What Works for African American Children and Adolescents: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions

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Child Trends

This study examined findings from 53 random experimental evaluations of social intervention programs and their effects on African-American youth and adolescents.

The programs were evaluated based on how effective they were in eight categories: reproductive health (sexual activity, contraceptive use, pregnancy), substance use (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.), literacy, physical health and nutrition, social skills, school readiness, externalizing behavior and academic achievement.

Overall, 29 out of the 53 rigorously evaluated programs were found to have a positive effect on at least one child outcome. 13 had mixed reviews, and 11 did not work

Specifically in the category of sexuality and reproductive health, programs that used African-American facilitators, participant-centered activities, community or clinic settings and mentoring for African American males proved effective.

What weren’t effective in this category were abstinence-based programs.

As far as substance use, programs that utilize multiple approaches such as media, family and community proved to work for African-American adolescents. Programs were also effective that infused African-American culture and ethnic pride into the intervention, as well as parent-child participation.

In the literacy category, programs were most effective that incorporated interactive techniques and started when the children were young and “pre-literate.” Programs also worked for elementary school children that involved community members as teachers.

Distribution of newsletters, in-school programs and health education in combination with exercise proved to work in the physical health and nutrition category.

Long programs, those that continued for at least four months and met two or more times a week, worked best in the social skills category, as well as programs that combined social skills with academics.

In terms of school readiness, high-intensity programs with supervised instruction worked best.

The results in the externalizing behavior category were inconclusive. Of the five programs that were studied, one worked and four had mixed findings. No clear conclusions could be drawn as to what worked consistently; however, one of the two programs that used trained professionals with a background in psychology was effective.

The academic achievement and delinquency categories were similarly inconclusive. Programs targeting or measuring academic achievement among African American children and adolescents appeared to be few and far between, and so it was difficult to draw any conclusions.

Out of the three programs that addressed delinquency, no program was found to have a positive impact on even one outcome.

Free. 14 pages. www.childtrends.org/files/Child_Trends-2011_02_01_RB_WW4AAchildren.pdf