Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

Volume 5

Arts and Recreational Strategies20


The aim of this chapter is to provide a review of some recent literature and empirical research regarding structured recreational activities and youth violence, primarily focusing upon their effect on youth aggressive and anti-social behaviour and related factors. While this chapter does not encompass all of the literature available, it does offer a relatively comprehensive review of many pertinent studies conducted regarding this topic and many of the issues associated with it.

The second section of the chapter provides a brief description of what structured recreational activities and their underlying goals typically encompass (with special regard to those programs directed towards at-risk youth). As well, some common issues and limitations regarding research in this area are discussed. Section three focuses on the role of structure in recreational activities. Section four highlights the role that parental involvement in structured recreational activity can play. In section five, attention will be given to issues regarding cultural awareness when dealing with youth belonging to visible minority groups. Section six outlines research specifically pertaining to the role that arts-based recreational activities can play in addressing issues regarding youth violence and anti-social behaviours. In section seven, research regarding secondary benefits of provider-initiated quality childcare are highlighted and discussed. Finally, section eight offers a brief summation and conclusion regarding the topics discussed in the previous sections.

Recreational Activities and Youth Violence

A considerable amount of research exists to suggest that youth participation in structured recreational activities is associated with a number of positive outcomes, including reductions in anti-social behaviour, aggression, and criminality (Kisiel, Blaustein, Spinazzola, Schmidt, Zucker and van der Kolk, 2006; Mahoney, 2000; Mahoney and Stattin, 2000). Moreover, benefits regarding involvement in structured recreational activities appear to be most marked among children with multiple problem profiles (Bornmann, Mitelman and Beer, 2007; Mahoney and Magnusson, 2001; Wilson, Lipsey and Derzon, 2003). A recently published joint summary report (data analysis and literature review) conducted by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) and the Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) regarding learning through recreation outlined a number of general findings, as well as four primary hypotheses (CPRN and CCSD, 2001). An important point made within the report is that the relationship between youth recreation and benefits is more complex than might be expected; thus, it is vital that methodologically sound research is conducted to better understand what types of approaches work best among certain types of youth in specific settings. Furthermore, the report highlights the fact that it cannot simply be assumed that participation in structured recreation programs will produce positive effects, as “benefits depend largely on participation in appropriate programs, and on the social environment” (CPRN and CCSD, 2001: 4). Moreover, participation itself is influenced by such primary factors as age, gender, and socio-economic status, while other factors regarding parents and peer networks also appear to play a role.

As mentioned, the report also posited four primary hypotheses regarding structured youth recreation, which may be viewed as useful in guiding future research and program designs. First, there is the human development hypothesis, which puts forth the notion that an absence of structured recreation has a negative effect regarding long-term socio-emotional development of youth, resulting in pervasive problems well into the adult years. According to the hypothesis, adolescence is a critical period in developing an identity and forming one’s self-concept, a concept that has been supported by numerous empirical studies (Cauffman and Steinberg, 2000; Doob and Cesaroni, 2004; Steinberg and Schwartz, 2000).

Next, the Civic Competence hypothesis suggests that youth not involved in structured recreational activities are less likely to exhibit appropriate and acceptable levels of civic competency. Regarding this hypothesis, the report points out that children participating in structured recreational activity appear to score higher on a measure of moral development, and that childhood participation in team sports and youth groups seems to have an impact on later participation in community and volunteering activities as an adult.

The insufficiency hypothesis posits that a large percentage of youths are not participating in structured recreational activities at levels deemed sufficient to support their human development and civic competence. As such, the report highlights a number of barriers that decrease the likelihood of youth participation in structured recreational activity, pointing out that many at-risk youth face a number of these barriers simultaneously. Some of these barriers include low socio-economic status, gender (females are less likely to participate, as typical activities such as sports are male-dominated) and minority group status. Finally, related to the insufficiency hypothesis, is the inadequacy hypothesis, which suggests that non-participation of youth is, at least in part, due to a lack of existing public systems dealing with the provision of structured youth recreation activities. An important point that the report highlights is that simply supplying structured recreation to youth is not enough; rather, there need to be put into place some mechanisms to aid in facilitating access to such programs for youth who may otherwise not be able to participate. This holds especially true when one recognizes that youth who may otherwise not be able to participate are also those youth who are most likely to be considered at-risk.

A number of studies have consistently found that the most successful youth recreation programs are those that are high in structure (Mahoney and Magnusson, 2000; Mahoney, Stattin and Magnusson, 2001). As well, programs that incorporate comprehensive and holistic approaches, considering individual, family, community, and societal factors, are more likely to be successful at producing short-and long-term benefits (Ellis, Braff and Hutchinson, 2001; Huff, Widmer, McCoy and Hill, 2003). Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that programs appearing to be effective with certain types of youth in specific settings may not work with other youth in other settings. As such, it is essential for continual assessments to be conducted in order to maintain the integrity of programs and the likelihood of positive effects being produced. However, a widespread problem regarding research in the area of youth recreation programs is that programs and assessments are often lacking sound experimental design, making it difficult to determine what truly works and what does not. Specifically, many assessments often have vague operational definitions, lack of control groups, no baseline or outcome measures, and non-standardized or non-validated measurement tools (for some specific examples, see Carey-Webb, 1995; Long and Soble, 1999; Mahne, 2004; Smitherman and Thompson, 2002). Finally, it is often the case that assessments are conducted by those who have developed and implemented the program, which can be problematic in that they may be more likely to report positive effects associated with their programs that are perhaps either less pronounced or even non-existent. As such, programs need to be continually evaluated by objective researchers with no vested interest in the funding of specific programs.

