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Teen Outreach Program helps prevent teen pregnancy

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By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

The ACT (Assets Coming Together) for Youth Center of Excellence at the BCTR is helping youth organizations across the state of New York launch a youth development program to help prevent teen pregnancy.

The Teen Outreach Program, or TOP, is a program for youth ages 12 to 17. It was developed for the St. Louis Public Schools in 1978. Since then, research has shown the program helps to prevent teen pregnancy and also improves academic outcomes such as increasing high school graduation rates.

With support from ACT for Youth, six agencies are funded by the New York State Department of Health to implement TOP.  As a replication partner, ACT for Youth staff will train facilitators, offer technical assistance and help the sites evaluate the program’s effectiveness. So far, one site in Long Island has nearly 300 youth enrolled.

2014 Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) portraits.

Divine Sebuharara

The program includes lessons about healthy behaviors and life skills including critical thinking skills, goal-setting, information about healthy relationships, communication, human development, and sexual health. TOP is unique because the curriculum component offers different levels for young people in different age groups, said Divine Sebuharara, an extension support specialist with ACT for Youth.

“Facilitators also have the ability to pull lessons from other levels,” she said. “So as they get to know the kids, they can tailor the lessons to their needs. They can provide more basic information for kids who need it, or they can provide more advanced information for students who are ready for the next level. This requires a skilled facilitator who really knows their youth. Skilled and caring facilitators are an integral part of this program’s success.”

In addition, the program includes a community service learning (CSL) component where students engage in at least 20 hours on a project, or projects, they decide upon and assist in planning and implementing. “By engaging in CSL while learning new content and skills, participants are able to apply their knowledge and develop a sense of self-efficacy,” Sebuharara said.

ACT for Youth was launched in 2000 to reduce risky sexual behavior among youth by advancing the principles of positive youth development. The program is a partnership between the BCTR, Cornell University Cooperative Extension of New York City, Ulster BOCES, and the University of Rochester Medical Center. It receives funding from the New York State Department of Health.

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Positive Youth Development online courses

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PYD 101Youth work professionals, volunteers, and advocates can now easily brush up on positive youth development thanks to a new series of short, online courses. Positive Youth Development 101 Online is based on, and can be used to supplement, the training curriculum Positive Youth Development 101 (PYD 101) by Jutta Dotterweich. The online courses were created by Jutta Dotterweich and Karen Schantz of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence, in collaboration with members of the Cornell University Social Media Lab in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

"We are making these courses available without charge to everyone who wants to learn about positive youth development," says Dotterweich.

"First and foremost we created them with 4-H and Cornell Cooperative Extension [CCE] in mind. While CCE staff and 4H volunteers may not always be able to travel to a training, they can take advantage of this online series either to refresh their understanding of positive youth development, or to learn about it for the first time." PYD 101 Online was presented to the 2017 CCE System Conference in April.

The interactive courses take about 30 minutes to complete and cover the following topics:

  • Principles of Positive Youth Development
  • Puberty and Adolescence
  • Youth and Technology
  • Youth Voice and Engagement

Additional courses will be developed in the fall of 2017.

This project is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Smith Lever project 2015-16-143.

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ACT for Youth: Measuring Positive Youth Development

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A myriad of evidence-based programs exist to help young people develop positive life skills and avoid risk behaviors. Evaluations of program success are frequently focused on whether programs directly reduce negative outcomes for youth. An alternative approach can be to measure Positive Youth Development (PYD) outcomes resulting from a particular program. Program evaluation with the PYD approach places the focus on positive, healthy outcomes for youth, rather than a focus on reduction of negative outcomes.

In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJ DOH) asked the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence to provide program evaluation of Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®). TOP® is an evidence-based program that offers young people community-based, service-learning opportunities in order to build on their strengths and reduce risk behaviors. The NJ DOH facilitates the implementation of TOP® and has traditionally measured its success using Wyman’s own pre- and post-surveys. While these surveys provide useful data, the NJ DOH wanted to augment the evaluation with a PYD approach. The ACT for Youth team, including Amanda Purington, Christine Heib, and Dora Welker, was contracted to identify specific PYD measures that could be used in conjunction with the existing evaluation approach, and to develop a survey tool for measuring progress in PYD outcomes.

act pyd

Figure 1. Relationship between subscales, Five Cs, and PYD; from Geldhof et al., 2013.

To develop the new surveys, ACT for Youth used the Positive Youth Development Inventory – Very Short Form.These measures are based on the Lerner and Lerner “Five Cs” model of PYD, which encompasses the “Cs” of youth development: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring, and Character. Each of these “Cs” are measured using subscales that assess different aspects of youths’ lives. The PYD surveys created by ACT for Youth incorporate these subscales to get a more comprehensive picture of youths’ lives and the impacts of the TOP® program.

While funding for the evaluation came from the NJ DOH, implementation was done through the Central New Jersey Family Health Consortium, Inc. (CJFHC). Youth completed the PYD pre- and post-surveys at five separate programming locations where TOP® was implemented during the 2015-2016 school year. Additional information such as demographics, living situation, year in school, and school attendance were also collected, enabling ACT for Youth to conduct a more comprehensive analysis of program effects.

After looking at results of the PYD pre-surveys, ACT for Youth found high baseline scores for all five of the Cs. This was a very positive finding -- however, it did create a challenge for evaluation, since with such high initial scores there was not much room for further improvement. While the evaluation did not detect much improvement, and saw some decreases, overall these high scores were largely maintained at post-survey.

To better understand differences among the results, the ACT for Youth team also analyzed pre- to post-survey differences in relation to a variety of grouping variables, such as attendance and “baseline risk,” which was measured on the Wyman pre-survey. Examples of risk factors in this survey include: “failed a course,” “been suspended,” “been pregnant/caused a pregnancy,” and more. ACT for Youth grouped and coded these risk factors into “academic baseline risk” and “sexual health baseline risk” and used these baseline risk levels to further assess TOP® program efficacy, taking into consideration the diverse backgrounds of youth participants and their very different starting points at the beginning of TOP® programming. The goal of this analysis was to see if TOP® is more effective among certain distinct populations. Interestingly, some of the findings from this analysis pyd chart 1suggest that TOP® implementation may have some of its most positive effects on the most vulnerable youth.

Creating and using the PYD surpyd chart 2veys allowed the evaluation team to assess positive youth development, alongside traditionally measured negative risk factors, for a more comprehensive and optimistic evaluation of TOP® in New Jersey. While it was unexpected that a number of items moved in the undesired direction from pre- to post-survey, several reasons might explain this. First, as mentioned, with highly positive baseline scores it is difficult to achieve significantly higher results at post. Additionally, it is possible that implementation of the TOP® program mitigates what would otherwise be even greater declines in certain areas. In the future, this hypothesis could be explored by having youth not involved in TOP® programming also complete pre- and post-surveys as a way of assessing a control group.

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Researchers evaluate a program for boys to avert sexual violence

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By Susan Kelley for the Cornell Chronicle

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

Jane Powers, Mary Maley, Amanda Purington, and Janis Whitlock

Cornell is helping to usher in new, more effective ways to prevent sexual violence.

A team from the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) is evaluating a curriculum for boys aged 12-14 aimed at preventing sexual violence. The program is a shift from previous approaches, which generally focused on helping people avoid becoming victims of sexual assault.

Instead, this approach aims to keep boys and young men from committing sexual violence in the first place.

“If you want to stop perpetration, this may be the best tack to take,” said Mary Maley, extension associate for research synthesis and translation. “This is an innovative approach, because we’re looking at reducing risk for perpetration, not reducing risk for becoming a victim.”

BCTR is working in partnership with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), which recently was awarded a $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New York state is one of five awardees nationwide to receive a CDC grant to evaluate various programs to prevent sexual assault.

BCTR is the research arm of the NYSDOH project. The team will spend this first year refining the methodology, developing research tools and protocols, and recruiting program sites and participants. Data collection will begin in the fall of 2017.

