Academic journal article School Community Journal

Engaging Families in Boys & Girls Clubs: An Evaluation of the Family PLUS Pilot Initiative

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Engaging Families in Boys & Girls Clubs: An Evaluation of the Family PLUS Pilot Initiative

Article excerpt

Abstract

Research has shown that engaging families through youth development and after-school programs may benefit children. This paper extends knowledge in this arena, describing a set of strategies for implementing family-strengthening activities in youth development settings. The paper reports findings from a pilot evaluation of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Family PLUS initiative. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected in the form of surveys, phone interviews, and focus groups with club leaders, parents, and youth. Results uncover emerging family support strategies that actively link school, club, and family; culturally tailor programming; foster long-term and family-friendly staff; place children at the center of family programming; and pair family-strengthening activities with other types of programming. The paper also reports on the obstacles such strategies address as well as initial evidence of the positive influence of such programming on parent-child relationships, parent development, and parent-staff relationships. Implications for future research are discussed.

Key Words: Boys and Girls Clubs, afterschool, youth development, engagement, involvement, families, evaluation, family, PLUS, initiative, pilot, staff, programs, out-of-school time, after-school, relationships, activities

Introduction

Four decades of research contribute to our understanding of family engagement in schooling and its benefits for children (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). However, much less is known about engaging and supporting families in youth development contexts, such as the strategies by which organizations engage families and the benefits it may confer. Yet youth development and after-school programs are increasingly prevalent contexts in which children and youth develop. Over 6.5 million of the nation's children and youth are in after-school programs (Afterschool Alliance, 2004), and nearly a million school-age children participate in structured after-school programs and activities under the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (Naftzger, Kaufman, Margolin, & Ali, 2006). Below, we examine family strengthening and engagement in this increasingly prevalent developmental context and identify promising strategies for increasing such engagement.

The nascent body of evidence that does exist on engaging families through youth development and after-school programs suggests that such efforts can benefit children and youth. Research and evaluation studies show that family engagement after school leads to increased family involvement in children's education and school, better academic performance among children, improved implementation and outcomes for after-school programs, and improved relationships between parents and schools (Bennett, 2004; Horowitz & Bronte-Tinkew, 2007; Kakli, Kreider, Little, Buck, & Coffey, 2006). Programs with a family component delivered through Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) show equally promising results (James & Partee, n.d.; St. Pierre, Mark, Kaltreider, & Aiken, 1997). Family strengthening and engagement after school also improves relationships between parents and children-increasing parent-child closeness and trust, reducing conflict, and promoting greater understanding and involvement in children's schoolwork (Harris & Wimer, 2004; Intercultural Center for Research in Education, 2005; Massachusetts 2020, 2004).

Yet families and programs face numerous challenges to implementing family strengthening and engagement efforts. Parents' work schedules and time constraints, transportation and child care needs, family culture and language, and residence outside of the neighborhood create obstacles to family engagement (Debord, Martin, & Mallilo, 1996; Weiss & Brigham, 2003). Inadequate staffing and funding as well as negative staff attitudes towards families or an overall unwelcoming atmosphere prevent some programs from effectively attracting families (Intercultural Center for Research in Education, 2005; James & Partee, n. …

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