Research

Research

youthSpark has remained a thought-leader through its long-running commitment to using data to create evidenced-based interventions that are most likely to improve our community’s collective impact. For over a decade, we have scientifically researched the root causes of abuse and exploitation to achieve positive impacts above and beyond who we touch daily. In 2008 and 2010, we commissioned and conducted first-of-their-kind research studies on trafficking victims and buyers in metro Atlanta. We successfully used these findings to advocate for legislative changes in the way police and courts deal with perpetrators who buy and sell children.

In 2013, youthSpark conducted a groundbreaking study to understand male victimization in the metro Atlanta area and found a need for increased education, interventions, and services for boys who experience exploitation. Then in 2015, we partnered with Georgia Equality to serve on the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth by providing education on victim identification and a needs assessment to uncover gaps and successes among local agencies serving this population. Through this partnership, we identified critical gaps in services and victim identification that allowed youth to fall through the cracks in the system—and created our Youth Services Center to fill these gaps.

In our Center, we have created a rigorous system to track the life experiences as well as the victim services we provide to every youth that comes through our Center’s doors. We then use this system to measure our client’s progress in building self-esteem and resiliency and identify opportunities to refine and enhance the breadth of services we offer in our Center. We also track outcomes on youth who are court ordered to attend the Educational Recovery Program (ERP). For example, when early data revealed a marked increase in the number of Latino youth – particularly young men – who become involved with the court due to truancy, we looked further to discover underlying factors. In response, youthSpark reached out to local organizations that provide culturally sensitive services for Latino youth and families and organized training events for our staff and key partners at the court.

We also connect our research projects to create systemic change. With $500,000 in funding from the National Institute of Justice, youthSpark’s Research Director partnered with Georgia State University Sociology for the Atlanta Youth Count! to uncover the hidden trafficking experiences of homeless youth. The research partners used these findings to inform public policies affecting vulnerable youth, and in 2017, received a second federal grant to dig more deeply into the sex and labor trafficking experiences of homeless youth. Throughout 2019, we disseminated these findings to policy makers, law enforcement, and other victim service providers. These are just a few examples of our strong commitment to conducting research and using it to design effective interventions and fulfill our mission. In 2020, we launched a multi-agency partnership with researchers at Emory University’s School of Public Health and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to assess and build a replicable model of our early intervention work and are continuing to expand upon that work in 2021 and beyond.