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Youth participation in program and community decision making is framed by scholars as an issue of social justice, a platform for positive youth development and effective citizenry, and a strategy for nation building. Recent literature reviews have consistently identified youth-adult partnership (Y-AP) as an effective type of youth participation across highly diverse contexts. These same reviews, however, note that indicators of Y-AP have not been conceptualized and validated for measurement purposes. The present study addresses this limitation by developing a brief measure of Y-AP that is explicitly grounded in current theory, research, and community practice. The measure was administered to youth in the United States, Malaysia, and Portugal (N = 610). Validation was assessed through factor analysis and tests of factorial, discriminant, and concurrent validity. Results confirmed the two predicted dimensions of the Y-AP measure: youth voice in decision making and supportive adult relationships. These two dimensions were also found to be distinct from other measures of program quality: safety and engagement. As predicted, they also significantly correlated with measures of agency and empowerment. It is concluded that the measure has the potential to support community efforts to maximize the quality of youth programs.
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1 23
American Journal of Community
ISSN 0091-0562
Volume 54
Combined 3-4
Am J Community Psychol (2014)
DOI 10.1007/s10464-014-9676-9
Conceptualizing and Measuring Youth–
Adult Partnership in Community
Programs: A Cross National Study
Shepherd Zeldin, Steven Eric Krauss,
Jessica Collura, Micaela Lucchesi &
Abdul Hadi Sulaiman
1 23
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Conceptualizing and Measuring Youth–Adult Partnership
in Community Programs: A Cross National Study
Shepherd Zeldin Steven Eric Krauss
Jessica Collura Micaela Lucchesi
Abdul Hadi Sulaiman
Published online: 13 September 2014
ÓSociety for Community Research and Action 2014
Abstract Youth participation in program and community
decision making is framed by scholars as an issue of social
justice, a platform for positive youth development and
effective citizenry, and a strategy for nation building.
Recent literature reviews have consistently identified
youth–adult partnership (Y–AP) as an effective type of
youth participation across highly diverse contexts. These
same reviews, however, note that indicators of Y–AP have
not been conceptualized and validated for measurement
purposes. The present study addresses this limitation by
developing a brief measure of Y–AP that is explicitly
grounded in current theory, research, and community
practice. The measure was administered to youth in the
United States, Malaysia, and Portugal (N =610). Valida-
tion was assessed through factor analysis and tests of fac-
torial, discriminant, and concurrent validity. Results
confirmed the two predicted dimensions of the Y–AP
measure: youth voice in decision making and supportive
adult relationships. These two dimensions were also found
to be distinct from other measures of program quality:
safety and engagement. As predicted, they also signifi-
cantly correlated with measures of agency and empower-
ment. It is concluded that the measure has the potential to
support community efforts to maximize the quality of
youth programs.
Keywords Youth–adult partnership Youth voice
Youth participation Measurement validation
Youth participation in program and community decision
making is an international movement and a phenomenon of
scholarly interest (Hart and Schwab 1997; Wong et al.
2010; Zeldin et al. 2003). Its significance is threefold. First,
youth participation is viewed as a strategy for social jus-
tice. Across developing and industrialized countries, youth
are typically not granted admission into the most influential
forums of decision making (Schlegel and Barry 1991;
White and Wyn 2013). Confronting this status quo, the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
asserts that all young people have the right to express their
views freely, be heard in all matters affecting them, and
have their views taken seriously in accordance with their
age and maturity (Lansdown 2001). Second, youth partic-
ipation is seen as a strategy for youth development and
effective citizenry. Scholars assert that, across cultures,
youth voice on behalf of self and others is an important
precursor to competence, identity formation and social trust
(Arnett 2002; Flanagan et al. 2010; Peterson 2000).
Research consistently links youth participation with the
development of agency, empowerment, and community
connections (Christens and Peterson 2012; Evans 2007;
Krauss et al. 2013; Larson and Angus 2011; Mitra 2004;
Zeldin 2004; Zimmerman et al. 1999). The third purpose of
youth participation is nation building. In many countries,
especially those whose societal structures ‘‘lag’’ in terms of
S. Zeldin J. Collura
School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA
S. E. Krauss (&)A. H. Sulaiman
Institute for Social Science Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia
(UPM), 43400 Serdang, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
M. Lucchesi
Psychology and Health Research Unit R&D, ISPA-IU
University, Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 34, 1149-041 Lisbon,
Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347
DOI 10.1007/s10464-014-9676-9
Author's personal copy
adapting to changing youth demographics and develop-
mental needs, significant numbers of young people do not
receive the supports to successfully transition into the
societal roles of worker, parent, and community leader
(USAID 2012; Hamilton and Hamilton 2009). Involving
young people contributes directly to nation building by
fortifying community institutions, building instrumental
and relationship-oriented networks, and affording young
people opportunities to share their experience and insight
to collective action (Call et al. 2002; Ginwright et al. 2006;
Linds et al. 2010).
Youth participation addresses these overlapping purposes
across an array of community settings. In organizations, for
example, youth and adults collaborate on governance
boards, advisory groups, and program planning committees
(Merdock et al. 2010; O’Donoghue et al. 2002; Kim and
Sherman 2006). In schools, young people engage in partic-
ipatory action research, sit on discipline committees, and
advise teachers on student priorities and concerns (Mitra
2008; Framework for Success 2006). In community coali-
tions and other groups, youth participate in intergenerational
teams to deliver training, enact media and communication
initiatives, and evaluate policy. Other youth collaborate with
adults to organize residents and to lead community action
(Lansdown 2001; Flanagan and Christens 2011).
The quality of youth participation lies not only in the
type of participation, but more centrally, in the principles,
values, and relationships embedded in the practice (Camino
2000; O’Donoghue and Strobel 2007). From the perspec-
tive of accomplished practitioners, the most effective type
of youth participation is typically labeled as youthadult
partnership (Y–AP). Y–AP is characterized by the explicit
expectation that youth and adults will collaborate in all
aspects of group decision making from visioning, to pro-
gram planning, to evaluation and continuous improvement.
Qualitative research with practitioners further emphasizes
that a partnership value is witnessed when key decisions
are made through inclusive processes, and when there is
mutuality in teaching, learning, and reflection among youth
and adults (see Camino 2005; Kirshner 2007; Mitra 2008;
National League of Cities 2010; Yates and Youniss 1996).