The BCTR team will be working with a curriculum, the Council for Boys and Young Men, developed by the One Circle Foundation, which provides training and curricula that promote resiliency and healthy relationships. The basic idea is that male facilitators will set up and lead “councils” which consist of eight to 10 boys in seven to nine urban upstate sites.

Much of the content focuses on prosocial behavior. Councils will meet a few hours a week for several months, focusing on activities, dialogue and self-expression that challenge myths about what it means to be a “real man.” They’ll learn behavior that prevents violence, such as how to step in when they see bullying. They’ll also work on activities that develop empathic behavior, communication and relationship skills, and the ability to respect difference. Another seven to nine sites will serve as study controls to enable the researchers to test the efficacy of the curriculum.

“The idea is that they’re building strong relationships with each other and with a positive adult role model, so they’re actually able to model what positive relationships can be,” said Janis Whitlock, co-principal investigator and lead of the research team.

The middle school years are a prime time to help boys develop these skills, she said. This is the age at which they start to tune in to broader ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman.

Many of the risk factors for sexual violence, such as hypermasculinity and endorsement of aggression, are attitudinal and start to develop at this age through many moments of interactions with other boys and men, Whitlock said.

“This is a perfect time to be giving them a variety of models to choose from, because boys in particular face fairly narrow models of what it means to be a man,” she said.

Evaluation of this type of program comes at an opportune time, Whitlock said, as the definition of sexual assault has greatly expanded in recent years. Historically, sexual violence has meant penetration only. Now it includes unwanted touch, comments, penetration in various ways, and negative online behavior.

That’s important, because middle school boys have the potential to be involved in minor forms of sexual violence, such as unwanted touch, sexting and sharing of others’ images online, Whitlock said.

In this environment, the CDC’s vision was to evaluate the most innovative programs available, Whitlock said. “They wanted to push the envelope so we can get some traction on this issue, because it’s not getting better.”

The project continues a long and fruitful partnership between NYSDOH and BCTR, according to co-investigator Jane Powers. Together the two entities have collaborated over two decades to strengthen community support for youth using research-based programs and practices, she said.

“Results of this research will potentially improve the health and wellbeing of youth in New York state and beyond,” Powers said.

 

Researchers evaluate a program for boys to avert sexual violence - Cornell Chronicle

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Workshop: How to Conduct Focus Groups, Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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how to workshops

How to Conduct Focus Groups
Jane Powers and Mandy Purington, ACT for Youth

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
12:00-2:00 PM
166 MVR Hall



Focus groups are a unique, and sometimes challenging, way to collect qualitative data. During a focus group, participants are asked about their perceptions, opinions, and attitudes in an interactive group setting. This workshop will provide an overview of planning and conducting focus groups, including:

  • defining a focus group
  • designing focus group questions
  • recruiting and preparing for participants
  • facilitation tips and
  • analyzing the data.

Jane Powers, Director, ACT for Youth
Amanda Purington, Amanda Purington, Director of Evaluation & Research, ACT for Youth

To Register:

Please contact Patty Thayer at pmt6@cornell.edu
Lunch will be served.
This workshop is open to all Cornell faculty, staff, and grad students.

 

event-htdrrws-event-image2Part of an interactive workshop series

Researchers are increasingly conducting studies in community settings and applying for grants that require documentation of real-world impact. Indeed, some funders now require components such as dissemination plans, stakeholder engagement, or community participation. To meet these new demands, researchers may wish to collaborate with non-academic groups and craft research questions and results that inform practice or policy. This series of interactive workshops shares the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s extensive experience conducting research in real-world settings and translating empirical findings into practice. Each workshop addresses a key challenge that researchers face in doing translational research and provides practical tools for overcoming obstacles to conducting effective translational research.

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Youth consult on research and media projects

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ACT Youth Network

Sara Birnel Henderson and Michele Luc with Youth Network consultants

The ACT for Youth Center of Excellence sponsors a network for young people who are interested in making change and supporting the health and well‐being of youth in New York State. At its heart is the ACT Youth Network NYC, a panel of young adult and teen consultants who meet monthly to provide youth perspectives on health‐related projects for researchers and organizations. Meetings are held at the offices of Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC and are led by Center of Excellence staff Sara Birnel Henderson and Michele Luc.

