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Research in Translation


Complementary Strengths launches new measure for youth program participation

July 18, 2012

Translational research includes developing and validating new measures that can be used during efficacy and effectiveness trials and in implementation research. It is ideal if these measures can also work as evaluation tools in real world programs. The Complementary Strengths Research Partnership worked with New York City after-school (out of school time) programs to develop and validate a new scale that community-based programs can easily use to assess the quality of youth participation. Complementary Strengths can also use the scale to test the efficacy of the setting-based intervention it is developing.

A review of the research literature demonstrated the need for a new way to measure youth participation. Much assessment of program participation looks only at how much time youth spend involved in program activities or at how many different types of activities they join, rather than at the quality of their experiences. Findings from the Complementary Strengths Study and other studies suggest the important role experiences of high-quality program participation have on young people’s healthy development, but the field lacked a validated short scale for measuring participation quality as experienced by youth. Youth participants, program staff, and researchers worked together to develop and fine-tune items for use in the new scale. Work to develop the measure included a number of phases - a pilot study involving 98 youth, a longitudinal exploratory study involving 329 youth, and use of the new tool in a program evaluation project now underway.

Research team members Jennifer Tiffany, John Eckenrode, and Deinera Exner-Cortens recently published an article spelling out how the new 20-item scale was developed. The scale is now available for programs and researchers to use in their own evaluations, program improvement efforts, and studies of youth development practices in community settings.

The overall scale encompasses four subscales measuring Personal Development (7 items), Voice/Influence (4 items), Safety/Support (4 items), and Community Engagement (5 items). In addition to measuring these key elements of youth engagement in programs, scores on the scale are significantly correlated with measures of social connectedness and sexual health promotion. A technical description of the measure is available here.

The Complementary Strengths Research Project is supported in part by award #R21NR009764 from the NIH/National Institute of Nursing Research and by USDA grant #NYC-323442-0219950. The content of this report is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Institutes of Health, or the USDA.


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