Recent reviews in the American Journal of Community
Psychology lend strong support to practitioner experience:
the pluralistic context of Y–AP is consistently found to
contribute directly to youth development, empowerment,
and community building. Wong et al. (2010), for example,
identify Y–AP as the most ‘‘optimal’’ of seven types of
youth participation in terms of promoting youth empow-
erment and health. Y–AP has a powerful influence,
according to these analysts, because it emphasizes youth
voice in forums of collective decision making, thus
allowing young people to be active agents in their own
development and that of their community. Zeldin et al.
(2013) similarly conclude that Y–AP directly promotes
positive youth development, particularly in the socio-
emotional domains of confidence, mastery, and connect-
edness. These analysts also highlight the role of adult
partners. They conclude that Y–AP derives its influence
when adults have the willingness and ability to share
power, while concurrently, preparing youth through scaf-
folding, mentoring, and direct instruction. Jacquez et al.
(2013) reviewed the literature on community and school-
based youth participatory action research (see also
Langhout and Thomas 2010). They note that there are few
studies examining youth participation and youth outcomes.
Nonetheless, they suggest that Y–AP is central to high
quality youth participation because it effectively challenges
dominant societal narratives regarding the ability of youth
to participate in important decision-making. They offer
examples of Y–AP to underscore the potential of the
practice to youth participation.
Study Purpose and Approach
Given the consensus among field professionals and uni-
versity scholars across a broad array of disciplines, we are
curious as to why Y–AP has not yet become a normative
practice. Research suggests two salient reasons. The first is
that Y–AP is difficult to implement with quality. Many
adults do not have the skill or inclination to share decision
making authority with youth and rarely are societal norms
and institutions designed to support Y–AP (Camino and
Zeldin 2002; Strobel et al. 2008). The second challenge is
one of conceptualization and measurement. Only recently
have scholars begun to systematically categorize different
types of youth participation, including Y–AP (Jacquez
et al. 2013; Wong et al. 2010). These efforts have helped
the field move toward shared conceptualizations of Y–AP.
There is now a consistent call for validated measures of Y–
AP that reflect contemporary research and practice. Youth
perspectives of their roles and relationships with adults are
seen as particularly important when constructing these
measures (Ferreira et al. 2012; Kirby and Bryson 2002;
Langhout and Thomas 2010).
The present study responds to this call. Our purpose was
to create a valid measure of Y–AP to spark future research
while also being suitable for assessing practice. Our specific
aim was to create a ‘‘setting neutral’’ instrument that would
be applicable across community programs. We initiated the
inquiry by conceptualizing Y–AP for measurement pur-
poses. Expert validity and theoretical generalizability for Y–
AP was then established by synthesizing insight from
empirical, policy, and practice perspectives (Fine 2007).
From these diverse sources, we constructed a measure of Y–
AP with two dimensions: youth voice in decision making
(YVDM) and supportive adult relationships (SAR). This
338 Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347
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measure was then tested with a sample drawn from the
United States, Portugal and Malaysia through factor analysis
and tests of factorial, discriminant, and concurrent validity.
Sample and Selection
The present study was conducted in the context of an
investigation into the quality of community programs.
Recruitment procedures were designed to maximize the
heterogeneity of young people across cultures and age.
Specifically, three countries—the United States, Malaysia,
and Portugal—were selected given their diversity in cul-
ture, ethnicity, language, and religion. Within each coun-
try, youth participants were recruited through community
programs. This sampling strategy, with the aim of hetero-
geneity, strengthens validation studies by allowing the fit of
the predicted models to be tested across different condi-
tions (Knight et al. 2003; Richardsen and Martinussen
2004; Schaufeli et al. 2002). We approached programs that
self-identified as emphasizing positive youth development.
That is, their menu of services focused on social, recrea-
tion, health and academic support rather than activism,
community service, or participatory action research. As
Ozer and Schotland (2011) argue, the inclusion of youth
who have not self-selected into a ‘‘youth-directed’’ or
‘community change’’ oriented program offers researchers
the opportunity to demonstrate that a newly developed
measure is applicable across a broad cross-section of youth
settings. In the United States, participants were recruited
from two youth development programs operated by a
community center in a mid-sized city. Their target popu-
lation was African-American youth from across a wide
catchment area of urban neighborhoods. In Malaysia, par-
ticipants were drawn from four state registered afterschool
programs in a large city. The programs offered a compa-
rable array of youth development services, but tended to be
culturally specific. Two of the programs served primarily
Malay youth while two focused on Chinese young people.
In Portugal, participants were members of a national youth
development organization who were attending a regional
retreat outside of a large city. Participants were primarily
from small to mid-sized cities.
Table 1highlights demographic variation across and
within the three countries. Overall, 647 youth completed
the survey, with 37 excluded because of incomplete data.
The average age was 17.6 (SD =3.21). Fifty-one percent
of the sample was male. The sample was racially and
ethnically diverse: 55.2 % identified as Asian, 23.1 % as
Latino, 16.3 % as African-American, and 2.8 % as Cau-
casian. The majority of the sample identified as Christian
(36.9 %), followed by Muslim (31.4 %) and Buddhist
(15.8 %). On average, mothers of the youth participants
had completed the equivalent of a high school education or
some college.
Y–AP: Youth Voice in Decision Making and Supportive
Adult Relationships
Y–AP is the practice of youth and adults working together
for a common purpose in a collective, pluralistic fashion
(Wong et al. 2010; Zeldin et al. 2013). For measurement
purposes, we began our inquiry by conceptualizing Y–AP
as a principal-based ‘‘developmental relationship’’ that
Table 1 Demographic characteristics of the sample (%)
(n =141)
(n =328)
(n =141)
(n =610)
11–18 94.3 55.5 26.2 57.7
19–24 5.7 44.5 73.8 42.3
Female 56.4 45.3 52.5 49.5
Male 43.6 54.7 47.5 50.5
White 12.2 – – 2.8
69.5 – – 16.3
Asian 8.5 – – 55.2
Malay 53.8 –
Chinese 43.5 –
7.1 – – 23.1
Portuguese – 91.5
Other 2.8 2.7 8.5 3.2
Religious affiliation
None 41.6 .6 8.4 11.1
Christian 45.6 12.2 90.1 36.9
Buddhist .8 27.9 0 15.8
Muslim 4.0 54.1 .8 31.4
Other 8.0 5.2 .8 4.8
Mother’s education
Some high
school or
5.3 28.8 51.9 30.4
High school
graduate or
some college
73.4 57.3 30.2 53.3
graduate or
21.3 13.9 17.8 16.2
Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347 339
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holistically encompasses the attributes of role, activity, and
connection (Camino 2000; Li and Jullian 2012). As we
synthesized the scholarship on Y–AP as well as other
sources on youth-adult relationships (particularly Baumei-
ster and Leary 1995; Larson and Angus 2011; Rappaport
1981; Rogoff 2003), it became evident that two compo-
nents of Y–AP were central to its influence on positive
youth development and empowerment: YVDM and SAR.In
virtually all theoretical and empirical analyses, Y–AP is
characterized by youth believing that they have authentic
opportunities to influence decision making throughout the
life of an initiative, program, or activity. The role of adults
is also foregrounded. Y–AP is uniformly characterized by
youth believing that they are trusted as both leaders and as
learners by the adults with whom they interact.
To further conceptualize and operationalize the con-
structs of ‘‘youth voice’’ and ‘‘supportive adults’’ we
examined the principles embedded in the policies of
practice of national youth organizations. This review
revealed a consistency in emphasis with the syntheses cited
above. For illustration, USAID’s (2012, p. 12) recent youth
policy directive directs funds to be allocated toward those
programs where ‘‘youth have specific roles in assessment,
program design, implementation and evaluation.’’ While
USAID focuses on youth voice, 4-H National Headquarters
(2012, p. 4) emphasizes the importance of supportive
adults who ‘‘lead, advise and partner with youth.’’ The
Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth (2002,
p. 14) urges its adult members to provide opportunities for
youth voice by ‘‘opening doors that have been historically
closed to young people, challenging them to succeed, and
preparing them to interact as equals with adults in a variety
of public settings.’’ The National League of Cities (2010,
pp. 31–33) urges its members to ‘‘learn the dynamics of
youth-adult partnership and group work’’ to help youth
‘prepare to navigate adult settings.’’ Moreover, it chal-
lenges adults to ‘‘model the kind of youth-adult relation-
ship [you] seek for the community.’
The research team then reviewed existing Y–AP focused
program assessment instruments. These tools, because they
are designed to address the accountability demands of pro-
grams, provide insight into what practitioners believe is
most useful to measure. While these instruments have not
been validated, they assisted us in generating words and
phrases to operationalize the two dimensions of Y–AP.
Stanford’s Gardner Center (Westrich 2011), for illustration,
examines the extent to which organizations ‘‘provide youth
with opportunities to collaborate with adults from the
community,’’ ‘‘incorporate youth input into their decision
making processes,’’ and ‘‘provide training to adults on how
to partner with youth.’’ Most instruments, however, focus
more directly on the youth-adult relationship. Penn State
Extension (Scheve et al. 2005), for example, asks young
people to assess the degree to which ‘‘my opinions and ideas
are respected by adults on the team,’’ and ‘‘when I need help,
I know that adults are willing to assist me.’’ The University
of Wisconsin youth survey (Camino et al. 2006) is similar.
Examples include: ‘‘In this group, youth get to make choices
and decisions about the things they want to do,’’ ‘‘Youth
have a say in setting the agenda or goals for the work of this
team,’’ and ‘‘There is a good balance of power between
youth and adults in this group.’’ O’Donoghue and Strobel
(2007) examine youth–adult relationships by asking youth
participants to respond to items such as ‘‘adults and youth
plan things together here,’’ ‘‘youth here get to plan all kinds
of events and activities,’’ and ‘‘I can talk to the adults here
about things that are bothering me.’
Our synthesis of these sources resulted in the drafting of
a new measure of Y–AP with two dimensions, YVDM and
SAR. To ensure semantic equivalence across languages,
conceptual equivalence across cultures, and normative
equivalence across societies, we undertook several steps as
outlined by Behling and Law (2000). The initial version of
the survey was shared with the respective research team
from each country for feedback and modifications regard-
ing cultural relevancy. For example, given the influence of
religious institutions on young people’s lives in Malaysia,
questions regarding connections to religious organizations
were added to the survey. The survey was then translated
into Malay and Portuguese. Reverse translation processes
were followed by the research teams in each country to
ensure consistency and accuracy. The survey was then
piloted with young people in each country and final mod-
ifications were made. The finalized YVDM subscale con-
sisted of five statements assessed by a five point Likert-
type scale ranging from Strongly Disagree to Strongly
Agree (e.g., ‘‘Youth and adults learn a lot from working
together in this center;’’ ‘‘Youth and staff trust each other
in this center.’’). The SAR subscale consisted of six
statements, similarly assessed (e.g., ‘‘The staff take my
ideas seriously;’’ ‘‘In this center, I am encouraged to
express my ideas and opinions’’).
There is a lack of consensus among researchers as to
whether using a mix of negatively and positively worded
items reduces response bias. Traditionally, measurement
researchers advocated for the use of negatively worded
items to protect against bias and acquiescent behaviors of
respondents. Recent research, however, suggests that the
increased item complexity resulting from this practice can
confuse youth respondents, causing them to misunderstand
an item or answer differently than they would to positively
worded statements (Barnette 1996,2000). As a result,
researchers in youth-related fields have called for the
abandonment of the use of negatively worded items in the
design of their measures (Peterson et al. 2011). Following
this line of reasoning, we included only positively-worded
340 Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347
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items in the Y–AP measure out of concern with how youth
from highly disparate cultures would interpret negatively-
worded items.
Safe Environment and Program Engagement
Two key aspects of program quality were included in the
survey to allow tests of discriminant validity with the
newly created Y–AP measure. Safe environment (SEN)
(a=.84) was self-developed, drawn from the emotional
safety rubric from the Youth Program Quality Assessment
(Forum for Youth Investment 2012). This measure used
four items (e.g., ‘‘I feel safe when I’m in this center;’
‘Bullying and aggression are not tolerated here’’) to assess
young people’s feelings of emotional and psychological
safety during program participation. Program engagement
(PE) (a=.85) was adapted from Vandell et al.’s (2005)
study of engagement in afterschool settings. This measure
used four statements (‘‘I enjoy most everything I do in this
center;’’ ‘‘I concentrate hard when I’m involved with pro-
grams at the community center’’) to assess young people’s
level of engagement in program activities. For both mea-
sures, statements were rated using a five-point Likert-type
scale ranging from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree.
Youth Development Outcomes
Four additional measures were administered to participants.