The ACT Youth Network is available for consultation on health projects that seek to reach youth. Past consulting work has included piloting workshops, surveys, and focus groups, reviewing media campaigns, and giving feedback on written content such as brochures and websites. Topics have ranged from all aspects of health to social causes to community gardening. The ACT Youth Network NYC has consulted for: Weill Cornell Medical College’s Clinical and Translational Science Center; New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Women, Infant, and Adolescent Health; New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault; New York State Youth Development Team; New York University Lutheran; Love Heals; and Opening Pathways: Youth in Latin America, among others. Individual researchers have also benefited from Youth Network consultations.

The ACT for Youth Center of Excellence was launched in 2000 with generous support from the New York State Department of Health. Housed in the BCTR, the Center of Excellence partnership also includes Cornell University Cooperative Extension - NYC, Ulster BOCES, and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

To find out more about the Youth Network, or to schedule a consultation, contact a Youth Network coordinator:

Find the ACT Youth Network brochure here.

Examples of ACT Youth Network Consulting Projects:

  • Immigrant youth survey
  • Youth clinic survey
  • Sexual orientation curriculum
  • Youth development and health website
  • Sexual health media campaigns
  • Lifelong health focus group pilot
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder messaging for youth

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Conference shares latest youth development research

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By Olivia M. Hall from the Cornell Chronicle:

burrow presenting

Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development and PRYDE co-director, presents a poster on youth and life purpose at the Youth Development Research Update.

Runaway slaves, social media, environmental education, the wisdom of elders – the sixth annual Youth Development Research Update June 1-2 in Ithaca covered a lot of ground.

Funded by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology, the conference brought together 55 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members from across campus to explore how these and other topics relate to children and teens and how to better serve their needs.

“This event creates a unique, interactive space for practitioners and researchers to engage in sustained dialogue about ongoing research and the potential for future collaboration,” said assistant professor of human development Anthony Burrow, who organized the event with Jutta Dotterweich, director of training for BCTR’s ACT for Youth project.

Stephanie Graf, a Youth and Family Program leader with Jefferson County Extension, has developed several fruitful partnerships over five years of attending the conference. For a past project on Defiant Gardens for military families, for example, she worked with professor of natural resources Marianne Krasny, who this year spoke about environmental education programs to support positive youth development.

Krasny outlined how environmental stewardship activities have potential to stimulate positive growth in young people, leading to healthier physical habits, skills for future employment or greater self-confidence and emotional self-regulation. Educators, meanwhile, face the challenge of guiding youth without overly imposing their own experiences and decision-making – a dilemma for which she suggested a reflective practice of providing structure, support, mutual learning, open communication and ultimate accountability. “Positive youth development is possible,” she said, “but it’s not easy.”

Graf found research by Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management and a BCTR faculty fellow, on the stigma associated with parental incarceration to be equally relevant to her work, where she sometimes encounters children of inmates in her county’s after-school programs.

Wildeman reviewed research on the United States’ historically high rate of incarceration – which at 500 prisoners per 100,000 citizens far outstrips other developed democracies – and its disproportionately negative impact on minority families. He then described a new experimental study in which teachers, presented with hypothetical students new to their classroom, expected more behavioral problems and less competence from children whose fathers are in prison. These results support the “sticky stigma” attached to paternal incarceration, Wildeman said.

History professor Edward Baptist drew a link from Wildeman’s talk when discussing his Freedom on the Move project. “I think that mass incarceration probably wouldn’t exist and certainly wouldn’t have the shape that it does without the strategies that were created to try to control and continue to force people into the institution of slavery,” Baptist said.

One such strategy was for slave masters to place runaway slave ads in newspapers, reinforcing the persistent scrutiny under which even free African-Americans found themselves. Collaborating with colleagues at Cornell and other universities, Baptist has built a crowdsourcing platform that will engage the public in transcribing and parsing data from some 200,000 ads that survive from the period between 1722 and 1865.

