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Preventing sexual violence by addressing boys

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

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

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR researchers are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to evaluate a program for adolescent boys that aims to prevent them from becoming future perpetrators of sexual violence. Center researchers, coming together from across existing BCTR projects, will work together on the new Sexual Violence Prevention Project.

The partnership comes through the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), which was awarded a $1.8 million from the CDC over four years to investigate programs the prevent sexual assault. State public health officials are collaborating with the BCTR to conduct the research.

The team of BCTR researchers is collecting data from 12 sites in western New York who are offering the program over the next two years. In addition, the team is collecting data from 12 control sites, which are offering different types of youth programming for boys.

“We plan to enroll over 700 boys in the study, and our first groups launched this summer,” said Mary Maley, a BCTR extension associate for research synthesis and translation. “Participants complete questionnaires right before and after the program, and again three and six months later. We’re hoping to find that the boys in the intervention groups show improved attitudes and behaviors compared to the boys in the control groups. We’re very excited to be at the implementation phase of the project.”

Last month, the team visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to meet with CDC officials and other researchers across the country working on this issue for what they called a “reverse site visit.”

“This provided our team with a great opportunity to meet with a  number of CDC scientific officers and other researchers who are building the evidence base for effective sexual assault prevention programs,” said Jane Powers, senior extension associate and co-investigator. “We broadened our knowledge of the issues, learned about valuable CDC resources to support our work and expanded our network by meeting new colleagues and building partnerships.”

The program, Brothers as Allies, is based on the Council for Boys and Young Men developed by the One Circle Foundation. It enrolls boys ages 12 to 14 in small groups of 8 to 10 participants, which meet once a week with a male role model to focus on activities and discussions that define that it means to be a “real man.”  Boys in the program will learn how to step in when they observe bullying and work on developing empathy, communication, and relationship skills.

“The idea behind the program is entirely strength-based,” said Janis Whitlock, co-principal investigator and lead of the research team. “Boys are helped to build strong relationships with each other and with a positive adult role model as a means of understanding what positive relationships look and feel like. The male facilitators can then use these group bonds to encourage exploration and discussion of areas related to difficult topics, such as sexual violence.”

Many of the risk factors for sexual violence, such as hypermasculinity and endorsement of aggression, are based on attitudes and start to develop at this age through 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.

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4-H event boosts youth confidence in future studies

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By Stephen D’Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

news-2017careerex-inpost

Career Explorations participants synthesizing gold nanoparticles by using gold chloride and citric acid in hot water

More than 400 middle and high school students from 45 New York state counties and extension programs made their way to Cornell’s Ithaca campus June 27-29 to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos, perform physical exams on small and large animals, understand the intricacies of food science and learn to program robots.

These activities were only a few of the many workshops taught by Cornell faculty, staff and graduate students during the 4-H Career Explorations conference, an annual event that exposes youth to academic fields and career exploration by delivering a hands-on experience in a college setting.

“Our main purpose of career explorations is to give young people a chance to get a feel for careers that they’ve never even heard of, or maybe never even considered for themselves,” said Alexa Maille, conference coordinator and New York State 4-H science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, a research and outreach branch of the College of Human Ecology.

“This is the first college experience for a lot our participants and we receive a good amount of feedback from these youth, both during the conference and after, saying that they are now interested in pursuing future studies or a career in one of the subject areas that they were exposed to here first,” Maille added.

Dozens of scholarships were made available through the New York State 4-H Foundation and Cornell University.

The conference’s 30 programs focused on healthy living, STEM, civic engagement and leadership and were facilitated by the Colleges of Human Ecology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering and Information Science, as well as the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Museum of the Earth. The event connected youth to academic fields including engineering, animal science, astronomy, environmental science, food science, nanotechnology and human development.

A program titled “A Tour of Human Development across the Lifespan,” organized by the Bronfenbrenner Center’s Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), introduced human development to students with interests in sociology, psychology, neuroscience, medicine, education, public health or social work.

“We really wanted to expose the youth to both the idea of lifespan human development, showing them that development continues at all ages, and to different research methods,” said Jennifer Agans, PRYDE assistant director for research on youth development and engagement. “For us, this was really an amazing opportunity to work directly with youth and teach them about social science, as well as to align to our mission in connecting 4-H programs with campus research.”

Students heard from professors about their research, visited the fMRI lab and saw how brain scans can provide insights into human behavior. They also participated in career-related activities including interviews and focus group to better understand research methods.

And students discussed academic directions and personal career pathways with graduate students, lab managers, program assistants and postdoctoral fellows, who shed light on the transition from high school to college to career.

Skyler Masse, 16, from Niagara County, participated in the human development program and is interested in a career in medicine and health.