Y–AP, particularly youth voice, is central to the develop-
ment of youth agency and empowerment across cultures
(Arnett 2002; Peterson 2000). Therefore, measures of these
constructs were included to examine concurrent validity.
Agency (a=.76) was measured using 9-items from the
Boston University Empowerment Scale (Rogers et al.
1997). Items (e.g., ‘‘I generally accomplish what I set out to
do;’’ I have a positive attitude about myself’’) were
answered using a five-point Likert-type scale from Strongly
Disagree to Strongly Agree. Empowerment (a=.73) was
assessed using an eight-item scale adaptation of the
Sociopolitical Control Scale for Youth (Peterson et al.
2011). Respondents answered items (e.g., ‘‘I would rather
have a leadership role when I’m involved in a group pro-
ject;’’ ‘‘My opinion is important because it could someday
make a difference in my community or school’’) using a
five-point Likert-type scale ranging from Strongly Disagree
to Strong Agree. Measures of self-esteem and school grades
were included for points of comparison to agency and
empowerment for testing concurrent validity. Self-esteem
(a=.76) was measured using Rosenberg’s (1989) 10-item
self-esteem scale. Respondents answered items (e.g., ‘‘On
the whole, I am satisfied with myself;’’ ‘‘I am able to do
things as well as most other people’’) using a five-point
Likert-type scale ranging from Strongly Disagree to
Strongly Agree. Finally, school grades were assessed on a
five-point scale ranging from Mostly As to Mostly Fs.
Each site followed the research and ethical standards
required by their respective countries when administering
surveys. In the United States and Portugal, per institutional
review boards (IRB) requirements, letters of support from
each participating program were collected. Parental con-
sent and youth assent forms were then signed and collected
prior to young people participating in the study. In
Malaysia, the lead institution did not require ethics
approval for non-sensitive social science research, but
approval to conduct the study was gained from each par-
ticipating program director. Youth participants within each
program were allowed to choose whether to participate.
Research team members, following standard protocols,
administered the questionnaires. In all settings, young
people were encouraged to answer all questions on the
survey, but were also reminded that their participation was
voluntary and they were not required to answer any ques-
tion that made them feel uncomfortable.
We explore the validity of the new Y–AP measure from
multiple perspectives. We first conducted exploratory and
Table 2 Factor loadings, means and standard deviations for youth–
adult partnership scale items
Item statement Factors
Youth and staff trust each other in this center .91
There is a good balance of power between youth and
adults in this center
Youth and adults learn a lot from working together
in this center
In this center, it is clear that youth and staff respect
each other
Staff learn a lot from youth at this center .64
I have a say in planning programs at this center .84
The staff take my ideas seriously .77
I am expected to voice my concerns when I have
In this center, I am encouraged to express my ideas
and opinions
M4.02 3.85
SD .69 .70
SAR supportive adult relationships, YVDM youth voice in decision
Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347 341
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confirmatory factor analysis with the complete sample.
Factorial validity was then examined using multi-group
analysis to explore model fit among different age groups.
Subsequent to establishing an acceptable model fit, dis-
criminant and concurrent validity were examined.
Exploratory Factor Analysis
EFA was conducted using oblique (promax) rotation
(Table 2) to explore the inter-relatedness of the factors (De
Jong et al. 1976). The rotated factor matrix resulted in two
factors, accounting for 64.83 % of the total variance. The
factors were labelled SAR (SAR: 52.85 % of total vari-
ance) and YVDM (YVDM: 11.98 % of the variance).
Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Post Hoc
Confirmatory factor analysis was performed to test the
hypothesized two-factor model. A missing data analysis
was completed to examine the relationships between
missing values on each variable. No statistically significant
relationships were observed. Therefore, a listwise deletion
procedure was used (Schreiber 2008). Factor loadings were
allowed to vary freely. Factor variances were constrained
to one (1). The data were somewhat skewed, but below an
absolute value of 2. Therefore, an ML estimation with
robust standard errors was performed. The overall model fit
for the CFA was assessed using several indices suggested
by Schreiber et al. (2009) and Jackson et al. (2009). The
Tucker–Lewis index (TLI) and the comparative fit index
(CFI) are both incremental fit indices that compare the
target model to the null model. A CFI and TLI [.90 sug-
gest an acceptable fit and above .95 a good fit (Hu and
Bentler 1999). The root mean square error of approxima-
tion (RMSEA) is an index of absolute fit that examines
how well the present model approximates the data; values
\.05 suggest a good fit and \.08 suggest an acceptable fit
(Schreiber 2008). The overall Chi square (v
) is also
reported although it is only used to compare the fit of
contrasting models. It is the statistical test of the lack of fit
based on over identifying restrictions on the target model.
This index should not be statistically significant, although
this is a function of sample size and will usually be rejected
with large samples (Ozer and Schotland 2011). After these
four fit indices were examined, our two-factor model
showed adequate fit, v
(43) =223.04, p\.001;
TLI =.934; CFI =.948; RMSEA =.083.
Further inspection of the two-factor model’s modifica-
tion indices, however, revealed high covariance on two
items; one for SAR (‘‘I learn a lot from staff at this center’’)
and one for YVDM (‘‘In this center, I get to make decisions
about the things I want to do’’). The two items were deleted
to provide a more parsimonious measure. The final two-
factor model with these modifications showed improved fit,
(26) =103.615, p\.001; TLI =.959; CFI =.970;
RMSEA =.07. The final model included the two
hypothesized scales of SAR (five items, a=.87), and
YVDM (four items, a=.82) (see Table 2for factor
loadings). To confirm the two-factor structure of the model,
a one-dimensional model gave unsatisfactory fit indexes:
(27) =331.214, p\.001; TLI =.844; CFI =.883;
RMSEA =.136. Thus, results of the CFA confirmed the
multidimensional nature of the measure.
Factorial Validity
Given the breadth of age of our sample, we explored the
extent to which the factor structure holds for youth of
different ages and cultures. The sample was broken into
two groups (11–18 and 19–24 years), and by three coun-
tries. Because AMOS only provides overall fit indices, we
first conducted multi-group analysis to compare the fit
indices for each age group and country with the overall
sample. The results for the individual age groups and
countries revealed acceptable, albeit somewhat poorer, fit
indices to the data than the total sample (Table 3).
