Progress in addressing youth violence in Chicago, or anywhere, is extremely difficult without data and evidence about which programs work, for whom, and why. With that in mind, Get IN Chicago collaborated with the MacArthur Foundation to fund a project and research opportunity harnessing the city’s most innovative ideas in 2014.

The Chicago Design Competition was structured to generate evidence about what works to improve youth life outcomes and included the opportunity to participate in a rigorous evaluation with University of Chicago Crime Lab. Specifically, staff from the winning project would have the opportunity to collaborate with Crime Lab researchers and develop a randomized control trial (RCT).

Choose to Change was selected as the winning program from over 200 applicant projects.


Choose to Change, a program that combines Children’s Home + Aid’s trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) with services from Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., was selected as the Chicago Design Competition winner and focus of the evaluation. CrimeLab researchers have worked closely with Choose to Change staff over the past two years on an evaluation that supports youth and generates critical insights.  The evaluation is allowing researchers to measure outcomes such as arrests, violence/victimization, academic performance, school engagement, and pro-social behavior.

“Rigorous evaluation evidence has the greatest chance of ensuring positive findings translate into actual practice,” said Roseanna Ander, Executive Director of University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab.  “By evaluating Choose to Change, we have the potential to not only learn about effective strategies but also use that knowledge to inform other large-scale violence prevention efforts in Chicago and beyond.”

The Choose to Change program involves:

  • Referrals, made largely from schools, to enroll young people with histories of trauma, violence victimization, and disconnection;
  • Delivery of a strengths-based mentoring model in which advocates engage youth and their families in pro-social activities, teaching life skills, and building a network of support for participants;
  • Connections facilitated by mentors to engage youth in SPARCS (Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress), an evidence-based and trauma-informed CBT program aimed at regulating emotions, building problem-solving and communication skills, and improving behavior.

Choose to Change has a goal of serving more than 400 youth living and attending school in the Englewood area.


Get IN Chicago Executive Director Dr. Toni Irving is encouraged by the process and its findings so far. “This innovative and collaborative approach will help us break through the cycle of violence and lack of opportunity that distress Chicago communities and the youth that navigate them,” she said.

While a relatively small cohort, data from the first of the two year study suggests compelling outcomes around lowering arrest rates.  Researchers continue to collect, process, and analyze data from year two, and we look forward to sharing final results and findings as they become available.