At a time when communities across the country are interested in evidence-based youth programming, an April conference will bring together leaders from the field to discuss what’s possible.
The Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development biennial conference will feature sessions on evidence-based programs that promote youth education, healthy behaviors, emotional and physical well-being and positive behaviors. Some of these programs are used in the juvenile justice field.
“There’s certainly a lot of discussion these days about what it means to be evidence-based and how to implement evidence-based programs. And I think a lot of funders are looking for accountability as well,” said Sharon Mihalic, director of the Blueprints initiative based at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Evidence-based programs are usually considered the gold standard by policymakers, but some argue the push to look at a limited number of models may limit reform efforts by discouraging new ideas.
Blueprints began in the 1990s as an evidence-based registry of programs dedicated to violence prevention. Today, it studies programs for a wide range of youth outcomes, including academic success, mental health and physical health.
The researchers have evaluated hundreds of programs and given 61 their seal of approval as either promising or model programs. The online registry offers information about program design and costs, with the goal of helping youth workers navigate the complicated world of what truly helps children and teenagers.
“Our goal has always been to move the dial away from things people just hear about,” Mihalic said.
The conference highlights include guest speakers Nell Bernstein, an author who writes and lectures on juvenile justice and the effects of incarceration of children and families, and Gary VanLandingham, director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
A pre-conference also will feature several Blueprints programs that are popular among juvenile justice reformers, such as Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multisystemic Therapy (MST).
Lori Cohen, the chief marketing officer at MST Services, a conference sponsor, said the conference is one way to reach an audience beyond those who haven’t yet made major juvenile justice reforms but want to find better ways to care for youth.
The events and workshops won’t just provide additional education to those who have already selected a program but will give communities who are just starting out information about how to find and build an evidence-based program.
“If you want to change the status quo, it’s reasonable you would look at programs that have evidence,” she said.
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