Next, we ran the equivalence test to estimate whether
each subsample (i.e., age group and country) had equiva-
lent factor loadings, factor variances and covariances
(Byrne 2010;Jo
¨reskog and So
¨rbom 1997). Results for the
age group analysis showed that the model that allowed all
parameters to be different in the subsamples was signifi-
cantly better than the model that required equal factor
loadings, variances and covariances, Dv
N=610) =73.845, p\.001. However, the fit indices did
not change significantly and the RMSEA value was well
within the acceptable range in the model with equality
constraints (GFI =.926; CFI =.939; TLI =.938;
RMSEA =.061). For analysis by country, the findings
showed somewhat weaker yet similar results. The model
that allowed all parameters to be different in the subsam-
ples was again significantly better than the model that
required equal factor loadings, variances and covariances,
(24, N=610) =161.135, p\.001. The fit indices
Table 3 Indices of overall fit comparison across age groups and
Model v
Modified 103.62 26 .07 .959 .970
11–18 82.50 26 .079 .944 .960
19–24 71.57 26 .082 .950 .964
USA 50.93 26 .083 .957 .969
Portugal 52.63 26 .086 .933 .951
Malaysia 87.52 26 .085 .930 .950
342 Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347
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and RMSEA value were within acceptable ranges in the
model with equality constraints (GFI =.884; CFI =.902;
TLI =.909; RMSEA =.06). Despite the age and cultural
diversity of the sample, the results indicate that the pro-
posed two-factor structure of the Y–AP measure could be
reasonably replicated in the total sample as well as across
different groups of youth and cultures.
Discriminant Validity
We next explored whether the two dimensions of Y–AP were
sufficiently distinct from two additional components of
program quality: SEN and PE. The examination of dis-
criminant validity can be a key analytic strategy for validity
studies using CFA (Farrell 2010). This is especially true, we
believe, when constructing setting-neutral measures of pro-
gram quality. For these reasons, we ran a CFA with the two
Y–AP measures along with measures for SEN and PE. The
four-factor model showed good fit [v
(113) =370.564,
p\.001; TLI =.947; CFI =.956; RMSEA =.06]. We
then applied the Fornell and Larcker (1981) technique to
assess discriminant validity where for any two constructs, the
variance extracted estimates (AVE) for both need to be larger
than the shared variance (i.e., square of the correlation)
between them (Hair et al. 2006). Our results showed that all
variance extracted estimates (AVE) were greater than the
squared correlation estimates for each pair of measures, with
the exception of SEN–PE. In the latter case, the correlation
between the measures was still well below .9, ruling out the
possibility of multicollinearity (Tabachnik and Fidell 2007),
thus demonstrating strong discriminant validity.
Concurrent Validity
Pearson intercorrelations for the two Y–AP subscales and the
four external criteria measures were conducted (Table 4).
Given that Y–AP haspreviously been found to be influential in
the development of agency and empowerment, we predicted
that correlations would be higher than those between Y–AP
and self esteem and grades. As seen in Table 2, the two Y–AP
subscales positively correlated with each other (r=.64). The
two Y–AP subscales were positively correlated with agency
and empowerment (r=.37–.44), suggesting concurrent
validity. The Y–AP subscales were also associated with self-
esteem and school grades. As expected however, these cor-
relations (r=.18–.35) were of a smaller magnitude than
those detected with agency and empowerment.
Youth have become increasingly segregated from nonfa-
milial adults in the social and civic spheres of community
life worldwide (Bronfenbrenner 1970; Call et al. 2002;
Modell and Goodman 1990; Schlegel and Barry 1991).
Community-based youth programs are perhaps the most
effective developmental context for intergenerational par-
ticipation (Strobel et al. 2008). They can provide free
spaces where young people can imagine possibilities,
debate options, take on responsible social roles, and col-
laborate with adult residents and community workers.
Consequently, young people in many countries are given
the opportunity to meet the overlapping purposes of youth
participation: ensuring youth rights while promoting posi-
tive youth development, identity, empowerment, and
nation building (Flanagan et al. 2010; Hamilton and
Hamilton 2009; Peterson 2000). In many countries across
Europe, such as Portugal and Northern Ireland, youth
organizations have sparked a renewal of citizenship edu-
cation, a heightened focus on civic-oriented projects, and
youth participation in reconciliation efforts (Magnuson and
Baizerman 2007; Ferreira et al. 2012; Schulz et al. 2010).
Across a broad range of developing countries, from Kenya
to Malaysia, youth programs are creating opportunities for
youth and adults to build social networks, strengthen
community institutions, and work together on community
projects (Call et al. 2002; Kwan Meng 2012; Nga and King
A focus on the opportunities embedded in youth pro-
grams has brought renewed attention to the assertion that
the configuration of youth and adult interactions is critical
to the quality and effectiveness of a given setting (Camino
2000; Li and Jullian 2012; Flanagan et al. 2010). And,
among these interactions, Y–AP has emerged as a key
developmental process and practice. Practitioners claim
that Y–AP directly confronts isolation among youth and
adults, and equally important, contributes to positive out-
comes among young people. Empirical research supports
these claims (Wong et al. 2010; Zeldin et al. 2013). These
scholars also emphasize, however, that there are no vali-
dated measures of Y–AP, and that this gap diminishes
knowledge generation and quality practice. It is for these
Table 4 Correlation matrix of study variables
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
2. SAR .64**
3. Agency .40** .37**
4. Empowerment .44** .37** .51** –
5. Self-esteem .35** .22** .46** .29** –
6. School grades .25** .18** .25** .27** .25** –
SAR supportive adult relationships, YVDM youth voice in decision
making; Pearson two-tailed correlations
*p\.05; ** p\.01
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reasons that we sought to create and test a psychometrically
sound measure of youth-adult partnership.
Implications for Theory and Measurement
The present study serves to extend our conceptual and
measurement understanding of Y–AP. We constructed a
brief measure of Y–AP consisting of two subscales:
YVDM and SAR. The two dimensions were explored
through factor analysis and tests of factorial, discriminant,
and concurrent validity. Results indicate consistent support
for the model. Specifically, the subscales of Y–AP dem-
onstrate good internal consistency, are distinct from other
elements of program quality (e.g., safety and engagement),
and strongly correlate, as predicted, with youth develop-
ment outcomes (e.g., agency, empowerment). Results fur-
ther indicate that the predicted model held across youth
attending a broad range of community programs within
three different countries. This suggests that the measures
are applicable to a variety of settings. While the hetero-
geneity of the sample represents an important strength for
validation studies generally (Schaufeli et al. 2002), it may
be especially important in studies that examine empower-
ment and related concepts such as youth voice (Ozer and
Schotland 2011). This is the first measurement study of Y–
AP, and therefore, a spectrum of conceptual and validation
issues should be explored. Foremost, we believe, is the
applicability of the measure to different settings. This study
assessed Y–AP in the context of youth programs that meet
on a regular basis during the after school hours. Y–AP is
also implemented, however, in less ‘‘structured’’ settings
such as local governance bodies, policy-oriented commu-
nity coalitions and advocacy-oriented voluntary associa-
tions. It is unknown if the current measure would
generalize to these settings. We are particularly curious as
to the applicability of this measure to issues of school
climate and classroom instruction, given that youth par-
ticipation may be a key component of successful school
reform in the United States and internationally (Framework
for Success 2006; Fielding 2001; Levin 2000; Mitra 2008).
We also emphasize the need for future research to
examine issues of age. This is a conceptual and methodo-
logical challenge in all cross-national studies of youth,
given that in many nations ‘‘youth’’ are officially desig-
nated in national youth policies as persons up to the age of
24, 30 or even 40 years (Kassimir and Flanagan 2010). In
this study, the two factor model of Y–AP held across two
age ranges (11–18 and 19–24), thus providing preliminary
support of the measure’s applicability across age. All
participants were ‘‘youth,’’ as defined by their own country,
and the age of the sample reflects country-specific social-
ization expectations for active youth participation. In the
United States, for illustration, there are repeated calls for
middle school-age children to partner with adults in par-
ticipatory action-oriented research (Langhout and Thomas
2010). Such a call would be less likely in many other
countries, including Malaysia or Portugal, where ‘‘leader-
ship’’ programs are emphasized during the high school
years and beyond to facilitate a transition to adulthood, and
where younger youth are more likely to be protected as
‘learners’’ during the ‘‘middle school’’ years (Hamilton
et al. 2013; Innovations in Civic Participation 2008; Kwan
Meng 2012). Replication is warranted with a greater mix of
countries and regions to tease out the complex issues of age
and nationality as it relates to Y–AP. In making this rec-
ommendation, we recognize that ‘‘youth’’ and ‘‘adults’’ are
culturally constructed terms. These constructions—the
‘kaleidoscope’ of youth—influence the context of youth
development in a myriad of ways that are only partially
predictable (Brown and Larson 2002). Based on evidence
from earlier studies and the present inquiry, we believe that
there are sufficient data to call for future research on how
the two dimensions of Y–AP—voice in decision making
and SAR—have meaning for and influence on young
people. Such research could substantially contribute to
more fully understanding the experiences and relationships
that underlie the development of agency and empowerment
in community programs.
While this study focuses on measurement, we note that
the results replicate qualitative inquiries on the positive
associations among agency, empowerment and strong
youth relationships and partnerships with adults in com-
munity programs (Larson and Angus 2011; Zeldin et al.
2005), and thus contributes to the growing body of research
showing that Y–AP is strongly connected to agency and
empowerment. Y–AP was more modestly correlated with
self-esteem and grades. This pattern of results has a con-
ceptual logic to it. The practice of Y–AP, by definition, has
both relational and instrumental dimensions to it. It is
youths’ exercise of control, in the context of affirmative
adult support for critical thinking and collective action that
underlies the development of agency and empowerment
(Bandura 2006; Hamilton et al. 2013; Maton and Salem
1995). Given the importance of Y–AP, agency, and
empowerment to current theoretical conceptions of youth
development, research designed to explore causality are
especially needed.
Implications for Community Practitioners
The present study indicates that Y–AP is a salient construct
in ‘‘everyday’’ youth development programs, not only in
those programs and projects that are explicitly oriented
toward action or activism. The overall pattern of results
suggests that Y–AP can be a common, influential practice
across settings and that this measure could be productively
344 Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347
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used to help build a comparable body of transdisciplinary
knowledge across different types of programs and
That said, quality implementation of Y–AP challenges
even the most experienced of practitioners (Camino 2005).
Y–AP, by intent, is not a ‘‘packaged’’ intervention. Rather,
professionals must integrate the principles, values, and
strategies of Y–AP into existing programs (e.g., after-
school, extracurricular), structures (e.g., governance,
planning bodies) and functions (e.g., training, communi-
cations, participatory research). The integrative process
must also consider the organizational structures in which
the program operates (Zeldin et al. 2008). Finally, the
challenges to front line workers cannot be minimized.
Adults must understand and employ the basic processes of
‘guided participation.’’ They must guide, scaffold, and
incentivize the learning and reflection of youth, while
constantly respond to changes in group dynamics. These
processes may take different forms depending on the cul-
ture and status of the participants (Krueger 2005; Rogoff
Because Y–AP is a practice that ‘‘looks different’
across settings, organizations are often puzzled on how to
establish quality in the implementation of Y–AP (Coalition
of Community Foundations for Youth 2002; O’Donoghue
and Strobel 2007). The newly developed Y–AP measure,
we believe, will help managers and front-line workers
conceptualize and operationalize the practice to inform
policy development, program planning and staff training.
By focusing on two core elements of Y–AP—YVDM and
SAR—our hope is that the Y–AP measure can also be used
by applied researchers to help organizations evaluate their
programs and to establish continuous improvement strate-
gies. This measure, consisting of nine items, holds promise
for broad use across communities. Its brevity and adoption
of field-generated language could help researchers obtain
program ‘‘buy in’’ for utilization, thus facilitating practi-
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Am J Community Psychol (2014) 54:337–347 347
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... To address the need for access to knowledge, educators and youth-oriented organizations are well-positioned to develop interventions that deliver both job readiness and financial literacy skills and knowledge to youth from low-income households. In addition to the curricular components, programs should consider training staff on strategies for developing meaningful relationships with youth (Zeldin et al., 2014). Developing these relationships requires intentional efforts to build mutual trust (Christens and Peterson, 2012;Henderson et al., 2020;Zeldin et al., 2014). ...
... In addition to the curricular components, programs should consider training staff on strategies for developing meaningful relationships with youth (Zeldin et al., 2014). Developing these relationships requires intentional efforts to build mutual trust (Christens and Peterson, 2012;Henderson et al., 2020;Zeldin et al., 2014). Ongoing supportive and guiding relationships have been linked to the development of key cognitive processes, such as information processing and self-regulation among youth from low-income households (Parra et al., 2002). ...
Intergenerational poverty and scarce financial resources can create and sustain detrimental behaviors and outcomes among adolescents. Efforts to increase financial literacy and job-related skills, however, can offer youth from low-income households knowledge, skills, and opportunities otherwise unavailable to them. Targeted interventions that combine financial literacy and job-readiness components may help adolescents disrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty by increasing economic awareness, adaptive financial behaviors, and work-related skills. Drawing on career construction and asset theory, the present study examined changes in financial knowledge and labor skills among youth from low-income households (N = 111) over the course of their participation in the Road to Success curriculum as well as how changes varied across demographic characteristics of participants. Data analysis included descriptive statistics, t-test analyses, and MANCOVA. Results indicated several improvements from Wave 1 to Wave 2 as students developed job-readiness and financial literacy knowledge. Potential educational and policy implications are discussed.
... There is a robust literature on this (Hart, 1992; Wong et al., 2010) that provides several typologies of youth participation, particularly in relation to adults. Integral to these typologies is the power sharing relationship between young people and adults, and the degree to which youth have meaningful voice in decision making (Zeldin et al., 2014). Evident within the Parkland case are the implicit and explicit roles adults played in supporting, amplifying, and later criticizing youth. ...
... • Civic engagement programs address organizational or community change on a regular basis and may be youth-led or led by a youth-adult partnership (Zeldin et al., 2014). ...
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This article explores how Latinx youth engagement practices vary across different types of out-of-school organizations that successfully sustain Latinx youth participation. Data are drawn from a qualitative study of 13 California organizations that each emphasize one of 3 missions: social justice youth development, “one-stop” wrap-around services, or academic enrichment. While all organizations are found to adhere to a core set of Latinx youth development guiding principles, there are nuanced differences in how they are operationalized in practice across varied organization types, reflecting variation in terms of discourse, scale, and scope. These findings highlight the need for youth development practitioners and collaborating researchers to understand the context of youth-serving organizations when identifying and implementing promising practices and extension programs.
... Prior research has established that negative attitudes about youth of color, in concert with restrictive, exclusionary, or disempowering policies or practices, may constrain the impact of youth programming (Conner et al., 2016;Mitra et al., 2013;Ozer et al., 2013). Scholars have noted the need for further research in this area, suggesting that youth voice approaches have not been widely adopted because adults lack the skills and prosocial norms needed to share power with young people (Zeldin et al., 2014). Indeed, when youth-serving professionals share the dilemmas they face in practice, many revolve around issues of balancing authority while garnering ownership of program activities (Walker & Larson, 2006). ...
Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an approach where youth and adults partner to identify and address social issues and, in theory, creates conditions for positive intergroup contact. Yet, little is known about how the practices of YPAR facilitators enable or constrain intergroup contact, particularly in racially diverse groups. Using critical discourse analysis, we examined data from an observational study of YPAR at four sites of a youth organization serving public housing residents to interrogate power dynamics between youth and adults. Our findings suggest that supporting youth in leading and making decisions, encouraging dialogue and using open-ended questions, engaging in joint work, facilitating with intentionality, celebrating accomplishments, and involving staff who are willing to contribute to group activities may enable positive intergroup contact and mitigate adultism. Policing youths’ behavior, disengaging with the project, separating adults from youth, and only involving other staff members in punitive discipline are all practices that adults engaged in that constrained intergroup contact. Practices hindering positive intergroup contact may best be understood in relation to racialized adultism. To realize positive intergroup contact in YPAR and other youth-serving settings, therefore, this study suggests that practitioners must mitigate racism and adultism.
... These partnerships, particularly those engaged in social action projects, have been found to facilitate adolescents' sociopolitical development (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2007;O'Donoghue & Strobel, 2007). Furthermore, a study of adolescents in the United States, Malaysia, and Portugal revealed that youthadult partnerships in after-school programs were positively related to youth empowerment, agency, self-esteem, and school grades (Zeldin et al., 2014). ...
Racism and White supremacy culture shape the experiences of youth and adults in mentoring programs, which is detrimental to the development of BIPOC youth. The aims of this paper are to a) show why anti-racism training and education for adult mentors is necessary for promoting the positive development of BIPOC youth and b) offer a framework for anti-racist education and training for mentors. We review research showing how mentors’ attitudes about race, ethnicity and culture can harm their relationships with BIPOC youth and research on general mentor training, anti-racism training for mentors, and general diversity and anti-bias training in the workplace. Crossing disciplinary boundaries to inform developmental science, we draw upon critical mentoring, culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogy, and ethnic/racial identity frameworks, and propose four components for anti-racist education and training for mentors: a) acknowledging, confronting, and interrupting racism, b) facilitating youth critical consciousness, c) supporting positive identity development in youth, and d) mentors and mentees as active agents and partners. At the foundation of these pillars is decentering and interrupting Whiteness and youth as co-constructors of knowledge. We offer suggestions for future research and practice in anti-racism training for mentors, which also have implications for youth-adult relationships across settings.
This descriptive correlational study sought to measure the development of leadership life skills and the perceptions of youth-adult relationships by youth serving on the Louisiana 4-H State Leadership Boards. Members of the 2013-2014 Louisiana 4-H State Leadership Boards (N = 153) served as the population for the study. A total of 99 responses were collected yielding a response rate of 65%. Board members reported high levels of youth involvement, adult involvement, and youth-adult interaction. Based on the high levels of involvement and interaction, youth-adult partnerships were present on the Louisiana 4-H State Leadership Boards. Future research should be conducted to determine if there is a difference in youth who serve on the Louisiana 4-H State Leadership Boards and other 4-H members who do not serve on the boards. No statistically significant relationship existed between the development of leadership life skills and youth-adult partnerships. Future research should investigate the subject deeper to determine why the two variables had no significant relationship in this study.
Although youth advisory structures (YASs) have proliferated internationally to facilitate the voice of young people, little is known about the practices of such groups, especially in the United States. To address this gap of knowledge, this study describes the findings of a scoping review of scholarly research on YAS in the United States. The review found that although the use of YAS is increasing, current scholarship offers little information about YAS processes or how youth are engaged. Most YAS in the review partnered with marginalized young people to inform research and programming around sensitive health topics, such as human immunodeficiency virus prevention. Youth who participated in YAS experienced positive outcomes such as leadership and skill development, healthier decision-making, and confidence. Although most studies involved youth in minimal ways, there is a growing body of literature where youth are engaged in long-term partnerships that support positive youth development. This review details other key characteristics of YAS and provides recommendations for best practices, such as building consensus around terms used to refer to YAS and promoting the dissemination of process details around YAS facilitation.
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Background It is critical that mental health systems place a focus on prevention and early intervention focused on young people while integrating youth voice to guide priority directions. Objective This study was designed to better understand how youth advisories can be utilized to influence strategic directions within integrated knowledge mobilization networks operating within the youth mental health system. Design To support this objective, we reviewed the detailed stages of development in establishing a youth advisory within a national network designed to support the integration of youth services. We also engaged the advisory in a participatory evaluation process that examined the extent to which the network had created processes to include youth voice in decision-making. Results Results from the surveys identified moderate to high levels of individual engagement as well as strong development of processes and procedures that support the inclusion of youth voice across the network. Discussion Major successes and challenges are presented and discussed with respect to the development of the advisory. The findings are useful for youth advocates and adult allies working to support youth engagement (YE) in knowledge mobilization to enhance the mental health services system. This study also contributes to research and evaluation efforts examining YE and represents an exemplar methodology for evaluating YE efforts at the system level. Patient or Public Contribution Young people as mental health service users and youth mental health advocates were involved in the design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the data as well as the preparation of this manuscript.
Youth’s participation in community service is a proposed but uncharted way to prevent their violent perpetration. To clarify the preventive function, this study analyzes two-wave panel survey data on 1,710 Chinese youths in Hong Kong according to empowerment theory. Specifically, the theory posits that empowerment functions when it targets youth plagued by powerlessness. Two hypothesized conditions of relative powerlessness are being female and living in poor housing. Results support the hypotheses when participation in community service appeared to prevent violent perpetration, and the prevention was greater under the two powerless conditions. These results importantly emerged with the control for prior violent perpetration and adjustment for selectivity into the participation. The results thus imply the value of inviting youth to participate in community service to prevent their violent perpetration. The invitation can target youth who are female or residing in poor housing.
Supportive adults offer adolescents a positive resource for building a resilient profile, as they generally provide guidance, encouragement, and emotional support. These transformative relationships have the potential to unlock specific social and cultural benefits over time that serve to promote resilience, especially in marginalized groups. This mixed-methods study examines supportive adult relationships within the context of sociological concepts of capital development as a process towards positive adaptation. The current study first, uses binary logistic regression as a method of analysis in a racially diverse sample of 4,882 individuals. Findings suggest that individuals who reported having a supportive adult relationship by age 14 were more likely to possess emotional capital than those who did not have a supportive adult relationship by age 14 (OR = .836, p = .009). Secondly this study utilized thematic analysis to identify salient themes regarding social, cultural, and emotional capital from a smaller portion of the sample (N = 111), providing evidence for how SARs can impact the positive adaptation of marginalized individuals through capital development.
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The influence of globalization on psychological functioning is examined. First, descriptions of how globalization is occurring in various world regions are presented. Then the psychological consequences of globalization are described, with a focus on identify issues. Specifically, it is argued that most people worldwide now develop a bicultural identity that combines their local identity with an identity linked to the global culture; that identity confusion may be increasing among young people in non-Western cultures as a result of globalization; that some people join self-selected cultures to maintain an identity that is separate from the global culture; and that a period of emerging adulthood increasingly extends identity explorations beyond adolesence, through the mid- to late twenties.
Resilience refers to the notion that some people succeed in the face of adversity. In a risk‐protective model of resilience, a protective factor interacts with a risk factor to mitigate the occurrence of a negative outcome. This study tested longitudinally the protective effects of sociopolitical control on the link between helplessness and mental health. The study included 172 urban, male, African American adolescents, who were interviewed twice, 6 months apart. Sociopolitical control was defined as the beliefs about one's capabilities and efficacy in social and political systems. Two mental health outcomes were examined—psychological symptoms and self‐esteem. Regression analyses to predict psychological symptoms and self‐esteem over time were conducted. High levels of sociopolitical control were found to limit the negative consequences of helplessness on mental health. The results suggest that sociopolitical control may help to protect youths from the negative consequences of feelings of helplessness. Implications for prevention strategies are discussed.
The statistical tests used in the analysis of structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error are examined. A drawback of the commonly applied chi square test, in addition to the known problems related to sample size and power, is that it may indicate an increasing correspondence between the hypothesized model and the observed data as both the measurement properties and the relationship between constructs decline. Further, and contrary to common assertion, the risk of making a Type II error can be substantial even when the sample size is large. Moreover, the present testing methods are unable to assess a model's explanatory power. To overcome these problems, the authors develop and apply a testing system based on measures of shared variance within the structural model, measurement model, and overall model.
Background/Context Studies carried out over the last two decades have established structured after-school programs as significant contexts for adolescent development. Recent large-scale evaluations of after-school initiatives have yielded mixed results, finding some impact on adolescents’ attitudes toward school but limited impact on their academic performance. One clear conclusion of these studies, however, is that it matters how often and for how long young people spend time in after-school settings. Purpose/Research Question This study describes the features of after-school settings that are most appealing and engaging to youth growing up in low-income communities. Setting Analyses focus on a network of five after-school centers that serve predominantly racial and cultural minority youth living in low-income urban neighborhoods. Participants Participants in the study include 120 youth who varied in their frequency of participation in the after-school centers. Of these participants, 20 were in elementary school, 76 were in middle school, and 24 were in high school. Forty-two percent identified themselves as Asian American, 22% as African American, 13% as Latino/Latina, 7% as European American, and 5% as Filipino, and 10% were categorized as “other” or “unknown.” Research Design This study is a qualitative investigation geared toward understanding young people's subjective experiences and meaning making. Data are drawn principally from focus groups and individual interviews with participants over a 2-year period and supplemented with field work conducted by a team of trained youth ethnographers. Findings Our analysis of these data points to three features of the youth centers that youth identified as valuable: supportive relationships with adults and peers; safety; and opportunities to learn. Results highlight the meaning and significance youth ascribed to each feature, while also underlining the important function that centers with these features play in adolescent development. Conclusions/Recommendations After-school settings have the potential to serve as a unique developmental niche by meeting needs that are not consistently met in other contexts. Young people's descriptions of supports and opportunities also underscore the interrelationships among the positive features they perceived. Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers are encouraged to recognize after-school programs as core contexts of development that should be assessed according to the full spectrum of adolescents’ developmental needs.