design involving a comparison group was possible. WestEd conducted the evaluation, comparing criminal recidivism and other outcomes for men enrolled in BFM with a carefully matched comparison group of men not receiving the same services. Statistical controls were used to make the comparison a “fairer test” by reducing some of the pre-treatment differences between BFM enrollees and non-BFM men.

The quasi-experimental evaluation findings were supplemented by interviews conducted with a random selection of men in BFM and program staff (also known as “life coaches”) to provide contextual information about the program’s successes and challenges.

Preliminary Key Findings

WestEd’s preliminary findings were presented at the Annual Meeting for the American Public Health Association in November 2013. These findings include:

  • BFM has a statistically significant, positive impact on recorded employment and hourly wages
  • Men who have been in BFM generally do better on most outcomes, especially after 30 days

For more information on findings, please contact Anthony Petrosino, who directed this project, at apetros@wested.org.