To What Extent Does the Program Offer a Positive Developmental Setting?

Research conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 teens (Scales et al., 2006) found that teens who rated the following items as occurring “often” or “very often” were more likely than teens who reported “little” or “very little” to experience improvements in academic performance, social competence, and risky behaviors:

  • The program allowed them to build warm and trusting relationships;
  • The program allowed them to make decisions relating to program offerings;
  • The program taught them new skills; and
  • The program was highly safe.

These features are highly consistent with what researchers have identified as the “eight features of positive developmental settings” (Larson, Eccles, & Gootman, 2004):

  1. Physical and psychological safety 
  2. Appropriate structure
  3. Supportive relationships 
  4. Opportunities for belonging 
  5. Positive social norms
  6. Support for efficacy and mattering 
  7. Opportunities for skill-building
  8. Integration of family, school, and community efforts 

Since the quality of services is so important to outcomes, organizations must have ways of assessing whether their programming holds high quality across staff, sites and over time. Assessment of quality should inform continuous staff training and program refinement. To measure the aspects of quality associated with a positive developmental setting, one may administer a rating tool to participants or ask observers to complete an observer rating tool (see Cross et al., 2010, for an example). 

If data indicate that at least one of these features is weak or missing, the data will need to be shared with staff and appropriate actions will need to be taken to remedy the issue(s) identified.

Surveys / Assessments


Sources Cited

Cross, A. B., Gottfredson, D.C., Wilson, D.M., Rorie, M., & Connell, N. (2010). Implementation Quality and Positive Experiences in After-School Programs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 370-380.

Larson, R., Eccles, J., & Gootman, J. A. (2004). Features of positive developmental settings. The Prevention Researcher, 11(2), 8–13.

Scales, P.C., Benson, P.L., Bartig, K., Streit, K., Moore, K.A.,  Lippman, L. et al. (2006). Keeping America's Promises to Children and Youth: A Search Institute-Child Trends Report on the Results of the America's Promise National Telephone Polls of Children, Teenagers, and Parents. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute. The full report is available at: