The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Measuring Positive Youth Development: What Outcomes Are Actually Measured by Youth Development Programs?

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 2:30 PM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Hiie Silmere, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, NY
Alex Eisenreich, BSW, BSW graduate, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, NY
Background and Purpose: Positive youth development has received increasing attention over the past decade.  Many agree that programs aimed at youth should not only evaluate the extent to which they prevent problem behaviors; it is equally important to assess to what extent such programs promote positive development.  In order to accomplish the latter, we need a clear sense what constitutes positive youth development, and specifically, how to measure such outcomes.  Catalano and colleagues (2002) have brought some clarity to this area by creating a starting list of 15 positive youth development constructs.  We used this list as a foundation to identify how many published studies evaluating the effectiveness of youth development programs in the past decade have actually measured these constructs. Specifically, we pursued two research questions: 1) what (and how many) positive youth development constructs are measured by different youth development programs; and 2) how are these outcomes measured?                                                                                   

Methods: We conducted a comprehensive review of the literature for studies evaluating the effectiveness of youth development programs by searching the PsycINFO, ERIC, Social Work Abstracts, and NREPP databases. We only focused on peer-reviewed English-language articles published from 2000 onwards. Only studies focusing on the general population or at-risk children and youth between the ages of 6 to 18 were included.  Treatment focused programs were excluded. In addition, studies needed to meet the following criteria: utilize experimental, quasi-experimental, or pre-experimental design; and measure at least one positive youth development outcome. Two raters were then independently reviewing each article to create a list of positive youth development outcomes measured, including how each outcome was measured.  We also attempted to classify each outcome under the broader constructs identified by Catalano et al. (2002).                                                        

Results: We identified 19 studies that met the inclusion criteria.  Some of these studies focused exclusively on promoting positive development whereas others included elements of primary prevention. The positive youth development constructs measured most often included bonding, competencies, self-efficacy, and prosocial norms. Several outcomes were rarely measured, including self-determination, spirituality, resilience, and recognition for positive behaviors. Only one study measured all 15 constructs identified by Catalano et al.  Many studies used pre-existing scales or modified versions of such scales to measure positive youth development outcomes; others created their own scales or questions. Most scales had acceptable internal consistency or test-retest reliability; validity was mentioned less frequently.                 

Conclusions and Implications:  The goal of this review is to start bringing more clarity to the field of positive youth development, specifically around outcomes and measurement issues.  To our knowledge, no other study has reviewed how positive youth development outcomes have been measured. We found that there is very little consistency in how these outcomes are measured.  It is also evident that most studies are only evaluating a handful of positive outcomes.  We hope that our review will generate more interest, discussion and research around how to best measure positive youth development outcomes in a more reliable, valid, feasible, and systematic fashion. We will conclude our presentation with several recommendations for future research.