The Role of Structure

A study recently conducted in Sweden sought to identify and evaluate characteristics of recreational activities that may be associated with increases or decreases in adolescent anti-social behaviour, specifically focusing on the influence of structure and social context (Mahoney and Stattin, 2000). Accordingly, adolescent anti-social behaviour was assessed for youth participating in either high or low structured recreational activities.

High-structured recreational activities included community-sponsored teams and organizations, and typically featured: regular participation schedules, rule-guided engagement, emphasis on skill development and direction provided by adult activity leaders. Low structured recreational activities consisted of youth accessing the nationally sponsored Swedish youth recreation (YR) centres. These centres are low-structured, are available in most communities throughout Sweden, and posit a primary goal of reducing youth anti-social behaviour by offering a place for youth to spend leisure time during evening hours, extending as late as 11:30 p.m. in some communities. Typical activities available in the YR centres include billiards, video games, television and listening to music, with special events such as field trips (e.g., movie night) occurring occasionally. As the authors note, none of the activities available through the YR centres are highly structured; they do not focus on individual needs or skill-building, and adults present at the centres do not direct or place demands on the youths’ activity choices.

The authors report that all adolescents in grade eight, as well as their parents, from six communities in Orebro, Sweden, a relatively large town by national standards (pop. 120,000), were invited to participate in a survey regarding the adolescents’ leisure activities and social relations. In total, 351 boys and 352 girls filled out a school-based survey, and the authors report that this total sample size of 703 adolescents represents approximately 92.5 per cent of all grade eight students in the six communities. Additionally, 580 parents, representing 76 per cent of the parent sample population, responded to a mailed survey asking questions regarding their child’s use of free time and peer relations, as well as their own relationship with their child. The authors report that the adolescents’ activity involvement or engagement in anti-social behaviours did not significantly differ according to whether their parents participated in filling out the survey.

Adolescents’ activity involvement was dichotomized according to whether they indicated participating in high- or low-structured activities. High-structured activities were defined as 1) occurring together with others in their own age group; 2) having an adult leader; and 3) meeting at least once a week at a regular time. Adolescents who indicated attending a YR centre at least once a week on a regular basis were designated as involved in an unstructured community activity. The authors report that adolescent involvement in leisure activities did not significantly differ according to gender, with 76 and 78 per cent of the boys and girls respectively reporting involvement in one or more structured activity and 42 per cent of boys and 40 per cent of girls reporting typically frequenting YR centres more than once a week.

Adolescents were asked to indicate the frequency with which they engaged in a number of anti-social behaviours (e.g., drinking, theft, property crime, violence, skipping school) using a five-point scale ranging from “never” to “more than 10 times.” Adolescents were also surveyed regarding peer social network characteristics, such as the ages of their close friends, academic performance, and involvement in anti-social activities. Finally, adolescents were asked questions regarding activity leader support in terms of how well they knew their activity leader(s), whether they trusted them, and how comfortable they would feel in confiding in them. Surveys completed by parents were used to evaluate levels of parental monitoring, trust in their child’s choices regarding leisure activities and peer relations, parental activity support, and parental education levels.

The main findings of the study are twofold. First, results indicate that structured activity participation is associated with lower levels of anti-social behaviour and that this holds true for both boys and girls. Second, involvement in the low-structured YR centres is actually associated with higher levels of anti-social behaviour and that, while this held true regardless of gender, it appeared to be especially true for boys. Additional findings indicate that parental trust levels and support for activity involvement is significantly greater when children are involved in structured recreational activities. As well, it was found that adolescents experiencing either the presence of unstructured recreational activities or simply the absence of structured recreational activities were significantly more likely to associate with peers who displayed poor academic performance and had been apprehended by the police for engaging in delinquent behaviour.

A more recently published 20-year longitudinal study similarly assessed whether participation in the unstructured Swedish YR centres is related to long-term criminality from late childhood to mid-adulthood (Mahoney, Stattin and Magnusson, 2001). Participants in the study consisted of 498 boys and their parents involved in an ongoing longitudinal investigation focusing upon individual development and adaptation. Initial sample recruitment involved all children in grade three in 1965 in the same town discussed in the previous study, Orebro, and the authors report that the sample size in this particular study represents 96 per cent of the total sample of males at age ten. The authors further note that a previously conducted study comparing rates of criminality among various cities in Sweden found that Orebro has rates of crime similar to like-sized cities in Sweden and moderately lower rates of crime compared with the country’s largest cities (Stattin, Magnusson and Reichel, 1986, as cited in Mahoney, Stattin and Magnusson, 2001). Measures incorporated into the study included social behaviour as rated by teachers and peers, peer preferences, school achievement, criminal offending, youth recreation centre involvement, parental concern for child behaviour, family SES, and caregiver status.

Initial analyses indicated that 41 per cent of the boys participated in YR centres at age 13, with 20 per cent periodically accessing them between one and four times a month and 21 per cent frequently accessing them between two and seven times per week. Results of the study found that, first, participation in the YR centres was non-random, with a multiple problem profile of both social and academic problems in school at age ten, as well as low socioeconomic status (SES) and high levels of parental concern for child behaviour at age 13 being significantly associated with more frequent YR centre participation. Regarding YR centre participation and criminal offending, the general results indicated that boys who participated periodically or frequently in the YR centres at age 13 had a greater cumulative offence frequency compared with those boys who did not participate at all. That is, those boys who either periodically or frequently accessed the youth centres were at a significantly increased risk for both juvenile crime and persistent offending. Moreover, out of all the measures included within the study, YR centre participation was found to be the single best predictor of criminal offending. Specifically, regarding juvenile offending, 44 per cent of the frequent participants were charged with juvenile offences, compared with 22 per cent of the periodic participants and 12 per cent of the non-participants. Similar patterns were found regarding persistent offending, with 22 per cent, 17 per cent, and four per cent of the frequent, periodic, and non-participant boys respectively engaging in persistent offending.

An earlier longitudinal study sought to assess the relation between child and youth participation in school-based extracurricular activities and patterns of anti-social behaviour from childhood to young adulthood, specifically focusing on the role played by individuals’ social networks (Mahoney, 2000).

Participants in the study included 364 girls and 331 boys (N = 695) recruited from seven public schools between 1981 and 1983 in the southeastern United States. The youth recruited in 1981 were in the grade four and their average age was slightly over ten years, while those youth recruited in 1983 were in grade seven and had an average age of just over 13 years. Additionally, the author notes that approximately 25 per cent of the sample was made up of African-American youth, a proportion nearly identical to the counties from which the sample was derived. As well, the mean SES of the sample did not significantly differ from the national average. According to official census ratings, three of the five communities from which the sample was drawn are classified as suburban metropolitan districts, with the other two are classified as rural.

Preliminary analyses identified four groups of males and females: C1) a low-risk group characterized by high social and academic competence and lower aggression; C2) a moderately low-risk group with the same characteristics as the first one plus below average SES; C3) a moderately high-risk group characterized by somewhat low social and academic competence, below average SES, and high aggression; and C4) a high-risk group characterized by a multiple risk profile, including being older than classmates, low social and academic competence, low SES, and high aggression levels.

In addition to baseline assessments being conducted at the time of recruitment, follow-up assessments were conducted in two additional waves when the youth were approximately 20 and 24 years old. Specifically, the Interpersonal Competence Scale (ICS), consisting of a variety of relevant domains, was completed both by the youth and their teachers in order to assess social behaviour and academic competence. Three specific factors from the ICS were used within the study’s analyses — aggression, popularity, and academic competence. As well, information regarding the youths’ socioeconomic and demographic status, physical maturation, social networks (e.g., peer relations), extracurricular activity involvement (e.g., school sports teams, social and academic clubs), school attendance, and criminal offending was collected.

The main findings of the study are twofold. First, analyses indicated that the youth in the highest risk profile group were most likely to exhibit long-term anti-social behaviours. Specifically, while rates of school dropout and arrest were concentrated in the moderately high and highest-risk groups, the majority of individuals in the highest-risk group experienced both of these negative outcomes. In contrast, most of the individuals in the low- and moderately-low-risk groups experienced neither of these outcomes. Second, it was found that while involvement in school extracurricular activities — defined as one or more years of involvement in grades six to ten — was linked to reduced rates of early school dropout and criminal arrest among the high-risk youth, it was determined that this decline was in fact dependent upon whether the individuals’ social networks were also involved in such activities. Using the same definition of participation, individuals’ social networks were defined as “involved” if 50 per cent or more of the members participated in extracurricular school activities. Specifically, high-risk youth were most likely to experience positive outcomes when they and their social networks were involved in extracurricular school activities.

Together, these studies provide supportive evidence that involvement in high-structured recreational activities can significantly reduce the likelihood of youth engaging in anti-social and delinquent behaviours. Moreover, it appears that simply offering youth places to spend leisure time, without providing structure, may in fact increase the likelihood of negative behaviours occurring. The results suggest that this may be partially due to increased time spent with deviant peers, as it seems that youth exhibiting multiple problem profiles are those most likely to access such facilities. In a significant proportion of cases, these negative effects appear to lead to persistent offending (Mahoney, Stattin and Magnusson, 2001), and to the greatest degree among youth with multiple problem profiles (Mahoney, 2000). Because adolescence is a developmental period in which peer influence is particularly acute, the most effective approaches involve a focus on increasing participation in high-structure recreational activities that focus on facilitating cognitive and behavioural changes among at-risk youth and identified peer social networks.

Parent Participation

In recent years, parenting styles and parental involvement have received a great degree of focus in terms of the effects that they could have on the likelihood of youth engaging in anti-social behaviour and future criminality. Results from a number of studies indicate that families typified by positive and open communication styles are less likely to produce youth exhibiting conduct and behavioural problems and engaging in delinquent behaviour (Clark and Shields, 1997; Davalos, 2001; Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990; Oman, Vesely and Aspy, 2005; Zavela, Battistitch, Gosselink, and Dean, 2004).

A recently conducted study tested for a relationship between a lack of parental participation in recreational community activities and increased levels of criminal activity from adolescence to adulthood (Mahoney and Magnusson, 2001). Participants included in the study consisted of 548 male youth and their parents involved in the previously described Swedish longitudinal investigation, focused on individual development and adaptation in Orebro, Sweden. This particular study included children recruited while in grade three, with over 90 per cent of them being ten years of age when first assessed.

To measure parent participation in community activities, youth and their parents were surveyed regarding their involvement in organized community activities and organizations. When youth were ten and 13 years of age, their parents were asked to indicate whether they themselves were currently involved in sports/athletic, political, non-profit, church, work or trade union, or other forms of organized community recreational youth activities. For the purposes of the study parents were classified as being “involved” in community activities when mothers and/or fathers indicated involvement in one or more activity at both assessment times. Conversely, mothers and/or fathers who indicated being involved at only one or at neither time of assessment were classified as “not involved.” Measures of youths’ behavioural adjustment and academic achievement were also included, with behavioural adjustment being assessed through teacher ratings when the youth were 13 years old and academic achievement being assessed using a nationally standardized achievement test for mathematics and language skill levels. As well, socio-economic status was assessed through parental reports of education level when the youth were 13 years of age. Finally, criminality was measured using official records regarding any criminal offences for which the youth were arrested during their lifetime, with two arrest periods being considered: 1) juvenile arrests (12 to 17 years old), and 2) adult arrests (18 to 30 years old).

Initial analyses identified five distinct configurations of boys at 13 years of age, based on scores on the three indicators of aggression, hyperactivity and achievement. First there was a high competence configuration (C1) consisting of boys with positive scores on all three indicators (14 per cent). Next there was an average competence configuration (C2) consisting of boys exhibiting low aggression and hyperactivity as well as near-average achievement levels (17 per cent). Third, there was an aggressive achiever configuration (C3), consisting of boys with above-average levels of aggression and high achievement. Next there was a low achievement configuration (C4), consisting of boys with poor academic achievement. Finally, a multiple problem profile configuration was identified (C5), consisting of boys with severely negative scores on all three indicators. Ultimately, 45 (eight per cent) of the sample youth were identified as persistent offenders, with proportions by configuration ranging from one per cent in the high competence group to 23 per cent in the multiple problems group.

The authors report that 52 per cent of the youth had at least one parent participating in community activities on a regular basis during late childhood, and that these parents were significantly more likely to come from higher socio-economic backgrounds as measured by education level. The authors also tested for differences in parental involvement between the youth configurations. Results indicated that, regardless of configuration, fathers were found to be more involved in community activities in comparison with mothers. Parental involvement for either parent was lowest among configurations in which youth exhibited low achieving and multiple problem profiles. Finally, analyses were conducted to test for possible effects that parental involvement in community activities might have on rates of youth offending. Results indicated that youth who had fathers actively engaged in community activities were significantly less likely to engage in persistent offending, and that this was most evident for youth with low school achievement and multiple problem profiles, and that this held true after controlling for socio-economic status. As a note, mothers’ involvement in organized recreational activities was not found to be statistically related to the reduced likelihood of persistent offending.

Poor quality of communication within families has been linked to a number of negative outcomes regarding adolescent behaviours (Brosnan and Carr, 2000; Oman, Vesely and Aspy, 2005; Stith, 1996). A recently conducted study examined the influence that varying levels of challenging outdoor recreational activities aimed at involving both youth and their parents might have on improving parent-adolescent communication (Huff, Widmer, McCoy and Hill, 2003). In total the study involved 32 predominantly Caucasian families from Arizona, with 23 of the families completing different levels of challenging recreational activities. As well, a control comparison group made up of nine families was included in the study’s design. The average age of the youth contributing data to the study was slightly over 15 years of age and the average age of the parents was 46 years of age. Family size varied slightly between groups, with an average size of 4.7 members per family. Each family consisted of at least one parent and included at least one adolescent deemed to at risk for engaging in anti-social behaviour and criminal offending. The authors report that identified risks included opposition and defiance, substance abuse, low school achievement, negative family and peer relations, and depression.

The three types of challenging outdoors recreational activities that families participated in were categorized as the “survival trek,” “handcart trek” and “family base camp” activities. The authors relate that the programs were designed to include a number of similarities, with each program involving families learning a variety of skills, including Native American craft-making, leather-crafting, wood-carving, cooking, and outdoor survival skills. As well, each program lasted three nights and four days and one staff member was assigned to each family in each program. However, the three programs differed considerably in terms of the level of challenge families experienced.

The survival trek offered the highest level of challenge with families (n = 7) spending four days hiking and camping with minimal food and supplies, encountering difficult terrain, and utilizing their surroundings for obtaining water and additional food. The handcart trek program offered families an intermediate level of challenge and involved families (n = 8) using handcarts to transport food and camping gear over the course of the four-day period. Unlike the survival trek, families were provided with all ingredients for their meals, including fresh fruit, bagels, cookies and meat. As well, fresh water and portable outhouses were readily available to the families. Finally, the family base camp involved the lowest level of challenge, with families (n = 8) staying in cabins located on a ranch and participating in activities such as canoeing, orienteering, astronomy, and various games. Ranch staff prepared all meals and participants had access to outhouses, hot showers, and fresh water.

The primary quantitative measurement tool used within the study was the revised Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale (PARCS) used to assess the quality of communication within each family. Questions ranged from broad ones regarding family communication to ones focused upon specific issues such as trust, affection, support and conflict resolution. The PARCS was administered separately to the youth and their parents at pre- and post-intervention times, with the control group also contributing data on two separate occasions. Analyses conducted involved combining data collected from the youth and their parents in order to create a single model of family communication. As well, qualitative data was collected in order to aid in identifying specific themes/program components that may be beneficial to achieving specific program goals.

The results of the study indicated that family members from all three challenging outdoor recreation groups experienced statistically significant improvement regarding open communication, while the control group experienced no discernable change. Specifically, families who participated in the survival trek, the most challenging program, experienced the greatest improvement, with the families in the other two programs showing less marked gains. However, the authors did report that the base camp families’ scores were not significantly lower than the two more challenging group scores. Additionally, qualitative analyses identified four themes as being important components of the outdoors recreational program. The first theme, “new environment,” indicated that the program was able to offer an environment that was qualitatively different from the one the families experienced at home, and that this was helpful in facilitating family members in working together and spending positive time with one another while being supported by program staff. The second theme, “improvement in communication,” highlighted the result that the families experienced increased communication, trust and affection while experiencing reduced conflict. The third theme, “new perceptions of family members,” was evident from accounts from both youth and parents stating that they were able to see each other in different ways and better able to empathize and see things from one another’s perspective. Finally, “increased family cohesion” was identified as a theme through participants reporting that their families felt closer and more unified.

Together, the results of these studies indicate that youth are less likely to engage in juvenile and persistent offending when one or more of their parents is actively involved in structured community activities. Moreover, it appears that the most positive effects may be achieved, first, when fathers participate in such activities, and second, among youth exhibiting multiple problem profiles, regardless of socio-economic status. As well, it appears that having parents and their children actively participate in challenging activities together can significantly increase the quality of communication in families, and thus decrease the likelihood that youth will engage in future delinquent and criminal behaviours. Of particular note is the finding that it is the degree to which families perceive the recreational activities to be challenging that is most important. As such, programs could perhaps be designed, implemented and framed in such ways as to increase families’ perceptions of difficulty while keeping costs relatively low.

Cultural Awareness

Canada is recognized as being one of the world’s most multicultural countries, with visible minorities making up over 16 per cent (n = 5,068,090) of the country’s total population (Statistics Canada, 2007). Moreover, Ontario is the most culturally diverse of all the provinces, with close to 29 per cent (n = 2, 745,205) of its total population consisting of a visible minorities, including individuals from South Asian (28.9 per cent), Chinese (21 per cent), Black (17.3 per cent), Filipino (7.4 per cent), Latin American (5.4 per cent), and Southeast Asian (four per cent) descent (Statistics Canada, 2007). Additionally, Ontario is home to a substantial Aboriginal identity population that makes up over two per cent of the province’s total population (Statistics Canada 2007). Regarding offending rates and incarceration rates, both among adults and youth, there is a great overrepresentation of visible minorities, and specifically of Aboriginal and Black males (Doob and Cesaroni, 2004).

Findings from research regarding programs and interventions directed towards visible minorities suggests that perhaps the greatest positive effects can be achieved when they are tailored to recognizing and promoting cultural awareness and distinctiveness (Emshoff, Avery, Raduka and Anderson, 1996; Okwumabua, Wong, Duryea, Okwumabua and Howell, 1999; Passmore and Davina, 2003; Soriano, Rivera, Williams, Daley and Reznick, 2004; Taylor and Doherty, 2005).

A recently published review paper identified three cultural concepts, acculturation, ethnic identity, and bicultural self-efficacy, and the nature of their relationship with known risk and protective factors associated with youth violence (Soriano, Rivera, Williams, Daley and Reznick, 2004). For the purposes of the review the authors incorporated operational definitions of each concept. First, acculturation is defined as “the process whereby the attitudes and/or behaviours of a person from one culture are modified as a result of contact with a different culture” (171), with increased levels considered as being a risk factor for involvement in youth violence. Next, ethnic identity is defined as “a commitment and sense of belonging to the group, positive evaluation of the group, interest and knowledge about the group, and involvement in social activities of the group” (171). Finally, bicultural self-efficacy is defined as the “the extent to which ethnic minorities are able to act with confidence and acceptance of their own cultural background while holding some level of appreciation of the dominant culture within major life domains” (e.g., family, school, community) (172). Higher levels of both ethnic identity and bicultural self-efficacy are considered to be protective factors against involvement in youth violence.

The review identified a number of unique relationships regarding the three cultural concepts and their relationship to known risk and protective factors linked to youth violence.21 First, acculturation was identified as being positively associated both with substance use (Balcazar, Peterson and Cobas, 1996; Caetano, 1987; Figueroa-Moseley, 1998; Marin, Sabogal, Marin and Otero-Sabogal, 1987; Markides, Krause and Mendes, 1988; Stewart, 1999) and delinquency (Buriel, Calzada and Vasquez, 1982; Rodriguez, 1995; Wong, 1999). In contrast, higher levels of ethnic identity were found to act as protective factors against substance use (Newcomb, 1995; Townsend, 2000), engaging in violence (Terrell and Taylor, 1980), and general levels of aggression and delinquent behaviour (Buriel, Calzada and Vasquez, 1982; Jagers and Mock, 1993). As well, it was found that individuals exhibiting higher levels of ethnic identity were better in dealing with interpersonal conflict (Ting-Tommey et al., 2000). Finally, bicultural self-efficacy is posited as integral in identity development and the ability of an individual to integrate into a society due to a belief in one’s own abilities to live a satisfying life by developing effective interpersonal and communication skills and a positive role in society without compromising one’s sense of cultural identity (Bandura, 1997).

An earlier study employed experimental methods while investigating the possible effects that structured recreational activities with a focus upon increasing cultural awareness might have on self-esteem and, subsequently, rates of violence among African-American youth (Okwumabua, Wong, Duryea, Okwumabua and Howell, 1999). The sample of youth included in the study comprised 122 high-risk African-American male students coming from low SES backgrounds who were enrolled in grades three through six in public schools located in West Tennessee. The youth ranged in age from eight to 14 years, with an average age of slightly over ten years. Criteria for inclusion in the study included poor school attendance and academic performance, chronic disciplinary problems, and poor social skills (e.g., aggressive, not getting along with others). The authors report that each of these criteria was cross-validated through official school records and teacher ratings.

Measures used within the study included the Stephen-Rosenfield Racial Attitude Scale (SRAS), used to assess the youths’ attitudes towards African-Americans as well as their individual levels of self-esteem. As well, the Banks Attitude Scale (BAS) was used to measure levels of self-concept (e.g., “I like the colour of my skin”), attitudes towards school, and attitudes towards neighbourhood (e.g., “I wish I lived in another neighbourhood”). Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Decision-Making Instrument was used to measure youths’ pre-intervention baseline decision-making skills. All measures were administered in two sessions, once before and once after participating in the recreational activities intervention.

The recreational intervention itself consisted of three main components aimed at increasing the youths self-esteem: 1) decision-making skills training; 2) conflict resolution training; and 3) cultural awareness. The decision-making skills training involved formal instruction, question-answer group discussions, and role-playing activities. The conflict resolution skills component focused on both internal and external factors, including valuing oneself, anger management, conflict recognition, and mediation, with a heavy focus on role-playing and group discussions. The cultural awareness component primarily consisted of field trips aimed at enhancing the youths’ awareness of, and appreciation for, African and African-American history and culture. Examples of field trips included visits to the National Civil Rights Museum and to the Black Diamonds exhibit where they interacted with, and had questions answered by, former members of the Black Diamonds Negro Baseball League of the early 1900s. Additionally, youth were familiarized with African and African-American history and with American Blues music, with a particular emphasis on the role that African-Americans played in its development and history. In total, the recreational activity intervention was administered through weekly sessions over a period of 48 weeks, with each session lasting 50 minutes. In terms of primary focus, 12 sessions were directed towards decision-making skills, 16 were directed towards conflict resolution, three focused on self-concept development, and four involved field trips, with the remainder of the sessions being mixed-focus in nature.

