Validating, Norming, and Utility of a Youth Outcomes Battery for Recreation Programs and Camps

Article excerpt

Accountability and evidence remain central to many evaluation efforts as recreation programs for youth seek to validate their efforts. This culture of accountability has pervaded many aspects of youth programming, especially areas targeting academic outcomes, seeking grant funding, or needing to compete with alternative programs for participants and resources. Funding agencies increasingly require systematic evaluation to both document outcomes and to support the creation of program theories and evidence-based practices for youth programs. Recreation programs are not unique in this need, but they are distinct in the types of outcomes they most naturally and inherently afford. Recreation programs, including youth summer camps, also lack a core curriculum, freeing programs to target some outcomes while deemphasizing others. The variety in curricula combined with the unpredictable settings and diversity of populations, made creating a singular unified outcome measure problematic.

Outcome research and evaluation on summer camps traditionally shows that youth benefit from the camp experience (e.g., ACA, 2005; Bialeschki, Henderson, & James, 2007; Henderson, Bialeschki, & James, 2007; Marsh, 1999; Mishna, Michalski, & Cummings, 2001; Readdick & Schaller, 2005; Yuen, Pedlar, & Mannell, 2005). However, many of these studies have been conducted by academics in partnership with camp programs, because research and evaluation are typically viewed by camps as complex and burdensome. To address these needs, the American Camp Association (ACA) began efforts to provide outcome assessment tools that were relevant, appropriate, and practical for use by recreation programs for youth.

The genesis of this study began when the ACA conducted a multiyear study to identify and measure summer youth program outcomes (ACA, 2005). That study was unprecedented in its size and scope, involving more than 5000 youth and their families from across the country. Ten key outcomes relevant to summer camps were identified and measured. Results showed youth development in several different domains, including: independence, self-esteem, confidence, social skills, exploration, and spirituality.

Despite the significance of this study, effect sizes were relatively small and the scale had several key limitations that necessitated additional work, which provided the genesis of the current ACA Youth Outcomes Battery (YOB). Currently in its second printing, the YOB is a battery of self-report instruments that can be easily administered to youth 10-17 years old, scored, and used by youth program professionals seeking an evidence-based outcome evaluation. The current version of the YOB has 11 subscales: Friendship Skills (FS), Family Citizenship Behavior (FCB), Responsibility (RESP), Independence (IND), Teamwork Skills (TW), Perceived Competence (COMP), Affinity for Exploration (AE), Affinity for Nature (AN), Problem Solving Confidence (PSC), Camp Connectedness (CC), and Spiritual Wellbeing (SWB; ACA, 2011). Because the YOB was created and tested as funding became available over a six year period, the purpose of this current study is to establish norms and provide further evidence of the construct validity for the YOB in a single, comprehensive effort.

Literature and Construct History

As the YOB was being developed, special attention was given to measuring outcomes that were included as part of the original study (ACA, 2005), that might potentially be influenced by weeklong recreational experience, and that were needed by practitioners involved in programming for positive youth development. The ACA and its research committee were consistently involved in the initial instrument development and outcome selection. After selected for inclusion in the YOB, each of the outcomes were conceptualized and defined based on the contemporary literature with attention to utility and application potential for youth recreation programs. …

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