To What Extent Are Youth Participating in Services?

Young people are most likely to benefit from programs when they participate on a consistent basis. Sex education programs that are offered on a voluntary basis (like a drop-in, afterschool program) must work hard to make sure participants attend the program consistently.

Measuring participation is important so that programs can assess levels and trends over time. Declines in participation should signal a need to take action to determine reasons why. In order to measure the amount of services participants receive, programs can track daily attendance using an attendance log (see example tool).

Programs can set benchmarks for participation to indicate how much exposure to the program they believe is needed for participants to reach desired outcomes. The benchmark a program sets depends largely on the program and the population it serves.  For example, a program offered once per month may require higher rates of participation (as measured by percent of sessions attended) than programs offered weekly over the same time span. Likewise, programs serving high-risk youth may require more frequent participation than a program serving low-risk youth.

Tentative benchmarks can be obtained by examining levels of participation obtained from evidence-based programs that offer similar content.  Once sufficient internal data are available, benchmarks can also be selected by examining attendance data in relation to outcomes data (assuming a program is being implemented consistently and well), to determine what level participation is needed to achieve a positive outcome.

If participation rates are low, this may suggest low levels of participant satisfaction and engagement, perhaps resulting from factors such as a lack of culturally- or age-appropriate strategies or issues related to program facilitation. Other factors, such as scheduling conflicts and time constraints are also common. To determine reasons for low participation, focus groups and interviews led by expert community members external to the program can be conducted with participants and families. Changes can then be made within the program to act upon this information.