The main finding garnered from this study was that the average scores regarding youths’ concept of their physical characteristics (e.g., skin colour) and ethnic identity improved between the pre- and post-intervention measurements. However, these improvements were statistically significant only for youths aged ten to 11 years (physical characteristics, p = .002; ethnic identity, p = .007), with the eight to nine years and 12 to 14 years age groups showing positive but non-significant improvements. Additionally, there was no effect discerned regarding the youths’ attitudes towards their neighbourhood and school. The authors suggest that the differences in improvements between age groups may indicate the need to create culturally aware recreational activities focused upon developmental appropriateness. Limitations to the study include a relatively small sample size, non-random selection, and a lack of having a control (no intervention) group. As well, at this time there is no way of knowing the effects that this specific intervention may have on rates of future juvenile and adult offending.

It appears then that programs that focus on decreasing acculturation as well as increasing ethnic identity and bicultural efficacy can more effectively aid in producing positive outcomes among at-risk visible minority youth. Specifically, positive outcomes regarding a number of undesirable behaviours, including substance use, delinquency, general aggression, and violence, as well as increasing interpersonal conflict resolution skills, are more likely to be achieved by employing programs designed to increase cultural awareness and youths’ effectiveness in negotiating between origin and dominant cultures. Unfortunately, most of research on how culturally relevant recreational activates has been conducted in the United States. Canadian research is needed to determine whether these results can be generalized to Canadian youth. Thus, within the Canadian context, future research should focus on testing for the effectiveness of programs directed towards at-risk youth belonging to distinct groups, with a particular focus upon Aboriginal and Black youth. As always, any programs designed and implemented should also account for individual differences and be developmentally appropriate.

Arts Based Programs

A number of studies assessing arts-based programs directed towards youth have reported positive benefits, including increased social skills, student creativity, and motivation to learn, as well as decreased aggression, violence, victimization, hyperactivity, and school dropout rates (Catteral, 1998; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Foshee et al., 1998; Foshee et al., 2004; Kisiel, Blaustein, Spinazzola, Schmidt, Zucker and van der Kolk, 2006; Luftig, 1995).

A three-year study was recently conducted on the effects of the Canadian-based Learning Through the ArtsTM (LTTA) program for youth participating in schools in six Canadian sites (Upitis and Smithrim, 2003). Schools included in the study were located in the following six sites: Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Windsor, Cape Breton and Western Newfoundland. Youth who participated were between grades one and six, although particular emphasis was placed on youth who were in grade four at the time of the study’s onset and at the end of grade six when it concluded. The total sample consisted of 6,675 students. At each site, control schools were selected and the authors report that almost half of them had a “schoolwide initiative in place that was not related to the arts...[but rather focused on] the integration of technology across the curriculum” (9). Other control schools were matched according to size, location (e.g., urban versus rural), and socio-economic status. In total, the control sample consisted of 2,602 students, with 15 special initiative (technology-based curriculum) and 20 regular schools involved in the study.

The LTTA program is posited as a rigorous, structured curriculum program that impacts the classroom on a daily basis with a comprehensive format incorporating ongoing professional development of teachers, professional development of artists, writing of lesson plans, curriculum development, in-class delivery and continuous assessment. Additionally, LTTA offers lesson plans for all academic subjects. Specific examples of some lesson plans included in the LTTA curriculum include history through role-playing, multiplication through songwriting, science lessons through dance, language arts lessons through global percussion, and social studies lessons through story-telling.

A number of measures were included within the research design in order to test for possible effects regarding the children, parents, teachers, principals, site coordinators and artists involved in the program’s implementation. All measurements were conducted at baseline and follow-up time periods during the course of the three-year study.

Students were administered different versions the Canadian Achievement Test, depending upon what grade they were in, to assess mathematical, reading and general language skills. As well, students wrote letters of appreciation according to a standardized prompt, which were used as writing samples and scored using criterion-references. Student attitudes towards school, learning, and the arts in general were also measured. Parents responded to questionnaires regarding their own leisure activities and their children’s recreational activities, as well as their own attitudes towards arts in schools and children’s experiences with the LTTA program.

Teachers, principals, and superintendents were asked how they felt about the program as well as about general teaching and classroom practices. Additionally, site coordinators were interviewed in order to glean a clearer understanding regarding hard-to-educate students and the success of the artists in dealing with teachers and developing the curriculum. Finally, artists involved in the LTTA program were surveyed to test for changes in beliefs and practices attributable to their involvement in the LTTA program.

The results of the study were numerous and indicated positive effects regarding the Learning Through the ArtsTM program. First, it was found that there were no significant differences on mathematical tests between baseline and follow-up measurement time. The authors maintain that this is evidence that participation in arts-based school programs does not have to come at the expense of core mathematics skills attainment. As well, it was found that grade six LTTA students scored significantly higher on mathematical tests of computation and estimation in comparison with students in control schools. Additionally, it was found that benefits of the LTTA program were consistent regardless of socio-economic status.

In terms of engagement in learning, qualitative information gathered from students, teachers, parents, artists, and administrators all seemed to indicate that the LTTA program was an effective motivator for children, and emotional, physical, cognitive, and social benefits seemed to be experienced by students involved in the program. Participating in certain types of activities outside the school, such as music lessons, appeared to have a positive impact on student achievement in math and language, and students involved in such activities were more likely to belong to clubs and organized sports teams and less likely to engage in unstructured activities such as playing video games.

Ninety percent of all parents, including those in the control group, indicated that arts motivated their children to learn, with less than one per cent of them questioning the utility of incorporating the arts into school curriculums. As well, LTTA teachers and principals reported a variety of changes in classroom practices and beliefs that indicated increased commitment to teaching through the arts. However, principals also indicated some specific issues such as difficulties in aligning artists’ and teachers’ schedules, differential teaching abilities on the part of the artists, extra time needed from teachers, and time taken away from other curriculum areas. As well, qualitative information collected from superintendents suggested that they viewed arts as critical in education, and perceived the LTTA program as being a highly effective way of dealing with a lack of funding and variance regarding the level of expertise in elementary arts education.

Another study conducted very recently evaluated the impact that a theater-based youth violence prevention program directed towards at-risk inner-city elementary children might have on a variety of behavioural and psychological domains (Kisiel, Blaustein, Spinazzola, Schmidt, Zucker and van der Kolk, 2006). The program, entitled Urban Improv, is a school-based youth violence prevention program that has been operating in Boston public schools since 1992. The authors posit that theatre-based programs have specific advantages over other types of violence prevention programs in that they provide participants with engaging fora in the form of skits and improvisational acting scenes as well as mechanisms (e.g., role-play, perspective taking) that allow for participants to “act out, break down, and analyze the stages of a violent event in an experientially vivid manner within a safe and contained setting” (22).

Participants included in the study were 140 grade four children drawn from five inner-city schools within one school district in Boston, Massachusetts. Of the total sample, 77 children received the theatre-based intervention, while 63 children acted as a control group. Children ranged in age from age from eight to 11 years, with an average age of slightly less than ten years (M = 9.83). There were no significant differences among the total sample or between groups regarding gender, with approximately half of the sample consisting of males and half consisting of females. The sample primarily consisted of Black (44.5 per cent) and Hispanic (27.7 per cent) children, with Biracial (13.1 per cent), Asian (5.8 per cent), Other (5.8 per cent), Caucasian (2.2 per cent), and Native American (0.7 per cent) children making up the remainder of the sample. The authors report that study’s sample was drawn from the particular schools chosen due to at-risk demographic factors regarding their urban locations in relatively high-crime areas.

The Urban Improv program is described as an interactive theatre and educational program designed to engage racially and ethnically diverse inner-city children and youth by offering action-oriented strategies aimed at promoting violence prevention. The authors contend that one of the strengths of the program is its focus on incorporating a variety of components recognized as being efficacious practices in promoting youth violence prevention, including group format, behavioural rehearsal, adult involvement, mentoring, self-regulation skill-building and the use of multiple strategies and techniques. As well, it is noted that the program is easily modified in order to allow for it to be developmentally appropriate for any age group. The present study’s program, tailored for elementary school children, addressed the themes of friendship, self-esteem, peer pressure, violence/conflict resolution, family, imagination and sharing. Additionally, it is posited that the interactive nature of the program allows for participants to proactively practice in a safe environment different options for dealing with challenging and complex social situations that are known to often be precursors of violence. The program was administered in three nine-week installments, for a total program length of 27 weeks, with each weekly session lasting 75 minutes. Sessions always began with the children singing an original song regarding the topic of the week, followed by their acting out prepared scenes relating to the topic, with children taking turns in active and lead roles in terms of creating alternate scenes/scenarios. Sessions ended with group discussions regarding weekly topics, focusing on choices made during acting scenes and possible consequences of specific actions.

A number of measures regarding behavioural and psychological domains are included within the study, with each being administered on two separate occasions, pre- and post-intervention. First, the Social Skills Rating System-Elementary Level (SSRS) was administered both to the children and their teachers in order to measure levels of social skills, academic competence, and problem behaviours. As well, the Youth Coping Inventory (YCI), a self-report measure of coping style, was administered to the children. Finally, the Normative Beliefs About Aggression (NBA) scale was administered to children in order to assess attitudes towards and beliefs about violence and aggression.

The main findings of the study indicated that children taking part in the theatre-based youth violence prevention groups experienced increased pro-social behaviours, prevention of new-onset aggression, and decreased hyperactivity and internalizing symptoms in comparison with the control group children. Specifically, it was found that teachers of the theatre group children reported significantly decreased levels of aggressive/disruptive behaviours, while children in the control were found to increase, albeit non-significantly, regarding such behaviours. As well, teachers of the theatre group children reported statistically significant increases in pro-social behaviours, while control group teachers reported a slight decrease in pro-social behaviours. Finally, regarding academic attention and engagement, it was once again found that theatre group teachers reported significantly positive results, while control group teachers reported an increase in symptoms. All effects were evident only through teacher reports, while the children’s self-reports did not capture any significant effects, positive or negative.

Another unique program aimed at adolescents, entitled Safe Dates, similarly incorporated theatre-based activities within its design in efforts to prevent and reduce adolescent dating violence. A study published in 1998 sought to assess the effects that the Safe Dates program might have on rates of dating violence perpetration and victimization among a sample of youth in North Carolina, specifically focusing on adolescents’ beliefs and norms regarding date violence, gender stereotyping, and conflict management skills (Foshee et al., 1998). The Safe Dates program consists of both school and community activities, with school activities being designed to promote primary prevention and both school and community activities promoting secondary prevention. School activities included a peer performed theatre production, a ten-session curriculum, with each session lasting 45-minutes and focusing upon a specific mediating variable (e.g., dating violence norms, gender stereotyping, victimization awareness, conflict management skills), and a poster contest. Community activities included education regarding special services for adolescents in abusive relationships (e.g., support groups, parent materials, crisis lines) and community service provider training.