“Working hand-in-hand with the professors and students allowed me to be able to see that it’s okay not to have a direct route to college; there are many options, and a lot more options, than you may think there are,” she said. “Interviewing graduate students and postdocs, and hearing directly from them, helped me realize that it’s okay to change what you’re doing, even in college. You don’t have to have a set major, and that they went through the same thing.”

Meghan Stang, 17, from Cattaraugas County, is considering physical therapy as a career. She said the experience has given her more confidence in her future academic and professional life.

“Just listening to all of the graduate students and undergraduate students who came and spoke to us, they were in a similar situation when they were my age, and now they are succeeding in life,” she said. “It makes me think that even though I don’t know exactly where I want to go or what I want to do around physical therapy, I’ll be okay. I will succeed.”

 

4-H event boosts youth confidence in future studies - Cornell Chronicle

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Teen Outreach Program helps prevent teen pregnancy

(0) Comments  |   Tags: ACT for Youth,   Divine Sebuharara,   health,   sexual health,   youth,   youth development,  
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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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New systematic review: Intergenerational programs

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By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Do intergenerational programs that include youth and older adults improve connectedness? The BCTR's Research Synthesis Project addressed this question in their latest systematic translational review (STR).

The aim of the review was to find out if middle and high school students who interact with older adults became more comfortable and changed their attitudes toward older people. It also evaluated whether older adults who participated in these programs changed their perceptions about youth.

The analysis helps to guide programming and evaluation studies for the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) and the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging (CITRA).

The review found that youth and older adults’ attitudes toward each other improve after they participated in intergenerational programs. They also found that youth engaged in more behaviors to benefit others and were more likely to rate themselves as healthy. Older adults who participated reported improved wellbeing and concern for others.

Researchers did find that the body of evidence on intergenerational programs is small, and more research is needed to draw strong conclusions and understand the impact fully.

The BCTR Research Synthesis Project supports the development of high-quality evidence summaries on topics suggested by researchers or practitioners.

STRs help researchers and extension associated understand the broad body of evidence on a topic so they can put that information into practice in real-world settings.

A full listing of past STRs can be found here.

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Whitlock on self-injury and social media

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Janis Whitlock

Janis Whitlock

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR Researcher Janis Whitlock was featured earlier this year in a PBS news story about self-injury and social media.

Whitlock, director of the BCTR’s Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, studies the interaction between mental health and social media. She served as an expert in a PBS story about social media tools designed to reach out to people who post about self-harm on social media.

This year, the photo-sharing platform Instagram created a new tool to reach out to people who post about injuring themselves or eating disorders. Here is how it works: Instagram allows users to report posts that they feel suggest self-harm. If an Instagram staff member flags the post, the user receives a message that suggests they talk to a friend, contact a helpline, or read tips about coping. Facebook has a similar tool for people who post about harming themselves.

“One of the things that’s abundantly clear is that people will disclose in social media and internet-based venues things that a lot of other people don’t know — maybe nobody in their life knows,” Whitlock told PBS.

“I applaud [Instagram] for making an effort to really effectively interact, to identify and capture people at the moment of their crisis. For someone who self-injures, often times if they can just pause the urge for even just 15 minutes, then the urge to injure will pass.”

Can Instagram’s new tool really help users who self-harm? - PBS Newshour

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Collaboration lowers incidence of physical restraint for youth in care

(0) Comments  |   Tags: article,   collaboration,   Elliott Smith,   evaluation,   Michael Nunno,   RCCP,   research,   residential care,   youth,  
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Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Two BCTR researchers have been working with a Connecticut child welfare agency to implement and evaluate a program that promotes evidence-based approaches in supporting troubled youth. The Cornell researchers and two agency administrators published the results of their collaborative effort in March in the journal Child Welfare under the title “Benefits of embedding research into practice: An agency-university collaboration”.

Since 2009, Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith, members of the research team for the Residential Child Care Project (RCCP), have consulted with Waterford County School in Connecticut, which provides residential and day care to youth with mental health problems, behavioral issues, addiction and emotional problems.

A team of agency executives, clinicians, supervisors and staff members worked with RCCP staff and consultants to learn about and implement the Children and Residential Experiences: Creating Conditions for Change (CARE) program model.  The CARE model is a research-informed framework created at the BCTR by Martha Holden and her RCCP colleagues that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships between caregivers and youth.  Nunno and Smith were part of the effort to examine if CARE was making a difference in the day-to-day life of the children and staff. 

After the school implemented the program, agency administration reported a substantial decrease in physical restraints among the school’s residential population.  Physical restraints are safety interventions that hold a youth in order to contain physical behavior that is likely to result in injury to the youth or others.  They are, however, not without risks to both the child and the staff since they can have harmful or even fatal consequences. 

