Background: Governments, funders, and charity organizations increasingly demand that young people be involved in the processes that affect their lives and communities. Youth empowerment programs (YEPs) are designed to build on the assets of young people through a focus on active participation, mastery experiences, and positive connections in order to improve developmental outcomes and positive transitions to adulthood. Proponents of YEPs suggest that they may constitute an effective, theory-based approach to youth development.
Objectives: To report the state of the high-quality evidence on the impacts of YEPs on adolescents' (ages 10-19) sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem, as well as other social and behavioral outcomes. To determine if the available evidence indicates best practices among YEPs or differential effects according to particular subgroups of adolescents. To identify directions for further research.
Search Strategy: The investigators conducted an international search that included twelve major academic electronic databases, twelve additional relevant institutional web-based publication databases, and a professional outreach for published and unpublished evaluations.
Selection Criteria: Randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental trials using a prospectively assigned control group. Controls could have included no intervention, wait-list, or a comparison intervention without a significant empowerment component. Interventions must have regularly involved youth in program decision-making and met other basic youth empowerment standards. The review included interventions outside of formal education, juvenile detention, residential, and therapeutic systems.
Data Collection and Analysis: 8,789 citations were identified and screened independently and crosschecked by two reviewers. Sixty-eight studies were reviewed in-depth.
Results: Three studies met the review's full inclusion criteria; two of which measured self-efficacy outcomes that could be aggregated in a meta-analysis. The limited data meta-analyzed did not show a combined intervention effect on self-efficacy (z = 1.21; 95% CI -0.12 to 0.49). None of the three studies independently showed significant intervention effects on the review's primary outcomes. Mixed effects were demonstrated by results for secondary outcomes. There was no evidence of harm, in that no study's results revealed statistically significant adverse intervention effects for any of its measured outcomes.
Authors' Conclusions: The review reveals an insufficient evidence-base from experimental or quasi-experimental studies to substantiate the expectation that YEPs have an impact on developmental assets such as self-efficacy and self-esteem. Further research into YEPs using rigorous impact study designs is needed. Researchers should further develop methods and measures to enable high-quality, mixed-methods process studies to complement impact studies of YEPs so as to provide more useful evidence for practitioners and policy-makers.