A poster session on the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) concluded the conference, allowing attendees to question researchers about work in its four focus areas: healthy transitions for adolescents; intergenerational connections between high schoolers and older adults; the productive use of social media; and leveraging youth purpose to increase engagement and learning in 4-H.

Burrow, PRYDE co-director, said: “The update provides a rare space for researchers to attend a conference alongside needed collaborators. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”

 

Conference shares latest youth development research - Cornell Chronicle

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New Tool Helps Program Staff Better Serve Young Parents

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Purington, Welker, Sebuharara, and Heib

Purington, Welker, Sebuharara, and Heib

The ACT for Youth Center of Excellence has developed an Asset/Risk Assessment Tool for use with families headed by adolescents or young adults. The tool was created for programs working within Pathways to Success, a New York State Department of Health initiative that seeks to establish an infrastructure of support for young families in the Bronx, Buffalo, and Rochester.

One of the purposes of the tool is to build relationships between expectant and parenting students and the Pathways to Success staff so that the young people will use the staff as a conduit to services in the community students may not be aware of or have easy access to. Pathways to Success staff are also working to strengthen relationships with community partners serving this population to help streamline services and reduce barriers to access in the long term.

The tool was developed by Amanda Purington and Dora Welker; Divine Sebuharara and Christine Heib piloted the assessment with expectant and parenting young people and Pathways organizations.
The 3-phased tool contains:

  1. an intake form which collects basic personal information;
  2. an extensive assessment of the expectant or parenting student’s current resources and supports and their priority needs;
  3. an opportunity for staff to create a tailored list of referrals to meet the young parent’s priority needs.

Phase 3 serves as a check-in with the young parent, a month or two after the first two phases, to see if referrals were helpful and determine if new needs have developed. This follow-up phase is repeated as many times as necessary to insure the young parent and their family connect with resources and services in the community.
ACT for Youth Center of Excellence staff piloted this tool with six expectant and parenting young people in Pathways communities, and it was very well received. Participants found the survey duration manageable and the questions to be relevant and valuable. One new parent of a 6-month old son found the process extremely useful, wishing she had this opportunity prior to giving birth, saying, “it would have been nice to have everything set up before I had him.”

The assessment examines the full scope of the student’s situation, considering financial and social support, mental health, employment status, housing, food, clothing, health care, transportation, educational support, vocational services, and the student’s parenting skills. This comprehensive picture of the student’s current environment allows Pathways to Success staff to tailor an approach that will meet the distinctive needs of each young parent, improving their own -- and their children’s -- health, development, well-being, and self-sufficiency.

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Engaging Cornell students to study adolescent sexual health in the digital age

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Janis Whitlock and Jane Powers

Janis Whitlock and Jane Powers

BCTR researchers Janis Whitlock (director, Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery) and Jane Powers (director, ACT for Youth) have joined forces to study how technology impacts teen sexual behavior. Their project Adolescent Sexual Health in the Digital Age explores youth and “technology-mediated sexual activity” (TMSA): how young people engage in sexually explicit activities through digital technologies, such as online pornography, sexting, and hook up apps. The work is supported by a recently-awarded Hatch grant.

As a starting point, Whitlock and Powers surveyed youth service providers, sex educators, and parents to assess their overall level of awareness and concern about TMSA, and to capture what these individuals have been observing among the youth with whom they interact.

To learn directly from young people themselves, the researchers enlisted the help of undergraduates. In collaboration with Professor Kelly Musick and students in her Research Design, Practice and Policy class (PAM 3120) Whitlock and Powers launched a semester-long project to develop a survey that could be used to explore TMSA among college students. Class members first participated in focus groups led by members of the ACT for Youth evaluation team, research assistants in the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery lab, and Callie Silver (HD ’16), a Cooperative Extension intern and core research assistant for the project. The focus groups prompted students to discuss how they think their peers navigate sex in this new digital landscape. The students then learned how to code the focus group transcripts and generate themes to develop a college survey. Once the survey was developed, students conducted a pilot study, generating approximately 400 responses. Finally, the class presented their findings as well as their recommendations for revisions to the survey.

