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April 2016Vol. 17, No. 2Fostering Multiple Positive Outcomes

A recent Child Trends research brief examines several social services programs that have been evaluated and found to have impacts on multiple well-being outcomes. Intervention programs in social services systems tend to focus on specific issues and sets of outcomes according to each program's primary focus area, such as drug use, crime, teen pregnancy, or academic success. However, practitioners often find that a variety of behaviors and issues can share similar root causes. For example, the brief discusses, a child or youth's health issues and outcomes can have an effect on his or her academic success, and academic success can impact substance use. Therefore, interventions designed to promote specific outcomes by addressing root causes may inadvertently improve outcomes in multiple well-being areas.

The brief lists 14 programs, describing the structure and goal of each program, how each evaluated its impact on multiple outcomes through randomized controlled trials, and what other outcomes were affected. The programs varied greatly and include multigenerational programs for parents and children and both long- and short-term interventions. Highlighted programs include the following:

  • Familias Unidas: A family-based, parent-focused intervention for Hispanic adolescents and their families. The program has been found to have impact on adolescent problem behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, drug use, and family functioning.
  • Guiding Good Choices: A family-focused parenting program intended to reduce the likelihood that children will use drugs or alcohol. The program found that children experienced reduced growth in depressive symptoms and multiple substance use and reduced growth in alcohol use several years after program completion.
  • Keep Safe: A program for youth in foster care aimed at preventing serious problem behaviors in adolescence by targeting externalizing and internalizing symptoms during the transition to middle school. Evaluations found that the program was effective in reducing internalizing and externalizing problems, marijuana and tobacco use, and sexual risk behaviors.
  • Multisystemic Therapy: A home- and community-based intervention that aims to improve outcomes for families of high-risk youth, especially those already involved in the juvenile justice system. Evaluations show significant and long-term positive impacts on recidivism rates, frequency of arrest, and severity of offense, as well as impacts on marijuana use; increases in family cohesion, adaptability, and supportiveness; and a significant decrease in emotional negativity following conflict.

The brief indicates that programs that improve multiple outcomes are indeed efficient and deserve more emphasis. However, to ensure optimal effectiveness of evidence-based programs impacting multiple outcomes, it is vital that implementation is as faithful as possible to the tested and effective program model.

Access the brief, Social Service Programs That Foster Multiple Positive Outcomes, at (1 MB).