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The Promise Neighborhoods Initiative: Improving Developmental Outcomes Through Comprehensive Interventions

The federal Promise Neighborhoods initiative has provided planning grants to 21 communities around the country to find their own way to replicate the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a comprehensive “cradle-to-career” program for the community’s children. Many of the core attributes of a Promise Neighborhood, such as a requirement for a number of local groups to work collaboratively and a focus on education, will seem very familiar to anyone working on comprehensive community development. Other aspects, such as an emphasis on school and family interventions that social scientists have rigorously tested, are less common in the field of community development.

This paper, by five members of the Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium, offers an introduction to the concept of evidence-based interventions and how Promise Neighborhoods and similar programs can utilize multiple, overlapping interventions. It also provides findings from a survey of 13 of the initial Promise Neighborhoods, with some of the first insights into how the communities are measuring results, collaborating across organizations, accessing resources and more.

Community developers, teachers, youth volunteers, nurses, advocates and countless others dream of a better, safer and more fulfilling future for America’s children. They strive to use their knowledge, experience and passion to improve the lives entrusted to their care. Yet countless roadblocks stymie their success: lack of money or other resources, indecipherable bureaucratic mazes, apathetic leaders and even wary communities, worn down by violence, drugs, substandard housing and inadequate schools.

In Harlem, a new framework began 10 years ago when Geoffrey Canada started a program with a goal of ensuring that all children living in one certain city block would finish college. Today, the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) provides a wide array of supports to all youth living in a 97-block area.

As an antipoverty strategy, the Harlem Children’s Zone is noteworthy for its concentration on social interventions that enable young people to develop the skills, interests and habits needed to escape from intergenerational poverty. To do so, the HCZ utilizes substantial evidence about the importance of nurturing children and adolescents throughout development. 1 A 2009 Institute of Medicine report documents how effective preventive interventions from the prenatal period through adolescence can help limit common and costly psychological and behavioral problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, antisocial behavior, academic failure, substance use and abuse, premature or unsafe sex, inadequate exercise and poor dietary habits. 2

The Harlem Children’s Zone “cradle-to-career” programs include:

  • Baby College, a 9-week parenting program for expectant parents and for “those raising a child up to three years of age” 3
  • The Three-Year-Old Journey, which helps parents whose children will soon be entering preschool
  • Get Ready for Pre-K and Harlem Gems, both all-day pre-K classes
  • Promise Academy Charter Schools and seven public schools
  • An expanded academic case management system supporting every student from fifth through twelfth grade, whether or not they are in an HCZ charter school
  • Community Pride, to help tenants with housing problems
  • Health programs, such as the Obesity Initiative and the Asthma Initiative
  • Several programs under the aegis of HCZ Foster Care Prevention, including the Family Development Program, the Family Support Center, the Midtown Family Place, Project CLASS (Clean Living and Staying Sober), the Babies Initiative, and Truancy Prevention

In a 2009 study, Harvard researchers Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer stated that the HCZ effects “…are enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics and reduce it by nearly half in English Language Arts.” The following fall, the U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) completed a review of the HCZ, and found the results “consistent with WWC evidence standards.” 5

The success and model of the Harlem Children’s Zone inspired President Barack Obama to create the Promise Neighborhoods (PN) initiative. In 2010, 339 communities “with high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement” 6 applied for the first one-year planning grants: of these, the Department of Education chose the top-scoring 21 to receive a total of $10 million in awards. In April of this year, the Department of Education announced the second round of Promise Neighborhoods grants: this time, $30 million in funding will be split between a new group of 1-year planning grants and implementation grants.

Evidence-Based Interventions that Support Successful Development

The Promise Neighborhoods strategy is distinct from many efforts tackling the problem of intergenerational poverty. Instead of concentrating on economic development, it focuses on establishing evidence-based school and family interventions with the same goal as set by the Harlem Children’s Zone: Children attend college and escape poverty through their ability to obtain well-paying jobs.

The best evidence that a program, policy or practice can make a difference comes from randomized controlled trials—experimental evaluations in which one group of people receives an intervention while an equivalent group of people (the control) does not. If the group receiving the intervention does better than the control group a year or even a decade later, we can be fairly certain that the program made the difference. Over the last 15 years there has been an explosion of such trials, with more than 300 reported since 1995. 7

Figure 1 indicates the types of programs and policies that, in rigorous experiments, made significant improvements in the life prospects of youth. 8 For example, several studies show that providing support to mothers during pregnancy and the first two years of their babies’ lives reaps multiple benefits, including reduced child abuse, improved cognitive and social development and even reduced delinquency when the children reach adolescence. 9 Parenting training programs can reduce their children’s problem behavior whether the programs are provided during childhood 10 or adolescence. 11

Most of these interventions prevent multiple problems. This is no surprise, since most youth problems are inter-related and influenced by the same environmental conditions.12 Moreover, a program’s effects can be lasting. For instance, one preventive program that provides support to at-risk mothers during pregnancy and the first two years of the baby’s life ceases contact with families when their child turns three; nevertheless, it reduced delinquency even when children had reached age 15. 13 The Family Check-Up, which provides families of middle school students with brief advice and feedback about effective parenting, led to reduced arrest rates and substance use when those children were 18. 14 The Good Behavior Game, a classroom behavior-management program that rewards first and second graders’ cooperative behavior and self-regulation, resulted in lower rates of antisocial personality disorder, suicidality and substance abuse when recipients were young adults. 15

This evidence focuses mostly on young people’s social and emotional development, although many of the interventions also contribute to academic success. 16 There is also a solid body of evidence about effective instruction. Of particular importance is reading skill: A child who does not learn to read by the end of third grade is very unlikely ever to become a skilled reader. 17 Yet ample evidence indicates that virtually every child can learn to read. 18

Most efforts to improve people’s economic well-being have focused on incentives to increase job training and work availability.19 However, interventions focused on improving family relationships and young people’s development can have economic benefits, and not just for the children. For example, a study of the Oregon Parent Management Training, which offers parent training for newly divorced mothers, showed that providing high-quality parenting support significantly increased mothers’ standard of living over the next nine years.20 Similarly, the Nurse Family Partnership (described above) increased mothers’ income.21

It may be useful to think about evidence-based programs as “best bets” to dramatically improve the life prospects of most children living in poverty. There is no guarantee that neighborhoods will achieve the same results if they adopt a program that has been evaluated through research. Nevertheless, the fact that the program worked in a randomized trial—or better yet in multiple randomized trials—makes it more likely to make a difference in a neighborhood than a program would that has never been evaluated. To be sure it works, an organization must ensure that such a program is implemented in the same way that it was originally. Even then, it is essential to monitor its impact to make sure that the program is working and to modify portions of it that might not be working.

The Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium (PNRC) received a two-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to assist high-poverty communities like the Promise Neighborhoods with identifying and implementing evidence-based practices. Figure 2 illustrates the PNRC model of how to integrate evidence-based practices (EBPs) to nurture child and adolescent development throughout a neighborhood. It is an example of a comprehensive, multilevel intervention that integrates evidence-based practices for prenatal development through early adolescence. Well-researched family supports would be available for the prenatal and infancy periods,22 early childhood and childhood23 and early adolescence.24

The PNRC model includes high-quality preschool education, which has well-established benefits for the social and cognitive development of young children, but is currently difficult to obtain in most high-poverty neighborhoods.25 In elementary school, systematic programs such as Positive Action,26 which teaches children that when they do something positive, they will feel good about themselves, have proven benefits in promoting prosocial behavior, preventing substance abuse, and improving academic performance.27 Effective instruction (i.e., clearly stated objectives, quality instruction, observable and/or measurable learning), especially in reading, is vital to children’s academic success. In both schools and homes, kernels can supplement these programs. Kernels are simple, evidence-based, behavior influence techniques shown to affect one or more behaviors.28 Examples include peer-to-peer praise notes,29 omega-3 supplementation30 and a prize bowl for rewarding desirable behavior.31

It should be noted that there are significant obstacles to getting effective programs chosen and well-implemented. A first issue is simply determining what counts as an evidence-based intervention. Although the research community has reached a fairly strong consensus that programs, policies and practices should be evaluated in well-controlled experiments,32 that is not a universally shared consensus among those trying to make a difference in high-poverty communities.33 This is understandable, given that the consensus among researchers is a recent development and because a critical mass of evidence-based interventions has accumulated only within the last 20 years.

Our work over the past two years has made us realize that few people are aware of all of the childhood and adolescence programs, policies and practices that have been experimentally evaluated and shown to be beneficial. Moreover, it is still widely believed that experimentally evaluated interventions have not been shown to have value in minority or rural populations. This is not the case. Among the interventions that have proven effective in diverse populations are home visiting programs for at-risk mothers,34 parenting programs,35 school-based interventions such as the Good Behavior Game36 and supplemental reading instruction for students who are second language learners.37 In addition, there are well-supported interventions for rural populations.38

Even when projects choose evidence-based interventions, it will be a challenge to implement multiple interventions with fidelity for all of the developmental phases that the projects are trying to affect. It took several years and considerable resources for the Harlem Children’s Zone to put programs in place from infancy through young adulthood.39

Moreover, neighborhoods that successfully adopt EBPs will still need several years of careful monitoring to be sure that they are having the hoped-for effect. The traditional—yet unwarranted—notion was that one could take a program that worked in a published study and be confident it would have the same benefits when replicated by a new set of people in a new setting, often with a different population of recipients. Ongoing monitoring of intervention impact is now known to be a fundamental part of effective interventions.40 If manufacturers use continuous quality improvement procedures to improve the quality of their products, we should certainly use the same approach to ensure that our young people grow up successfully.

Initial Insights from the Promise Neighborhoods

This spring, five members of the PNRC spoke with key representatives from 13 of the 21 Promise Neighborhoods that had received one-year planning grants from the Department of Education in the fall of 2010. We wanted to know what they had initially accomplished and what, if anything, they felt they would not be able to complete. We wondered what might particularly challenge each grantee and we wanted to know if we could offer any help.

To illustrate how diverse geographically and culturally these grantees are, we imagined a trip around the country to visit each community. Beginning in Buffalo, N.Y., we would head east to rural Massachusetts then down through New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.; west through three rural counties in Kentucky, head south with stops in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County in Georgia; west through the cities of Little Rock, Ark., and Houston, Texas, to Los Angeles, then north through the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, culminating this circular trip in St. Paul, Minn.

By surveying the status of the Promise Neighborhoods, we were able to discern a number of early trends in the field, giving an initial real-world measure of how this federal program is operating to date:

Planning should pay dividends

The Promise Neighborhoods representatives we spoke with have a commitment to their communities that began long before the Department of Education even announced the Promise Neighborhoods awards and that will continue, whether or not they receive further federal funding. However, the funding enabled them to move forward more effectively with blueprints for neighborhood transformation.

For example, Amherst-Wilder Promise Neighborhood in St. Paul conducted a needs assessment survey of the residents. Following that, more than 200 community members met to hear about the results and then discussed proposed recommendations to improve the lives of their community’s children. The Gulfton Promise Neighborhood in Houston has developed plans for each age group. For preschool children, for instance, they are “planning to work with the Collaborative for Children to provide training and technical assistance to other early childhood service providers in the neighborhood to improve the quality of early childhood services,” according to Ann Hilbig, vice-president of program planning at Neighborhood Centers, the lead agency.

The key organizations have decades of experience

All the lead organizations we surveyed have been active in their neighborhoods for a long time. The lead agency in the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, the Boys & Girls Club, has been in existence for nearly 20 years. In Los Angeles, the coordinating body of the Boyle Heights Promise Neighborhood (at Proyecto Pastoral) consists of five organizations and two schools “with a long history of working to improve conditions in Boyle Heights and a rich history of community organizing,” according to Promise Neighborhood Director Deycy Avitia. A general assembly includes about 120 residents, teachers and community organizations organized into issue-based workgroups where all decisions are consensus-based.

In Arlington, Mass., the Community Day Care Center had been offering parent classes, infant and toddler pre-school programs, and early childhood education literacy programs long before they received news of their Promise Neighborhoods funding. Now, as the Arlington Center of Excellence (ACE) Promise Neighborhood, they set their overriding goal to provide cradle-to-career support. When we spoke with them in June, they had raised additional funds to build a new playground for the neighborhood, which will provide a safe place for children and adults, even into the evening hours.

Schools and community organizations are dedicated partners

Promise Neighborhoods representatives said that they have a positive and collegial relationship with the schools in the community, which is important considering the amount of programs that are housed at or linked to local schools in the Promise Neighborhoods model. In the Athens-Clarke County Promise Neighborhood in Georgia, “Schools are deeply embedded in the work…. [They serve on] every strategic action team,” according to Program Director Erica Gilbertson. In Arlington, Mass., an established relationship around afterschool programs in the school has been a useful platform on which to build new Promise Neighborhood programming.

Ann Hilbig, from the Gulfton Promise Neighborhood in Houston, said that their good working relationship with the school district was forged as they initially focused on getting the data needed to guide the effort. “Overall we have an excellent relationship at the district level. The school district is working with us to mine their data for what we need. Data sharing is a legal challenge. The district is working hard to help us jump through the legal hoops. They really support the purpose of our work, and are excited to use the data to improve their own work.”

Collaboration is clearly recognized as important, despite some typical setbacks

The Department of Education required matching funds or resources from local partners, which could include free rent, services from local school districts and health clinics, or a large financial match from organizations able to donate. For example, the Central Little Rock Promise Neighborhood in Arkansas has six partners: the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the City of Little Rock, the Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock School District and local nonprofit New Futures for Youth.

When we asked the Promise Neighborhoods grantees if they were finding it challenging to work with so many groups, most of them said this was one of the best parts of their job. The Buffalo Promise Neighborhood works with 18 local organizations. “Because of our collaborative partnerships, we have the ability to leverage resources provided by our partners,” said Patrick Mansfield from the Westminster Foundation. According to Director Don Speaks at Morehouse Promise Neighborhood in Atlanta, “Arthur Blank YMCA, Atlanta Food Bank, Fulton County Health Department, Atlanta Public Schools, and Westbank Health Center have come together and this has gotten more people on board. People have more or less submitted their egos and turf to that conglomeration of organizations and funders.”

Sharon Thompson of Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Inc. in Massachusetts said, “Overall, this project has been smoother than expected. Community involvement has been exceptional—the neighborhood has been very welcoming of change. We initially focused on empowering residents and partners to start initiatives on their own and they have been doing so enthusiastically. We have a very collaborative environment in which everyone works together, not for themselves.”

However, we also heard of the occasional challenge of managing the varied points of view of the people and organizations trying to make a difference in the neighborhood, which at times has manifested as suspicion and conflict among parties. Tension comes from uncertainty about success, long hours, multiple (and sometimes conflicting) ideas about issues, and disappointments when things fail to go well.

Erica Gilbertson of Athens-Clark County, Georgia, mentioned the challenge of “managing partnerships and different agendas; working together and holding each other accountable.” A director from a large city Promise Neighborhood, wishing to remain anonymous, said that “’intervention fatigue’ and despair are factors in [our] area. [There have been] lots of prior initiatives and interventions in the area without success. Both residents and partners are wary of more plans and interventions.”

In Houston, “there have been a lot of budget cuts at federal and state level. This can affect some degree of service, but most affected are those partners we’re working with. It seems that in times of financial uncertainty they’ve become more isolated, focused internally (for survival) rather than externally. We feel that it’s in times like these that collaboration with other partners is paramount for survival. We’ve reached out to our partners even more to help leverage resources and make us all stronger.”

Money and resources remain a challenge

Establishing an array of programs covering all children from cradle to career is an expensive proposition, and the federal grants do not provide all the funding necessary to build such a network. Program Director Erica Gilbertson for the Promise Neighborhood in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia (named Whatever It Takes, after the Paul Tough book on the Harlem Children’s Zone) said that finding resources is their “number one challenge. We aren’t in a major urban area, so it has been very hard to link into foundation markets.” The project received a temporary consultant from the Promise Neighborhoods Institute who helped them develop a Fiscal Mapping Team. The team gathers budgets from major agencies in town (e.g., education, colleges, health) to show where dollars for children and families come from. Gilbertson says they use this information to determine “how we can best braid where our funds are coming from.”

One Promise Neighborhood developed an innovative way to address resource development. They organized a “Funders’ Desk,” which meets at regularly scheduled intervals and allows representatives from all of its partner funding agencies to get together, talk about their progress and brainstorm about how to collectively advocate and secure more funding for their project.

It is difficult to identify and use evidence-based practices

We asked the project representatives if they found it challenging to identify evidence-based practices. Nearly half (6 of 13) said yes. The Athens-Clarke County Promise Neighborhood has assigned several workgroups of community volunteers to research EBPs, and the Berea Promise Neighborhood felt that identifying evidence-based practices is “always a challenge.”

In Central Little Rock, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock social work faculty member and associate dean of the College of Education is working with professional practitioners in a solutions team to identifying EBPS, review the best practices and then select which practices will best target each of their indicators.

One project (choosing to remain anonymous) has assigned one of its ten Results-Driven Workgroups the task of researching evidence-based practices and setting up the interventions that they choose. The group reports, however, that they are having some difficulty defining EBPs and agreeing on their roles in implementing them. The Morehouse Promise Neighborhood in Atlanta also has charged work groups with doing the research. Their work group describes evidence-based practices as “well-written, well-researched, well-regarded by experts to work in our environment,” but adds that the members feel there is a need to be flexible within local context. “Selecting an appropriate evidence-based practice that will fit our school and neighborhood culture has proven to be a challenge,” said Patrick Mansfield of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, which is working with the authors of The Turnaround Challenge to identify appropriate EBPs.

As of June, few of the projects had selected their interventions. One that had, the Central Little Rock Promise Neighborhood, was already implementing some EBPs, although they had not yet formally unveiled the complete cradle-to-career pipeline to the community. Familiar with others’ attempts to implement EBPs in the community that had not worked as well as planned, the Promise Neighborhoods administrators plan to use focus groups and community forums to help with informing and educating the community. They also said they are hesitant to begin too many new practices at once, which they feel would overload the community.

There is progress on measurement

It is widely recognized that ongoing measurement is needed to monitor and ensure the fidelity of intervention implementation and to evaluate its impact,41 and the Department of Education requires that Promise Neighborhoods measure a defined set of indicators of youths’ progress, although there is no agreed-upon set of measures in use across the projects. Valid measures of most aspects of child and adolescent functioning are available, as are measures of the major influences on youth development.42 As a result, it is now possible to create systems of continuous quality improvement. For example, the Response–to-Intervention (RTI)43 movement in schools has teachers frequently measuring children’s progress and adjusting instructional practices in light of their progress. To the extent that such systems are in place, they will ensure the incremental improvement of interventions. These measurement systems will also ensure that we can document the benefits of interventions.

Most grantees have at least a good start at their measurement systems. Of the 13 Promise Neighborhoods that we interviewed, only two are still in the planning stages for measurement. Many of the Promise Neighborhoods are using outside evaluators to help them with data collection. Nevertheless, when we asked where they needed help, 90 percent of the grantees stressed measurement.

“We’re currently in the process of collecting and analyzing data focusing on four subject areas: [Early Childhood Education/Pre-K, K-16/Career Development, Family Development/Social Services, and Community Economic Development],” said Lamar Wilson, the project director of the Point Grays Promise Neighborhood in Philadelphia. “We’ve assembled four workgroups relevant to Department of Education requirements as well as what makes sense in our neighborhood. [The goal is]… to have a clear, transparent and objective monitoring process for evaluating quality of services and quantitative results.”

Athens-Clarke County, Georgia has developed a list of 45 indicators (some developed locally and others from Promise Neighborhood grant indicators) using Census, public health and school record data, as well as survey data for hard-to-get indicators like Internet use. The project is also developing a logic model to align major goals, programs and indicators. The Gulfton Promise Neighborhood in Houston, which is tracking 18 indicators thus far, has also used a survey of more than 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students, as well as hundreds of adults.

In Lawrence, Mass., Sharon Thompson of the Community Day Care Center said, “We are creating a longitudinal database which will connect our organization with other partners in the community. The goals of this database include providing individual case management capabilities. For instance, a caseworker can easily access updated information on students, such as the types of programs they are in. Ultimately we anticipate this system will help us aggregate and customize data reporting.”

The underlying problem for the Promise Neighborhoods is that low-cost systems for collecting and organizing the data are not available. Although the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education have put considerable money into developing and validating measures of child and adolescent development and the risk factors that affect development, they have not invested as much in getting systems set up that enable these measures to be used to track development in individual neighborhoods. The Results Leadership Group has developed some excellent systems for reducing data once it is collected,44 but, it remains very costly to collect the needed data.

Looking Ahead

Certainly, more work is required on reaching a system of measurement that can guide the ambitious Promise Neighborhoods efforts. Given the critical importance of ongoing measurement, we suggest a concerted effort by federal agencies to develop a system that readily obtains data from archival sources, parents, students and other community residents, so that it is not necessary for each community to invent its own measures, the system for obtaining data and the methods for reducing data so that they can serve the needs of the community. Either the New York State database45 or the Results Leadership Group46 offers a model of the possible kinds of system we propose nationally. Such a system could serve the needs of the Promise Neighborhoods, LISC communities and the HUD-funded Choice Neighborhoods.

Further ahead, the question will become how to evaluate progress. As comprehensive interventions get underway in Promise Neighborhoods, experimental evaluations can document their success and strengthen their effectiveness. Experiments provide clarity about whether a particular strategy or intervention is making a difference. Over time, they help make the practices even more effective. An intervention may help some outcomes and not others, for example, which leads to modification of the intervention and further evaluation.

Through this painstaking process, experiments are transforming our ability to ensure human well-being. Over the past half century, clinical psychology and psychiatry have gone from having no clear evidence about what works to being able to offer numerous effective practices, such as the preventative interventions described above. Research in education has shifted to the use of randomized trials, thanks to the creation of the Institute for Educational Sciences, and, as a result, the identification of effective educational practices is accelerating. In political science, cogent arguments are being made about the value of experiments.47

However, randomized controlled trials are not the most effective way to make progress in the work of the Promise Neighborhoods. A better experimental design is the interrupted time-series.48 These experiments can provide rigorous information about an intervention’s impact, even when only one or a few entities receive the intervention. For example, a Promise Neighborhood could evaluate the impact of an intervention such as the Triple-P parenting program on child abuse by implementing it in one of three neighborhoods, while tracking reports of child abuse and parent reports of children’s behavior in all three neighborhoods. Evidence that the intervention affected these outcomes would come both from (a) an observed change in child abuse in the neighborhood with the intervention and (b) the lack of such changes in the other neighborhoods. As soon as they observed meaningful changes in family outcomes in the first neighborhood, they could implement the intervention in the second, and later the third neighborhood.

Such designs are appropriate both for the evaluation of individual components of complex interventions and for evaluating those complex interventions as a whole. For example, it is possible to stagger the implementation of a comprehensive intervention to improve young children’s school readiness through preschool and family interventions targeted at young children in a series of three neighborhoods. We can see whether the neighborhood that gets the intervention improves on readiness, while the other two do not. In addition to being a good experiment, this may be an efficient way to marshal limited resources and refine the intervention with each successive neighborhood.

Ronald Reagan used to say, “We fought the war on poverty and poverty won.” That was not entirely true then and it need not be true now. However, there is good reason to be concerned that ambitious antipoverty interventions such as Promise Neighborhoods will seem to be failures, either because they do not achieve their ambitious goals or because no one conducts careful empirical evaluations to document their benefit.

Fortunately, behavioral science knowledge and methods are much more advanced than they were during President Johnson’s War on Poverty. As the examples above indicate, there is much greater clarity about what young people need in order to escape from poverty and we have proven interventions to ensure their success. As the efforts of the funded Promise Neighborhoods and similar projects show, many promising evidence-based efforts are taking place and they all have a good chance of success. However, those efforts are far more likely to succeed if they include implementation of evidence-based interventions, if state-of-the-art measurement systems accompany them and if the people involved can use sophisticated experimental methods to evaluate and refine each effort.

The authors are all members of the Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium (PNRC). Anthony Biglan is the co-director and a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute. Christine Cody is editorial associate for the PNRC and at Oregon Research Institute. William A. Aldridge II is a center scientist at the University of South Carolina’s Parenting and Family Research Center (PFRC). Alexis Dabroski is a doctoral student in social and community epidemiology at the University of Florida. Jean Kjellstrand, former early career scientist with the PNRC, is now teaching at Columbia University in New York.

The paper’s authors are funded through the Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium, a program funded by the National Institutes of Health to assist high-poverty neighborhoods in America in translating existing knowledge into widespread, multiple improvements in well-being.

1  A complete look at evidence supporting nurturing children and adolescents throughout developmental stages is found in Paul Tough, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, Houghton Mifflin, New York (2008).

2  The National Research Council & Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse among Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions, “Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: progress and possibilities,” National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC (2009).

3  More details on the “cradle to career” program is found on the Harlem Children’s Zone website:

4  Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer, “Are high-quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from a bold social experiment in Harlem,” Harvard University, Boston, MA (2009).

5  More detailed information is found on the Harlem Children’s Zone website: http://hcz/org.

6  Intervention data is found on the U.S. Department of Education website:

7  For more detailed information see the National Research Council & Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse among Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions, “Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: progress and possibilities,” National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC (2009).

8  Ibid.

9  Examples of studies showing the benefits to at-risk mothers include: B. A. Levandowski, et al., “Parental literacy and infant health: An evidence-based Healthy Start intervention,” Health Promotion Practice (2006); D.L. Olds, “Preventing crime with prenatal and infancy support of parents: The Nurse-Family Partnership,” Victims & Offenders (2007); D. L. Olds, L. Sadler, H. Kitzman, “Programs for parents of infants and toddlers: Recent evidence from randomized trials,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2007).

10    Support that parental training programs reduce childhood problematic behavior is found in C. Webster-Stratton, M. J. Reid, M. Hammond, “Treating children with early-onset conduct problems: Intervention outcomes for parent, child, and teacher training.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology (2004).

11    Support for parental training programs reducing adolescent problem behavior is found in T. J. Dishion and K. Kavanagh, Addictive Behaviors (2000); T. J. Dishion, E. Stormshak, APA Books, Washington, DC (2007); R. Spoth, G. K. Randall, C. Shin, School Psychology Quarterly (2008).

12    For evidence supporting the assertion that similar environmental conditions influence most youth problems, see A. Biglan, et al., Helping Adolescents at Risk: Prevention of Multiple Problem Behaviors, Guilford, New York (2004); A. Biglan, B.R. Flay, I. Sandler, “Nurturing environments and the next generation of prevention research and practice,” Under Review.

13    Support is found in D. L. Olds, “Preventing child maltreatment and crime with prenatal and infancy support of parents: The nurse-family partnership,” Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention (2008).

14    A. M. Connell, T. J. Dishion, M. Yasui and K. Kavanagh, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2007).

15    S. G. Kellam, C. H. Brown, J. Poduska, N. Ialongo, H. Petras, W. Wang, et al., Drug & Alcohol Dependence (2008).

16    For evidence of academic impact, see B. R. Flay, C. G. Allred. “The Positive Action Program: Improving academics, behavior, and character by teaching comprehensive skills for successful learning and living,” T. Lovat, R. Toomey, N. Clement, eds., International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing,Dirtrecht, Springer (2010).

17    D. J. Francis, S. E. Shaywitz, K. K. Stuebing, B. A. Shaywitz and J. M. Fletcher, Journal of Educational Psychology (1996); C. Juel, Journal of Educational Psychology (1988); S. Shaywitz, B. Shaywitz, Developmental Neuropsychology (1999).

18    Child literacy likelihood scenarios are examined in C. J. Lonigan, S. R. Burgess, J. L. Anthony, Developmental Psychology (2000).

19    Economic well-being factors are in J. L. Aber, Hiro Yoshikawa, W. R. Beardslee, American Psychologist, Special Issue (2011).

20    Maternal standard of living increases due to training are found in G. R. Patterson, M. S. Forgatch, D. S. DeGarmo, Development and Psychopathology (2010).

21    Nurse Family Partnership and income increases are found in D. L. Olds, L. Sadler, H. Kitzman, “Programs for parents of infants and toddlers: Recent evidence from randomized trials,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2007).

22    Studies include S. H. Landry, K. E. Smith, P. R. Swank, C. L. Guttentag, “A responsive parenting intervention: The optimal timing across early childhood for impacting maternal behaviors and child outcomes,” Developmental Psychology (2008); D. L. Olds, “The nurse-family partnership: From trials to practice,” in A. J. Reynolds, A. J. Rolnick, M. M. Englund, J. A. Temple, eds., Childhood Programs and Practices in the First Decade of Life: A Human Capital Integration, Cambridge University Press, New York (2010).

23    R. J. Prinz, T. L. Jones, “Family-based interventions,” in C. A. Essau, ed., Conduct and Oppositional Defiant Disorders: Epidemiology, Risk Factors and Treatment, Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ (2003).

24    T. J. Dishion, E. J. Stormshak, Intervening in Children’s Lives: An Ecological, Family-centered Approach to Mental Health Care, APA Books, Washington, DC (2007).

25    The model is found in R. C. Pianta, W. S. Barnett, M. R. Burchinal, K. R. Thornburg, Psychological Science in the Public Interest (2009).

26    Positive Action website:

27    More information is found in B. R. Flay, C. G. Allred, “The Positive Action Program: Improving academics, behavior, and character by teaching comprehensive skills for successful learning and living,” in T. Lovat, R. Toomey, N. Clement, eds., International Research Handbook on Values Education and Student Wellbeing, Springer, Dirtrecht (2010).

28    Behavioral influence techniques are examined in D. D. Embry, A. Biglanm, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review (2008).

29    C. H. Skinner, T. H. Cashwell, A. L. Skinner, Psychology in the Schools (2000).

30    M. P. Freeman, J. R. Hibbeln, K. L. Wisner, J. M. Davis, D. Mischoulon, M. Peet, et al., Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, A. J. Richardson, International Review of Psychiatry (2006).

31    N. M. Petry, J. Tedford, M. Austin, C. Nich, K. M. Carroll, B. J. Rounsaville, Addiction (2004).

32    More on well-controlled experiments in B. R. Flay, A. Biglan, K. A. Komro, A. C. Wagenaar, D. D. Embry, the PNRC, “Designs for evaluating comprehensive community interventions in neighborhoods and communities.” NCR & IOM, Under Review (2009).

33    E.g, Schorr et al.

34    Program information is found in D. L. Olds, “Preventing crime with prenatal and infancy support of parents: The Nurse-Family Partnership,” Victims & Offenders (2007); D. L. Olds, et al. “Effects of nurse home visiting on maternal and child functioning: Age-9 follow-up of a randomized trial,” Pediatrics (2007).

35    G. H. Brody, Y. F. Chen, S. M. Kogan, V. M. Murry, A. C. Brown, “Long-term effects of the strong African American families program on youths’ alcohol use,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2010); G. H. Brody, S. M. Kogan, Y. F. Chen, V. M. Murry, “Long-term effects of the strong African American families program on youths’ conduct problems,” Journal of Adolescent Health (2008); A. M. Connell, T. J. Dishion, M. Yasui, K. Kavanagh, “An adaptive approach to family intervention: Linking engagement in family-centered intervention to reductions in adolescent problem behavior,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2007); T. J. Dishion, et al., “The Family Check-Up with high-risk indigent families: Outcomes of positive parenting and problem behavior from age 2 through 5,” Child Development (2008) In press; J. Szapocznik, O. E. Hervis, S. Schwartz, “Brief strategic family therapy for adolescent drug abuse,” NIDA Therapy Manuals for Drug Addiction Series, National Institutes on Drug Abuse, Rockville, MD (2003).

36    S. G. Kellam, et al. “Effects of a universal classroom behavior management program in first and second grades on young adult behavioral, psychiatric, and social outcomes,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2008).

37   B. Gunn, “Supplemental reading instruction to develop second language literacy,” in E. Duran, J. Shefelbine, L. Carnine, E. Maldonado-Colon, B. Gunn, eds., Systematic instruction in reading for Spanish-speaking students, Thomas, Springfield, IL (2003).

38    An examination of rural populations is found in A. Biglan, D. V. Ary, K. Smolkowski, T. E. Duncan, C. Black, “A randomized control trial of a community intervention to prevent adolescent tobacco use,” Tobacco Control (2000); K. L. Kumpferm, V. Molgaard, R. Spoth, “The Strengthening Families Program for the prevention of delinquency and drug use.” in R. D. Peters, R. J. McMahon, eds., Preventing Childhood Disorders, Substance Abuse and Delinquency, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA (1996).

39    Full study is found in P. Tough, Whatever It Takes, Houghton-Mifflin, New York (2009).

40   Effective interventions are studied in detail in A. Biglan, B. Flay, S. Foster, “The prevention of drug abuse.” In A. Biglan, A. Wang, H. G. Walberg, eds., Preventing Youth Problems, Kluwer/Plenum, New York (2003); B. R. Flay, et al., Designs for Evaluating Comprehensive Community Interventions in Neighborhoods and Communities, Under review.

41    Measurement of progress is found in B. R. Flay, et al., Under review.

42    B. R. Flay, A. Biglan, K. A. Komro, A. C. Wagenaar, D. D. Embry, the PNRC, Designs for Evaluating Comprehensive Community Interventions in Neighborhoods and Communities, Under review; K. A. Komro, B. R. Flay, A. Biglan, the PNRC, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review (2011).

43    Childhood progress monitored by teachers is evaluated in Baker & Baker (2008).

44    Results Leadership Group website:

45    Community Indicators Consortium, New York Touchstones: Charting the Future, Working Together (2011). The Community Indicators website is


47    A. S. Gerber, D. P. Green, C. W. Larimer, Political Behavior (2010); D. P. Green, A. S. Gerber, Political Behavior (2010); D. P. Green, A. S. Gerber, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2003).

48    Interrupted time-series experiments are examined in A. Biglan, D. V. Ary, A. C. Wagenaar, Prevention Research, (2000); Flay, et al., Under review.


Posted in Journal Volume 2, Number 2 -- December, 2011, Education & Early Learning

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