“A Multi-state Evaluation of Positive Youth Development” found that youth-led advocacy had a significant impact on foster youths’ sense of identity and community. The findings represent the first wave of results from a survey of 285 current and former foster youth in six states.
The research is part of a larger project surveying 500 foster youth conducted by Toni Naccarato, assistant professor at the State University of New York-Albany (SUNY) School of Social Welfare.
“I was very interested in the fact that youth were actually informing and doing the trainings,” said Naccarato, speaking about the study during a phone interview. “I wanted to highlight what’s happening in this model in a quantitative way.”
One such intervention model is youth-led advocacy, empowering foster youth to advocate for their own rights by teaching them how to interact with legislators and how to tell their personal stories in a compelling way that incites change.
The model of youth-led advocacy, as studied by Naccarato, began with organizations like the California Youth Connection 25 years ago and today exists on a national level through Foster Youth in Action (FYA), a foster youth advocacy training organization. Iterations of the model are popping up around the nation.
Naccarato’s study surveyed 285 youth between the ages of 14-26 years in its first wave. Participants were from California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington.
SUNY-Albany partnered with FYA to determine if there was a difference in youth before and after they participated in leadership and advocacy training. The six developmental domains studied included:
1) Identity Affiliation
2) Civic Activism
3) Supportive Relationships
4) Youth Involvement 5) Skill Building
6) Community Involvement
The Wave 1 study involved tests administered to the youths before and after the intervention, and a dependent sample t-test to gauge the difference in score. The level of statistical significance used to test each pair was .05, which is typical of social science research. This means the research team is 95% confident in the t-test scores.
The initial findings indicate that youth who participate in leadership and advocacy trainings are positively impacted in the six identified domains. The average difference between pre-test and post-test scores in all six domains was a little over 6.1 points.
“The information analyzed thus far strongly supports that youth are positively impacted through their participation in the intervention,” the Wave 1 conclusion states. “This approach offers lessons to be learned for future studies engaging current and former foster youth in practice, policy, and research activities.”
Naccarato is herself a former foster youth, and conceived of the study to inform on best practices in the field.
“My experience is that research separated from the field is nonsense,” she said. “It has to be tethered to the field, and we need to see the results on the human beings we’re studying.”
Naccarato and Carmen Duncan, research assistant and former foster youth, presented the Wave 1 data at the 2013 National Pathways to Adulthood convening in Baltimore, and the final report will be presented at The Society for Social Work and Research Conference in January.
Naccarato and her team are already working on collecting and analyzing Wave 2 data, which will track outcomes for about 325 total youth. This project was funded by the Stuart Foundation, which also supports The Chronicle of Social Change.