Lives in the Balance is taking the lead on developing innovative, cost-saving, life-saving programs to help society's most at-risk youth. We collaborate with government agencies and other stakeholders to create programs that incorporate lessons learned from the shortcomings of prior government programs. The i-MARK Initiative described below is one such example.

Invest in Maine's At-Risk Kids (i-MARK)

The Need

There are a variety of systemic factors contributing to persistently poor outcomes for many of Maine’s most at-risk youth. These outcomes include school failure, truancy, dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, and high rates of detention, suspension, and substance abuse.  The risk factors include the following:

  1. Lack of early identification, using research-based criteria for kids at highest risk for poor outcomes.
  2. Lack of a systemic mechanism for “tracking” and monitoring progress and setbacks for these youth so as to ensure that services are accessed and provided at critical points of vulnerability. (A point of vulnerability is any point in a youth’s development at which expectations begin to outstrip the youth’s skills and his or her family’s coping resources.)
  3. Lack of access to and knowledge of community resources, even though helpful resources and programs often exist.  
  4. Lack of coordination and communication among the myriad service providers and agencies affecting the lives of these youth and their caregivers, such that caregivers are often provided with disparate and poorly coordinated services and guidance.

Filling the Gaps: The i-MARK Roadmap

The i-MARK Initiative aims to address each of these factors.  This proof-of-concept Program was conceived and developed through a series of focus groups conducted by Lives in the Balance, in which different constituencies and stakeholders were brought together to identify concerns, pinpoint factors that impede their work, and begin brainstorming solutions.  Based on these focus groups, the i-MARK Program will roll out in several sequential phases:

Phase 1: Create a Clearinghouse

  • Expand upon Maine’s 2-1-1 system, create a statewide clearinghouse for services relevant to at-risk youth and their families, so as to help families find and access help
  • Collaborate with existing services providers to find ways to make their services more accessible
  • Develop software to facilitate ongoing input from parents and teachers of kids enrolled in the project so as to track progress and setbacks for each child and adolescent participating in the project

 Phase 2:  Enroll, Track, Monitor, and Help

  •  Enroll 500 families on an opt-in basis
    • Half of the kids will be drawn from the foster care system in the State of Maine, in collaboration with the state’s Office of Child and Family Services
    • Half of the kids will be drawn from other agencies working with at-risk youth and their families   
    • Enrolled youth will represent a cross-section of the following ages: one-fourth ages 3-5; one-fourth ages 6-8; one-fourth ages 9-11; one-fourth ages 12-14
  • Based on data provided on a monthly basis from parents and teachers, track and monitor progress and setbacks for each youth and connect kids and families with services when risk factors are triggered

Phase 3:  Coordinate

  •  When existing services are insufficient, coordinate service providers to identify alternative services and facilitate placement