Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Summary of Family and School-Based Positive Youth Development Programs


The analysis of school- and family-based interventions identified seven effective youth development programs that were well evaluated and showed significant effects on youth behavior.  These primarily school-based programs successfully changed youth outcomes, promoted positive youth development constructs and strategies in the school setting, and used a variety of methods to incorporate parent or family involvement.  Five programs were multi-year interventions that used strong quasi-experimental research designs; two used an experimental design (Fast Track and Metropolitan Area Child Study).

Positive youth development programs set in school and family domains typically promote competence within, and bonding to, the family while promoting these positive youth development constructs in the youth.  The school is usually the primary setting for implementing youth strategies while a combination of approaches are employed to engage the family.  These include direct parent training or education strategies, often conducted at the school; program implementation strategies in the home setting to enhance the child's acquisition of new skills and learning (e.g., parent involvement in homework assignments generated from the school-based component, or home visits); or parental participation in the program design or organizational strategies.  Metropolitan Area Child Study and Seattle Social Development Project used the first strategy, direct parent training.  Child Development Project, Reducing the Risk, and Social Competence Program for Young Adolescents used the second parent strategy, bringing parents into the implementation of the program.  Fast Track used the first two, training and home visits.  Success For All used all three, training parents, and involving them in both the implementation and organizational aspects of the intervention.  These school-family programs all used methods to assure the quality of program implementation, and nearly all programs measured implementation. Those measuring implementation included Child Development Project, Fast Track, Reducing the Risk, Seattle Social Development Project, Social Competence Promotion Program for Young Adolescents, and Success for All.

Positive youth development programs set in schools and families generally tried to introduce protective factors into both settings.  While the children are learning skills or other youth development strategies, parents are frequently the focus of efforts to foster family competence, parent self-efficacy, bonding between child and family and between parent and intervention, and to promote prosocial norms in the family.  Only a few of the interventions systematically measured parent changes or outcomes, e.g., Fast Track measured parenting competencies.

Each program produced evidence of significant changes in youth's positive or problem behavior.  Improvements in positive youth outcomes included greater social acceptance by and collaboration with peers (Child Development Project; Fast Track); improved communication with parents and greater self-efficacy around contraceptive practices (Reducing the Risk); higher achievement and school attachment (Seattle Social Development Project); increased social acceptance by, involvement and cooperation with peers, problem-solving and creative solutions (Social Competence Promotion Program); improved cognitive competence and academic mastery (Success for All); and improvements in acceptance of authority, classroom atmosphere and focus, and appropriate expression of feelings (Fast Track).  These interventions also had a significant impact on the reduction or prevention of problem behaviors in children, including alcohol (Child Development Project and Seattle Social Development Project) and tobacco (Child Development Project) use.  Rates or frequency of delinquency or aggressive behavior decreased in four programs (Fast Track, Metropolitan Area Child Study, Seattle Social Development Project, and Social Competence Promotion Program).  Youth attitudes and practices around contraception or initiation or prevalence of sexual activity were reduced in two programs (Reducing the Risk and Seattle Social Development Project).