Expanding Choices for Evidence-Based Programming

Posted December 13, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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The demand for evidence-based programming to improve outcomes for children and families continues to grow, fueled in part by increased requirements for accountability by funders and public agencies and interest from local and state governments in more effectively addressing urgent issues with programs proven to work. This surging interest in tested, effective programming, however, can pose challenges for communities that want to implement rigorously reviewed programs but cannot find one that fits their particular needs. Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, a national online registry of evidence-based programs designed to promote positive youth development, has been seeking to meet this demand by increasing the range of programmatic choices offered on its website with different levels of evidence behind them.

When it was launched in 1996, Blueprints originally focused on identifying and replicating violence prevention programs that met strict standards of effectiveness. With new funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2011, the registry began to expand its list of approved programs to cover a broader set of positive youth development outcomes such as mental health, obesity, anxiety and depression and academic success. “The expansion in the outcomes of interest involve more than preventing harmful behavior; they also involve positive behaviors and healthy youth development allowing us to focus on the whole child,” says Sharon Mihalic, Blueprints director.

Blueprints offers tested programs that target different levels of need, from broad prevention efforts that promote positive behaviors to those focused on getting children of particular risk back on track. The number of evidence-based programs listed has grown from fewer than a dozen at its inception to 70 programs today.

Blueprints programs are widely recognized as meeting the most rigorous standards in the field and offers programs ranging from Promising to Model Plus. “Promising” programs meet the minimum standard of effectiveness but still demonstrate significant positive change in intended outcomes, while “Model” programs meet a higher scientific standard and give communities greater confidence in the program’s capacity to improve outcomes. A recently added designation, “Model Plus,” shows that a program has met “Model” requirements along with the additional standard of independent replication, which means that in at least one high-quality study demonstrating desired outcomes, authorship, data collection and analysis have been conducted by a researcher who is neither a current or past member of the program developer's research team and who has no financial interest in the program.

While each Blueprints program has been reviewed by a panel of experts and meets a clear set of scientific standards, this tiered standard approach offers users greater flexibility and choice. In addition, Blueprints will be adding programs focused on adult recidivism that meet their standards with funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. 

“All of us must help build a greater continuum of evidence-based programs so that kids can have access to programs that work and meet their needs,” says Suzanne Barnard, director of the Evidence-Based Practice Group at the Casey Foundation. “To do that, we need to support more evaluations of promising programs, encourage communities to nominate results-driven programs for consideration by Blueprints or other registries, and accelerate the peer review process.”

Learn more about Blueprints and prevention science

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