Program overview

  • Reducing urban violence and poverty: Roca is a community violence prevention and transitional employment program that works with young adults at the center of urban violence. It aims to encourage positive behavior change, reduce involvement in criminal activity, and build workforce readiness skills.

  • Conducting persistent outreach: Roca works with 16 to 24 year olds who are the victims or drivers of urban violence. The program emphasizes “relentless” outreach, with Roca staff making an average of ten attempts to find a young person followed by dozens or hundreds of attempts to get them to join the program.

  • Supporting a smooth transition away from violence: Participants receive four years of services, which include trauma-informed employment, education, parenting, and life skills programs. Central to the model is promoting behavioral change by teaching participants tenets of cognitive behavioral theory, which help them learn the skills needed to respond safely to potentially dangerous situations.

  • Pushing for system-level change: Roca develops relationships with individuals who have influence over public institutions that impact its participants and their communities, like police departments, court systems, child protective services, and more. Through working groups, data sharing, and other partnerships, Roca aims to change policies and programs that contribute to urban violence.

Cost per Participant
Approximately $6,338 per participant per year; $25,000 for full four-year course of programming

A single study with a less-rigorous design suggests that Roca is a promising strategy for reducing violence.

  • A 2021 implementation evaluation found that 70 percent of Roca participants did not recidivate over a three year period, and that, while 66 percent of participants had committed violent offenses prior to starting the Roca program, only 18 percent reoffended within the three year period. Programmatic attendance and contact with youth workers was also associated with increased likelihood of and reduced time to unsubsidized employment.

Note: This content is currently under review.

  • Leverage partnerships to recruit participants: Roca aims to identify and recruit participants who are at the highest risk of involvement in urban violence. By engaging with key institutional stakeholders, like police departments and parole and probation departments, Roca is able to reach young adults who have previously been unserved by other programs.

  • Build trust with participants: Many participants drop out, relapse into criminal activity, or are fired multiple times while in the program. By continuing to engage with participants as they struggle, Roca builds trust and increases the number of participants who complete the program.

  • Teach skills that address participants’ trauma: Roca participants have experienced extensive trauma due to their involvement in urban violence. Focusing on teaching skills, primarily via cognitive behavioral therapy, that help participants better inform their decision making contributes to their success in other parts of the program, such as in maintaining employment.

  • Hire staff who can build relationships: Roca’s core outreach staff, known as youth workers, conduct outreach, teach skills to manage behavior, guide participants through relapses, and more. Central to their success is an ability to build relationships with program participants. Prospective staff who have experience working with at-risk youth, understand and have connections to the neighborhoods that participants live in, or share lived experiences with participants may be most effective.

  • Use transparency to build trust: Roca's transparency on all aspects of its operations and evidence of its effectiveness has built trust across stakeholder groups, including the justice system, elected officials, funders, and community partners.