“The wonderful thing about the Waterford Country School from an evaluator’s perspective is that it has a thirty-year history of collecting and publishing administrative data on measures that matter to practitioners,” Nunno said.  Our job was to portray the data in relevant and meaningful ways so that it could inform practice, soften professional resistance to change, and add to the growing evidence that relationship-based, trauma-informed practice models can create safe and therapeutic physical spaces.”

“By examining the data, we documented a 48 percent decrease in restraint events within Waterford’s residential and shelter settings,” he said. “We were able to verify the staff perceptions and narratives that the Waterford agency was becoming a safer, calmer place.” 

Yet not all Waterford programs saw this decline.  “The day-school data showed an increase in restraints in the corresponding time frame,” Nunno said.  “Although we were all surprised at this finding, our analysis triggered the agency leadership to examine the children’s social and emotional regulation needs.  They involved day-school teachers and children’s families who designed unified approaches to meet those needs.  Within months of implementing these strategies we saw a significant decrease in the use of restraints.”

The partnership between RCCP and the school demonstrates RCCP’s success at monitoring and detecting problems, guiding solutions, improving practice, supporting learning organizations, and contributing more broadly to evidence-based practice. 

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NY 4-H student shadows MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin

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John Gabalski at MSNBC studios, NYC. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for National 4-H Council)

John Gabalski at MSNBC studios, NYC. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for National 4-H Council)

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

A 4-H student from Orleans County learned about broadcasting last month from an accomplished role model: NBC news anchor Craig Melvin.

Fifteen-year-old John Gabalski was selected to spend the day at NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center with Melvin, who anchors MSNBC Live on weekdays and co-anchors the Today Saturday edition. The visit was part of the National 4-H Council’s “Day in the Life Experience,” which connects youth with 4-H alumni.

Gabalski, who is interested in a career in journalism, had the chance to watch Melvin’s one-hour broadcast live and learn about what it takes to work at a major news network. “It was very interesting to see how everything works behind the camera, the way they handle the cameras and the lighting,” Gabalski told his local newspaper, orleanshub.com.

Gabalski is a member of the Orleans County Rabbit Raisers and Outback Orleans 4-H Clubs, and is also a member of Orleans County 4-H Senior Council.

John Gabalski with Craig Melvin on set at MSNBC. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for National 4-H Council)

John Gabalski with Craig Melvin on set at MSNBC. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for National 4-H Council)

About 190,000 youth ages 5-19 participate in 4-H programs throughout New York each year. The program – housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research – serves as the youth outreach component of Cornell Cooperative Extension.  

A major focus of 4-H is to help youth experience hands-on learning opportunities in science and technology, healthy living, and civic engagement that help them grow into competent, caring, and contributing members of society, says Andy Turner, New York State leader for 4-H at Cornell University.

“One of the core foundations of 4-H is to connect youth to caring adult mentors who can help them explore interests and potentially help them shape their college and career pathway,” he said. “Although John’s experience with Craig Melvin was unique and exceptional, it represents the ideals and goals we are seeking for all youth involved in 4-H.” 

 

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Positive Youth Development online courses

(0) Comments  |   Tags: ACT for Youth,   curriculum,   Jutta Dotterweich,   Karen Schantz,   youth,   youth development,  
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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

(0) Comments  |   Tags: ACT for Youth,   Amanda Purington,   Christine Heib,   Dora Welker,   evaluation,   youth,   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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New systematic translational review on outcomes for 4-H youth

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What is the quality of empirical evidence for youth outcomes as a result of their participation in 4-H? The BCTR's Research Synthesis Project addressed this question in their latest systematic translational review (STR).

4-H is the largest youth development organization in the United States, providing programming to over six million youth. Despite its reach, very little research has been conducted to assess youth outcomes within 4-H. To better understand the body of evidence for 4-H youth
participant outcomes, the Cornell Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) requested an STR to describe the quality, type, and focus of available evidence from both peer-reviewed and grey literature.

The Evidence for Outcomes from Youth Participation in 4-H STR finds that while there is some evidence suggesting 4-H participation provides some positive outcomes, most of the available studies lack rigorous research designs, which reduces confidence in the validity of these results.

The BCTR Research Synthesis Project supports the development of high-quality evidence summaries on topics nominated by practitioners and faculty within the Cornell Cooperative Extension system to illuminate the evidence base for their work.

To meet this need, the Systematic Translational Review (STR) process was developed to provide replicable systems and protocols for conducting timely and trustworthy research syntheses. STRs include the systematic features of a traditional review, the speed of a rapid review, and the inclusion of practitioner expertise to help guide search parameters and identify appropriate sources. By drawing upon both practitioner wisdom and the best available empirical evidence, the STR process supports the translation of evidence to practice in real-world settings.

A full listing of past STRs can be found here.

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