Background: Childhood poverty is known to be associated with poor health. For youth living in extreme poverty, community-based programs focused on youth development are one strategy to improve health and well-being outcomes. However, very few evaluations of the long-term effectiveness of youth development programs have been conducted. The aim of this study was to assess the long-term effectiveness of a positive youth development program (PYD), serving a segregated housing project with a history of community violence, to improve the health, education, and financial well-being of its alumni.
Methods: A quasi-experimental causal comparative study design was used to study the effectiveness of the Cabrini-Green Youth Program (CGYP). CGYP alumni (mean: 16.8 +/- 7.4 years after program participation) were surveyed. For comparison, participants from the same housing project who were eligible to participate in the CGYP but did not, were identified.
Results: In total, 246/417 (59%) eligible alumni were located. 221 alumni were available to be interviewed; 191/221 (86%) completed the interview survey along with 143 in the comparison group. Both groups self-identified as being Black, African American, and of Other race. Alumni were younger (34.6 vs. 38.1 years, p < .001), less likely to be female (62% vs. 74%, p =.03), and more likely to have been abused as a child (26% vs. 11%, p = .001). The majority in both groups reported to be in good to excellent health (83% of alumni vs. 74% of comparison group). After adjusting for comparison group differences, alumni were more likely to have completed college, 24% vs. 12% (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 2.47, 95% CI, 1.25-4.86), and to end up with some money at the end of the month, 35% vs. 19% (aOR 2.16, 95% CI, 1.17, 3.97).
Conclusions: Participation in a PYD program starting at a young age may be associated with reduced poverty in adulthood, possibly aided by higher educational attainment and resultant increased income. PYD may be an effective strategy to supplement evidenced-based poverty reducing policies. This study of a voluntary, community-based PYD program is unique in its up to 33-year follow-up and an outcome assessment that measures more than knowledge change.
Keywords: Black youth; Child adversity; Childhood poverty; Educational attainment; Health outcomes; Positive youth development.
© 2022. The Author(s).