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Research Summaries

All Research Summaries

Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Youth Development and After-School Programs

Original publication authored by: Douglas Kirby, Nicole Lezin, Ranahnah Afriye, and Gabrielle Gallucci

This summary includes the following sections:


Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Youth Development and After-School Programs began as an evaluation of YWCA adolescent pregnancy prevention programs. Over time, it evolved into a broader guide — one that not only captured the real-world experiences of various programs but also stepped back to ask why different programs might be effective, how to choose different program components, and how to combine them.

Several aspects of this guide make it unique. First, it relies on strong, research-based evidence, yet it does not exclude programs that may lack such evidence. (The different levels of research evidence are noted for each program component.)

Second, the guide emphasizes the use of logic models to help program staff make more informed, defensible decisions about matching programs to specific risk and protective factors affecting teen pregnancy.

Finally, the guide incorporates a youth development framework — one that shows promise not only for teen pregnancy prevention but for many other risk behaviors as well.

Using research findings, interviews with experts, and guidance from program staff in the field who work with youth every day, the guide describes the key elements of 12 program components offered through after-school programs:

  • planning for an education, jobs, and careers
  • tutoring
  • entrepreneurship
  • arts and creative expression
  • service learning
  • mentoring
  • sports and fitness
  • substance abuse
  • curriculum-based sex and HIV education programs
  • power in relationships: recognizing and preventing violence, assault, and abuse
  • drop-in centers and group discussions
  • involving parents in sexuality education.

A chapter is devoted to each of these components, beginning with a brief explanation of the program goals and target audience. Each explanation is followed by a discussion of the essential elements and activities for each type of program.

Each chapter also includes a summary of the evidence base; information on recruiting youth, parents, and other organizations; the types of qualities to look for in hiring staff; common pitfalls to avoid; measures of success; additional resources; and funding ideas. These descriptive chapters are designed to offer a snapshot of how and why these programs work — and what program staff can do before, during, and after program implementation to increase their chances of success.

A final chapter, "Putting It All Together," describes the Children's Aid Society Carrera Program — an intensive and successful youth development model that combines many of these elements in one program.


The Pregnancy Prevention Research Base

The research at the core of the manual is based on work originally conducted by the manual's lead author, Douglas Kirby, Ph.D. Dr. Kirby is a national authority on teen pregnancy prevention who has explored the specific risk factors that increase the chances of sexual risk-taking and/or teen pregnancy as well as the specific protective factors that reduce the chances of unprotected sex and pregnancy.

Risk and protective factors may include characteristics of neighborhoods, parents and siblings, and teenagers themselves.1 Understanding their role is critical for several reasons. First, it is clear that teen pregnancy is a consequence of multiple factors. Because of this, a teen pregnancy prevention program that addresses only one factor is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on teen pregnancy rates. Moreover, some factors have nothing to do with sexuality itself. Attachments to family, school, and other institutions, for example, are strongly implicated in teen pregnancy prevention because they provide structure, foster positive connections to adults, and express norms against sexual (and other) risk-taking.

Early in each chapter on a specific program component is a box titled "The Evidence Base," which summarizes the research literature on that particular component, including the links between that component and any risk or protective factors associated with teen pregnancy.


Logic Models

Understanding the evidence for a link, if any, between risk and protective factors and behavior change is important for another feature of the manual: the use of logic models. Logic models are simply tools for narrowing down the bewildering array of choices that face a youth-serving agency's staff. They help answer very important questions that are too often not asked during program planning and design. They include: What kinds of programs should we be implementing? Why are we doing this? And — why do we think it will work?

Logic models describe a chain of events: if we implement these activities, they will affect one or more risk and protective factors (identified through research). By affecting these risk and protective factors, we ultimately have a greater chance of changing teenagers' behaviors. Graphically, the model looks like this:

Each chapter includes a logic model that delineates how that component's activities, risk and protective factors, and sexual behaviors lead to the goal of decreased teen pregnancy. Since the research base for these components is uneven, some show a "tighter" connection among activities, factors, and behaviors than others. (This information is noted both in the evidence base in each chapter and in the logic models. In addition, Table 2 on page 10 of Preventing Teen Pregnancy lists the factors and behaviors associated with each program component.)

For more information about a particular kind of logic model, known as Behavior-Determinant-Intervention (BDI) Logic Models, go to: BDILogicModel.pdf


A Youth Development Approach

Youth development approaches are comprehensive efforts that offer frequent support from adults, create a sense of opportunities for young people, and foster the skills to make the most of both current and future opportunities. Typically, youth development programs have several unique features that distinguish them from more traditional approaches. They are intense and long-term (as opposed to intermittent, short-term programs).

Staff are typically committed for the long term — a period of years, not months — and are actively involved in connecting young people to other adults and to the community. Youth are substantively involved in decision-making about the program (beyond giving input or feedback about what they do or do not like).

Preventing Teen Pregnancy also identifies the important characteristics of youth programs that a diverse group of people believe are important to reduce teen pregnancy. These include qualities of program components, program development, recruitment and participation, program leaders and staff, program environment and the sponsoring organization.

An excellent example of a comprehensive, youth development program to teen pregnancy prevention is the Children's Aid Society (CAS) Carrera model. The Carrera model markedly reduced pregnancy among teenage girls and is described in the manual's last chapter. The program is resource-intensive and is not feasible for everyone, yet its lessons can still be instructive for programs trying to implement several components at once.

Overall, Preventing Teen Pregnancy tries to combine practical, nuts-and-bolts information about program implementation, set against a philosophical backdrop of research-based evidence, wisdom from practitioners, the use of logic models, and a comprehensive youth development approach.

By giving program staff a better understanding of why programs may or may not work — and how they can be connected to different types of outcomes — the manual aims to increase the chances for success in this important but challenging field.


Ordering Information

Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Youth Development and After-School Programs is available for $24.95 from ETR Associates. To order, go to: ETR Publications

1For more detailed information on the range of risk and protective factors, see Kirby D. 2001. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The risk and protective factors affecting teen pregnancy also are summarized in Table 1 of Preventing Teen Pregnancy, on page 6.

Kirby, D., Lezin, N., Afriye, R.A., & Gallucci, G. (2003). Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Youth Development and After-School Programs Scotts Valley, CA: ETR Associates and New York, NY: YWCA of the U.S.A.