Evaluating the Impact of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on the Life Trajectory of Youth in High-Crime Contexts
Countries experiencing high levels of violent crime are trapped in a high-crime, low-growth cycle: crime acts as a barrier to growth; low growth, in turn, has negative effects on the creation of economic opportunities, which lowers the opportunity cost of criminal activity, especially for young men. We see this borne out in Honduras in particular, where the homicide rate is 10 times the WHO's threshold for conflict-level violence. Currently, there is a lack of interventions to effectively address this cycle. Traditional labor market-readiness training programs common in Central America and elsewhere in the developing world do not target at-risk individuals' decision-making about criminal activity or violent behaviors. However, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) -- an approach to reducing self-destructive behaviors by teaching individuals to evaluate and modify the way they think and decisions they make -- has shown potential for reducing criminal behavior among high-risk young men in certain urban settings, under the right conditions.
A team from the World Bank, led by Laura Chioda and Marcus Holmlund, is now working with the Government of Honduras and the University of Illinois to assess the operational feasibility of layering CBT onto existing labor market insertion programs at minimal additional cost, and the durability of its impact. This study aims to build on previous evidence around the efficacy of CBT by testing a low-cost, easily replicable and scalable model that can be implemented in real-world contexts in resource-constrained countries. If successful, the model has the potential to alter the life-trajectory of at-risk youth, leading to better life and labor market outcomes and creating more favorable conditions for macro-level growth and development. UP's funding aims to demonstrate how a low-cost add-on to existing vocational programs could improve outcomes and, in the case of positive impact findings, transform how governments and policy allies like the World Bank conceive and deliver labor market interventions globally.