Search for Programs to Help YouthSearch for Programs to Help Youth


Ages 8-13

Rating: Level 2


CASASTART (Striving Together to Achieve Rewarding Tomorrows), formerly known as Children at Risk, is a community-based, school-centered program designed to keep high-risk 8- to 13-year-old youths free of substance abuse and criminal involvement. It is based on the assumption that, while all preadolescents are vulnerable to experimentation with substances, those who lack effective human and social support are especially vulnerable. CASASTART seeks to build resiliency in youths, strengthen families, and make neighborhoods safer for children and their families. The program employs a positive youth development framework and uses intensive case management to coordinate and provide services to counteract the various factors that make children vulnerable to substance abuse and delinquency. Case review conferences every other week—along with quarterly administrative and advisory council meetings—ensure that all partners are up to date on the program and individual case status.

Each case manager serves 15 children and their families. Case managers directly provide—or coordinate through appropriate referral—a comprehensive menu of services for the youth and family. Each site develops its own approach to designing and delivering the services consistent with local culture and practice. Every child in the program receives all of the services—except juvenile justice services, if he or she is not in trouble with the law. Each CASASTART program is managed locally, in deference to local culture and setting, but shares with the other programs eight basic core components.

  • Community-enhanced policing/enhanced enforcement, which increases police presence and involvement in the community and their work with youth.
  • Case management: small caseloads (13–18 families) ensure close attention to the needs of participating youths and their families and implementation of plans to meet their needs.
  • Criminal/juvenile justice intervention: communication between case managers and the juvenile justice and probation departments ensure enhanced supervision and planning for youths who become involved with the courts.
  • Family services: parent programs, counseling services, organized activities, and family advocacy by case managers increase positive involvement of parents in the lives of their children.
  • Afterschool and summer activities offer prosocial activities with peers. These types of activities include not only recreation and entertainment but also personal social development programs, particularly those aimed at self-esteem, cultural heritage, and social problems.
  • Education services strengthen individual skills by offering tutoring and homework assistance, as well as work preparation opportunities.
  • Mentoring: group or one-to-one relationships are fostered to promote positive behaviors.
  • Incentives: there are both monetary and nonmonetary incentives for participation in CASASTART activities.


The five cities that participated in the evaluation—Austin, Texas; Bridgeport, Conn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; and Seattle, Wash.—were competitively selected following an extensive planning phase. (Candidate cities developed proposals to implement the model.) The impact evaluation used experimental and quasi-experimental comparisons. CASASTART participants were compared with a randomly assigned control group within target neighborhoods and a quasi-experimental group selected from matched high-risk neighborhoods in four of the five cities. (No quasi-experimental group was selected in Seattle because the program stopped operating after 2 years). The sample consisted of 338 CASASTART participants (the treatment group), 333 control group youths, and a quasi-experimental comparison group of 203 youths. The average age of the participating youths was 12.4 years at the time they entered the sample. Slightly more than half (52 percent) were male. Fifty-eight percent were African-American, 34 percent were Hispanic, and the remaining 8 percent were white or Asian-American. In 80 percent of the cases, the primary caregiver was the mother. In general, caregiver educational levels were low, and family dependence on public support was widespread. More than half of the caregivers had not graduated from high school. Fewer than half were employed when they joined the study. Most received some form of public assistance.

Evaluators collected data from a variety of sources. In-person interviews were conducted in the home at baseline (between recruitment and the start of services) and at the end of the program period. (Each city created two cohorts of students and provided services for 2 years to each cohort.) A follow-up survey with the youths was conducted 1 year after the end of the program. Data was also collected on officially recorded criminal activity. Once each year, records were collected from the police and courts in participating cities on the youths’ officially recorded contacts with the criminal justice system, including the date of contact, charges, and case outcomes. Finally, records were collected from the schools on grades, promotions, and the percentage of scheduled days youths attended. The survey response rates for youths by group ranged from 98 percent at baseline to 77 percent at the end of the program and to 76 percent in the follow-up survey 1 year after the end of the program, with no significant differences by group or city. Caregiver response rates by group ranged from 96 percent to 100 percent at baseline and from 80 percent to 86 percent at the end of the program. An extensive analysis of attrition showed no differential response rates by group, city, demographic characteristics, or baseline risk factors (including drug involvement).


The only significant differences immediately following the program were lower rates of past-month drug use, of lifetime use of gateway drugs, and of any drug use among CASASTART youths compared with the quasi-experimental group. There were no differences between CASASTART youths and the control group.

Instead, most differences between CASASTART youths and both the control group (C) and the quasi-experimental group (Q) occurred at 1-year follow-up. At 1-year follow-up, CASASTART youth, compared with the two control groups (C and Q),

  • Were less likely to report past-month use of any drugs, gateway drugs, or stronger drugs (C)
  • Were less likely to report past year use of any drugs and gateway drugs (C)
  • Were less likely to report lifetime use of any drugs or gateway drugs (Q)
  • Reported lower levels of violent crimes in the past year and were less likely to be involved in drug sales during the last month (C)
  • Were less likely to report lifetime drug sales (C and Q)
  • Were more likely to be promoted to the next grade in school (C)

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Cognitive and neurological deficits/Low intelligence quotient/Hyperactivity
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Early sexual involvement
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Gun possession/Illegal gun ownership and/or carrying
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder
  • Teen parenthood
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Broken home
  • Child victimization and maltreatment
  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Family violence
  • Pattern of high family conflict
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Identified as learning disabled
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Availability of firearms
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Community instability
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Low community attachment
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Gang involvement/Gang membership
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Having a stable family
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Rewards for prosocial community involvement
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities
  • Parental approval of friends


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • Department of Education
  • CDC


Harrell, Adele V. 1996. Intervening With High-Risk Youth: Preliminary Findings From the Children at Risk Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. Available online at

Harrell, Adele V., Shannon E. Cavanagh, and Sanjeev Sridharan. 1998. Impact of the Children at Risk Program: Comprehensive Final Report II. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

———. 1999. Evaluation of the Children at Risk Program: Results 1 Year After the End of the Program. Research in Brief. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.


Lawrence F. Murray, Program Manager
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
633 Third Avenue, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Phone: (212) 841-5208
Fax: (212) 956-8020
Web site: