The Colorado Trust has a long-standing commitment to supporting positive youth development and preventing youth violence. Through such Trust initiatives as
Safe Communities~Safe Schools, Preventing Youth Handgun Violence and Assets for Colorado Youth, it became evident that the area of after-school care was important. Data show that unsupervised out-of-school hours are a strong risk factor for involvement in problem behaviors such as delinquency, violence and substance use; whereas, good after-school programming is associated with better grades, school attendance, emotional adjustment and social skills.
In 2000, The Trust began its five-year, $11 million After-School Initiative. The goal was to develop and support after-school programming strategies that capitalize on the strengths of young people, families and communities. The initiative provided funding, training and tailored technical assistance services to 32 grantee after-school programs across the state. In each program, emphasis was placed on three main goals: positive youth development strategies, cultural competency development (for both staff and program activities) and partnerships designed to foster stronger adult and youth engagement, as well as support for the program. The initiative, in part, also led to the development of the Colorado AfterSchool Network, a statewide network that provides ongoing support for after-school programs.
The independent evaluation, which was conducted by the National Research Center, shows that the After-School Initiative served more than 12,000 diverse youth across the state. Through the evaluation, youth reported improvements in their positive life choices, sense of self, core values, cultural competency, life skills, community involvement and academic success as a result of participating in the after-school programs. The programs that reported the greatest improvements in these areas were those that did the best job of using positive youth development strategies (focusing on the positive skills, relationships and self-perceptions of young people, rather than a “deficit focus” – behaviors that need to be changed in youth). The evaluation clearly demonstrated that youth participants believed that the time they spent in these after-school programs was not just fun, but transforming. Youth reported that the staff and activities were responsible for their improved core values, including honesty, empathy, and concern for equality and justice. Youth stated that the after-school programs they attended helped their self-confidence and sense of purpose.
Additionally, The After-School Initiative Toolkit for Evaluating Positive Youth Development, which was developed through this evaluation, provided grantees and other after-school providers with a collection of instruments that continues to allow them to tailor evaluations to measure the effectiveness of their programs.
Perhaps of greatest importance to school districts, government entities and law enforcement, these youth, in anonymous surveys, reported being better able to avoid trouble that might lead to violence or other forms of delinquency. Again, all of these positive findings, even the reported reduction in delinquent behaviors, occurred in the highest proportions among programs that provided the strongest emphasis on positive youth development strategies.