Identifying and tracking needs of at-risk youth in the Dominican Republic
With adolescents and youth comprising 36 percent of its population, the Dominican Republic faces great potential, but also significant risk. Economic and social conditions in this Caribbean nation of approximately 10 million people are such that a significant percentage of all Dominican youth are at risk of unemployment, drug abuse, sex trafficking, crime, a lack of education, or other pitfalls of poverty.
These pitfalls are numerous and structural:
- Many at-risk youth in the Dominican Republic have no birth certificates, meaning they are ineligible for school or employment.
- Child labor is rampant in the leading industries of tourism and agriculture.
- The nation’s cities lack critical infrastructure, so many residents go without a reliable source of water or electricity.
- Although organized crime is less of a problem than in other nations, many youth take part in gang activities and other crimes as an outgrowth of domestic abuse and/or sexual exploitation experienced as children.
In 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Alerta Joven, an initiative that uses the power of technology and the strength of local networks to help connect young people with services tailored to their specific needs, putting them on the path to a productive future.
Under the leadership of ENTRENA, a Dominican private enterprise, RTI has developed many of the initiative’s technical underpinnings—including a screening instrument to identify at-risk youth and a database for tracking them as they seek help and are referred to services.
Robust Database and Screening Instrument Created in Partnership with Local Institutions
Alerta Joven works with 23 organizations that promote the education, health, employment, and well-being of youths ages 11 to 24. Their specific interventions differ, but all operate in the Duarte Corridor, a region linking the Dominican Republic’s largest urban areas—including Boca Chica, Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo, Haina, Villa Altagracia, Bonao, San Francisco de Macorís, Santiago and Puerto Plata.
In designing a strategy to help this diverse set of partners, we draw on our extensive experience designing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems and community crime prevention programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, along with our knowledge of health and education interventions.
Our most significant contribution to Alerta Joven is the database—a complex piece of software designed to track more than 100,000 young people as they seek help from community-based partner organizations. Youth participants are added to the database through an entry survey when they make contact with Alerta Joven staff from partner organizations. Using our screening tool, Alerta Joven staff interview every participant, gather demographic and contact information, identify risk factors, and assign the youth to one or more Alerta Joven-designed programs.
After we completed the initial version of the software, ENTRENA took control of its development and maintenance. We worked side-by-side with ENTRENA to ensure that the database would remain functional and sustainable. Through our collaborative efforts, we built a comprehensive source of information on a variety of factors affecting Dominican society—including drug use, truancy, employment, sexual health, and many other concerns. This is a first for the Dominican Republic, and a first step toward a brighter future for the young people who seek help through Alerta Joven.
In partnership with ENTRENA, RTI has also collaborated with Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) on several program evaluations and research projects to understand youth in conflict with the law and how the juvenile justice system functions. This coordination and the resulting publications mark other important firsts in the country.
A Model System that Leads to Measurable Improvements for Dominican Youth
The Alerta Joven database now contains information on more than 100,000 young people—well above the initial goal of 85,000. By keeping track of each individual, the database reduces duplication in record-keeping. Alerta Joven partner organizations now have an easier way of keeping in touch with all the youth participants who need their help, not just the ones most likely to seek it out.
The database also allows for improved case management activities resulting from the structured screening of client need and risk factors. Indeed, this system has helped model best practices in effective case management.
The increased level of connection has led to measurable achievements for Alerta Joven. Since the launch,
- 3,418 dropouts returned to school.
- 34,117 at-risk youth received vocational-education, entrepreneurship and microcredit training, and 4,962 have found a new or better job.
- 2,005 at-risk youth received legal assistance to obtain official documents, and 806 received a birth certificate.
- 12,706 at-risk youth participated in crime prevention workshops.
- 62,426 at-risk youth participated in HIV, pregnancy, and STD prevention programs.
Behind these numbers are real improvements in the lives of young people and a significant improvement in the ability of local Alerta Joven implementers to measure the results of their interventions.
Whether they are undocumented youth coerced into sex trafficking, dropouts seeking to resume their education and improve their job prospects, or teenage parents struggling to raise their own children, thousands of Dominican youth have turned to Alerta Joven for integral support.
We are proud to have helped make their path easier.