In this mutually rewarding project, students learned about research methods through a real- world project, and in turn their work provided BCTR researchers with essential information that will be incorporated into an NIH proposal to further examine this understudied, but important, topic.

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Supporting Young Families: The Role of Social Network Analysis

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Young parents, especially teen parents, must depend on a network of support and multiple services to raise their children, achieve educational and financial goals, and keep their families healthy. Resources for expectant and parenting teens and young adults may come from many directions: supportive housing, child care, and employment services, to name a few – but often there is no clearly identifiable system that coordinates these efforts.

Pathways to Success, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health, aims to better connect parenting teens and young adults to key resources in Buffalo, Rochester, and the Bronx. The initiative funds one community college and one public school district in each community, with technical assistance provided by the BCTR’s ACT for Youth Center of Excellence. Specifically, ACT staff members Amanda Purington, Dora Welker, Divine Sebuharara, Mary Maley, Christy Heib, Jane Powers, and Heather Wynkoop-Beach have all played important roles on various parts of this initiative.

While Pathways grantees had a good sense of available services, coordinating these services to best serve youth in need was a daunting challenge. ACT staff recognized that social network analysis could be used in these communities to both create a distinct picture of existing networks and identify ways to strengthen collaborations.

Social network analysis is a set of methods for examining social structures and relationships within a network. Using the PARTNER social network analysis tool (created at the University of Colorado Denver), ACT staff worked with grantees to build customized online surveys and analyzed results in order to better understand collaborative activity within grantee networks and possibilities for new connections.

To define their networks, all the Pathways grantees were asked to compile a list of organizations with whom they already have relationships, or would like to be connected. ACT staff then developed PARTNER-based surveys tailored to each community. Next grantees distributed the surveys to their network lists, encouraging participation. Finally, ACT staff quantified the results, creating a visual representation of how the different organizations are -- or are not – connected.

ACT maps visual

These example maps show a city's grantees' (yellow dots) network with all collaborations (top) and then those at the "networking" and "coalition" levels of engagement.

Using the survey results, ACT staff created two types of network maps for the Pathways to Success initiative. The first map illustrates the level of collaboration. “Networking” is the most basic level: members of the network are aware of one another and may have informal relationships, but do not make any major decisions together. Networking is followed on the continuum by cooperation, coordination, and coalition, with collaboration at the highest level – when all major decisions are made collectively. The second map depicts frequency of contact among organizations. “Higher” and “more frequent” are not always ideal or feasible. The maps help spur discussion of what level of collaboration and frequency of contact would best serve young families in each community.

Three network indicators are also included in the analysis: 1) density -- the number of network ties relative to the total number of possible ties – which demonstrates the overall cohesiveness of the collaborative, 2) degree centralization, which refers to how well connected the members of the network are collectively, and 3) the level of trust among the members as a whole. For example, one community network had an overall trust score of 78%, indicating that a majority of responding organizations reported high levels of mutual trust. In addition to these whole network indicators, many other metrics can also be examined for each of the organizations in the network.

To discuss the findings, ACT for Youth held “data dialogue” sessions with grantees in each community. The network maps clarified where communication and collaboration are strong, and where there are opportunities to help the community better serve expectant and parenting young people. Some grantees were surprised that while their community was rich in resources, those resources were not being evenly accessed. Grantees also recognized a lack of coordination among certain organizations, resulting in some members of the network “doing the same job many times over.” Other grantees realized the need to focus on strengthening and building community systems to include organizations that may not have completed the survey, but should be at the table. For example, one group was surprised when they noticed that their county health department and a home visiting program had not responded to the survey, prompting the grantees to think about strengthening connections to include these valuable resources in future conversations.

Following these initial sessions, the grantees are holding meetings with their networks of community organizations. These meetings mirror the first data dialogue session, but allow an opening for the larger community to discuss how they can strengthen relationships in the entire network, bring others to the table, decrease duplication of services, and take steps to bridge gaps.

For the Pathways to Success initiative, this first implementation of the survey will serve as a baseline for the communities. ACT for Youth will help grantees administer the survey annually, documenting change over time, including stronger relationships among the vital organizations within each community.

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