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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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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: ACT for Youth    Amanda Purington    Christine Heib    Dora Welker    evaluation    youth    youth development   
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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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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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