Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Programs in Three Social Domains: Family + Church + Community


 Creating Lasting Connections

Johnson, Strader, Berbaum, Bryant, Bucholtz, Collins and Noe (1996) evaluated Creating Lasting Connections, an intervention that addressed 14 positive youth development constructs, including social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competencies, bonding, resiliency, self-efficacy, spirituality, recognition for positive behavior, positive identity, prosocial norms, opportunities for prosocial involvement, and self determination.  Evaluators also noted the teaching of cultural competence in the interventions.

Program Description

Creating Lasting Connections was a five-year demonstration project implemented in five church communities for one year to reduce the onset and frequency of substance use and abuse among high-risk 12-14 year olds.  The goal was to positively influence resiliency factors in three domains, specified as "church community," "family," and "youth." The program had two integrative components that incorporated system and individual level strategies.  System components used mobilization strategies to involve communities in prevention efforts targeting substance abuse.  Individual client components used parent and youth strategies for substance abuse education and communication skills training.  Youth skills targeted communication and social self-management with their peers (competence, self-efficacy, bonding), and practice sessions with their parents (bonding and competence).  The system component addressed the community domain in a multi-phase strategy for identification, recruitment, selection, formation, and training of families.  These processes were implemented by Church Advocate Teams (CATs) "empowered" to participate by helping retain families and evaluate program effects and quality.  To address the family domain, the program promoted an increase in parent knowledge and beliefs about substance use (competence); development of family management skills and communication skills (competence, bonding, self-efficacy, opportunities); increased awareness of the impact on youth of family role modeling of alcohol use; parents' self-reported involvement in community activities with their youth; and use of community services when personal or family problems arose. To address the youth domain, the program promoted youth resiliency by targeting their communication and refusal skills, bonding with family, parent/youth involvement in community activities, and use of community services as resources when the need arose.  The intervention had a strong family and community orientation in its methods; parents received more intervention hours than youth.  This program included 15 hours of skills training in six sessions of approximately two and one half hours with peer groups and then with parents.  Volunteer service providers (CATs = Church Advocate Teams) received an average of 18 hours of training in seven sessions of two and a half hours over eight to 10 weeks.  Parents received a total average of 55 hours of training in 22 sessions divided over three objectives: one (AOD Issues Training) of 12-16 hours, one (Not My Child) of 16-20 hours, one (Straight Communications Training -- adapted from Say It Straight) of eight to 12 hours with other parents and youth.  There was also follow-up consultation and continued support for at least one year, defined as bimonthly phone calls or home visits plus referral service as needed for five to six months.

Research Design

The evaluation used an experimental, randomized block design with a comparison group and three repeated measures.  Data were collected in three waves, at baseline, six to seven months after parent and youth training, and after the follow-up case management services were delivered, one year after initiation.  Two evaluation designs were used to test nine hypotheses, eight of which were empirically tested.  The overall hypothesis was that effects on youth resiliency are produced by the intervention as church communities become more empowered to prevent substance abuse or as the family increases its resiliency and ability to prevent substance abuse.  Three addressed direct program effects on family and youth resiliency, three addressed moderating effects on resiliency, and three addressed moderating effects on AOD use among youth.  For the eight hypotheses corresponding to program effects on family and youth outcomes, a randomized block design with repeated measures used church community as the blocking variable to control for site differences.  Recruited families were randomly assigned to the intervention or the comparison condition in five church communities after completing a baseline interview.  The evaluators used co-variates to further assure group equivalency.  An extensive attrition analysis was conducted of individual and family characteristics, risk and resiliency factors from the family and youth domains, and substance use measures among youth.  The analysis showed no differential attrition. The sample of 217 African-American and Caucasian youth, ages 12-14, was drawn from a population of families in five church communities in Louisville, Kentucky, and surrounding communities that encompassed both Catholic and Protestant churches with ethnic representation from Caucasian (77%) and African-American (23%) populations.  In two pilots and one replication, 246 parents and 131 youth across nine sites were participants in the program.  The program was implemented six times among five sites, requiring recruitment of 24 families at each site (12 for the intervention group and 12 for the control group). Data in the final analyses were from 97 parents and 120 youth.  Three types of family and youth outcome measures were used to determine program effects on family and youth resiliency: overall direct effects, church community direct effects, and moderating effects.  Direct effects included direct effects of CLC on family and youth resiliency outcomes, risk and resiliency factors, and AOD use measures.  Interview and questionnaire items came from a standardized battery of AOD items and psychosocial items from the Personal Experience Inventory (PEI), developed by the Chemical Dependency Adolescent Assessment group in St.  Paul, Minnesota (Winters & Henley, 1989), and a battery of communication skill items developed by Englander-Golden and Satir (1990).

Results of the Intervention

Three youth resiliency measures showed significant effects for the experimental group over the control group.  Intervention youth were significantly more likely to use community services as needed when personal or family problems arose (75% vs 51%, p<.001), to take more action based on the service contact (53% vs 43%, p<.001), and to perceive that the action accomplished something helpful (44% vs 26%, p<.001).  There were no significant effects on measures of substance use behaviors.  All other significant outcomes were reported as moderating effects divided into family resiliency moderators and youth resiliency moderators.  Results of the analyses of family resiliency moderators showed that the onset of all substance use was delayed for intervention group youth for one year as parents positively increased their substance use knowledge and beliefs (-.38, p<.03) and there was decreased parent-youth conflict (.25, p<.05.) The onset of alcohol use among youth was delayed for one year as parents increased their AOD knowledge and beliefs (-.36, p<.04), family communication improved (.30, p<.05), and parent-child conflict decreased (.34, p<.01).