Understanding strengths: Developmental Changes and Effects of Protective Factors in a Community Prevention Trial
Kim, Bo Kyung
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Using empirical evidence to inform social work practice is consistent with the profession's commitment to beneficence and avoiding harm. Thirty years of prevention research has produced a wealth of tested-and effective programs that target known risk and protective factors for social, emotional, and behavioral health. Ineffective or untested strategies based on intuition, however, are largely being used. This dissertation study integrates the strengths perspective with prevention principles and investigates the development and role of protective factors to provide evidence for improving community-based prevention. Data come from the Community Youth Development Study, the first randomized-controlled trial of Communities That Care (CTC). CTC is a science-based community prevention system that mobilizes community coalitions to promote healthy youth development. The first paper examined the developmental trajectories of youth protective factors and the extent to which the trajectories vary by gender. Findings indicated that youth protective factors declined through middle school but the trajectories changed as youth entered high school - protective factors either slowed in the rate of decline or increased. Although females reported significantly higher levels of protective factors, there was no evidence of differential trajectories by gender. The second paper examined the variation in the sustained effect of CTC on youth protective factors. Findings suggested that the effect of CTC on increasing youth protective factors was sustained beyond the implementation phase for males but not for females. Furthermore, findings indicated that CTC had a more positive effect on protective factors among low-risk males. Finally, the third paper tested whether the effect of CTC on youth protective factors mediates the effect of CTC on youth behavioral outcomes such as delinquency and substance use. CTC significantly affected levels of four protective factors measured at grade 8, and the levels of these protective factors at grade 8 significantly mediated the effect of CTC on youth delinquency and smoking behaviors in grade 10. The results of this dissertation contribute to the understanding of youth protective factors and make specific implications for strength-based community prevention strategies that seek to achieve healthy youth development by building protection.