Youth participating in the study were grade eight and nine students drawn from 14 predominantly rural schools located in North Carolina, resulting in a total sample size of 1,886 youth. The authors rationalize using middle-school-aged youth in the study in that youth in this age range are less likely than older peers to be involved in dating violence, thus allowing for the testing of the preventative efficacy of the Safe Dates program. It is reported that students were stratified by grade and matched on school size, with one member of each pair then being randomly assigned to either an experimental (n = 943) or control group (n = 943). Experimental group youth were exposed to both school and community activities, while control group youth were exposed only to the community activities.

Measures included within the study consisted of baseline and follow-up self-report questionnaires regarding perpetration and victimization variables, including psychological abuse victimization, non-sexual violence victimization, and sexual violence victimization. As well, participants were asked to indicate dating habits (e.g., how often they date; if they are currently in a dating relationship) and possible violence within a current relationship. Additionally, the authors sought to account for the influence of four mediating variables regarding dating violence norms: 1) acceptance of prescribed norms (norms accepting dating violence under certain circumstances); 2) acceptance of proscribed norms (norms considering dating violence as unacceptable under any circumstances; 3) perceived positive consequences of dating violence; and 4) perceived negative consequences of dating violence. As well, mediating variables regarding gender stereotyping, conflict management and communication skills, and responses to anger were accounted for. The authors report that levels on all variables were not significantly different between the two groups at baseline. Post-treatment assessments were conducted one month after the Safe Dates program concluded.

A number of results were garnered from analyses conducted by the study’s authors. First, it was found that among the full sample there was less psychological abuse (25 per cent), sexual violence (60 per cent), and violence perpetrated against a current dating partner (60 per cent) among adolescents in the experimental group in comparison with control group adolescents. Additionally, regarding adolescents reporting no dating violence at baseline, which the authors propose as being a primary prevention sub-sample, it was found that there were significantly fewer self-reports of psychological abuse perpetration among experimental group adolescents. Similarly, among adolescents reporting dating violence at baseline, which the authors propose as being a secondary prevention sub-sample, it was found that the experimental group adolescents reported significantly less psychological abuse and sexual violence perpetration. However, no discernable differences were evident between the experimental and control groups regarding differences in victimization of psychological abuse, non-sexual violence, sexual violence, or violence in a current relationship. Analyses examining the effect of the previously described mediating variables found that most of the effects were attributable to changes in dating violence norms, gender stereotyping and awareness of services.

A study conducted later, by most of the same authors, sought to test for possible long-term effects of the Safe Dates program as well as of a “booster” component aimed at re-familiarizing adolescents with the concepts and skills that they were exposed to during their participation in the program (Foshee et al., 2004). As a result, the follow-up study had a three-group design consisting of treatment only, treatment plus booster and a control group. Once again, adolescents completed self-report questionnaires aimed at identifying the same factors and variables previously described, this time at two years (wave four) and four years (wave six) after the completion of the Safe Dates program. Only wave six adolescents were exposed to the booster condition. The booster, administered three years after the completion of the Safe Date program, consisted of an 11-page newsletter mailed to adolescents’ homes, which contained information and worksheets directly relevant to the content of the Safe Dates program, as well as a telephone conversation with a health educator approximately four weeks after the mailing of the newsletter. Because only adolescents providing baseline information as well as information at two years and four years after the completion of the Safe Dates program were included in the study, the total sample consisted of 460 adolescents, with 124 adolescents in the Safe Dates only group, 135 adolescents in the Safe Dates-plus-booster group, and 201 adolescents making up the control group. The authors report that the only statistically significant difference between the study sample and the original Safe Dates study sample was gender, with significantly more females in the current study sample (58.5 per cent) as compared with the original sample (51.2 per cent).

Analyses were conducted in such a way as to assess the effects of the Safe Dates program and the booster component independently. Regarding the Safe Dates program effects, it was found that adolescents involved in the program exhibited significantly less physical, serious physical, and sexual dating violence perpetration and victimization at the four-year follow-up as compared with those in the control group. However, no statistically significant differences were evident by the inclusion of the booster component. Additionally, the authors found no gender or race differences regarding the effectiveness of the program. An obvious limitation of these two evaluations of the Safe Dates program, however, is that they involve youth located primarily in rural areas, and so it is difficult to generalize from the results. It is possible that there is something about living in smaller rural communities (i.e., greater likelihood of being caught, greater stigma associated with dating offending/victimization) that might contribute to the positive outcomes associated with such a program. As such, future research should be conducted with various types of youth located in urban areas (e.g., different risk levels, different cultural groups, lower and higher SES) to see if the Safe Dates program still appears to be an effective way of preventing dating violence and victimization among such youth.

Together, the results of these various studies focusing on assessing arts-based school and recreational programs offer a number of insights regarding the effectiveness of such approaches, as well as directions for future research. First, it appears that arts-based school curriculums can offer some immediate and perhaps even long-term benefits to involved children without sacrificing competency levels in more traditional core subjects such as mathematics, and that this appears to hold true regardless of socio-economic background (Upitis and Smithrim, 2003). All those involved in the LTTA study indicated that they believed the program to be an effective motivating tool for learning and that children involved in the program seemed to experience a variety of positive benefits (emotional, cognitive, social, and physical). However, it is unclear how effective a program such as Learning Through the ArtsTM might be with older and/or multiple problem profile youth. Arts-based school programs dealing with youth from various cultural backgrounds may need to incorporate a heavier focus upon specific cultural awareness techniques such as learning how to play traditional instruments or learning about specific historical events linked to their cultures. Some barriers to program effectiveness were identified, such as scheduling issues, variance in artists’ teaching abilities and extra time needed from teachers. It may be helpful for future research to assess training programs for artists involved, as well as adding techniques aimed at promoting a greater degree of organization/cooperation between teachers and artists.

Results of the studies assessing arts-based recreational activities focused on specific behaviours/issues rather than upon academics also suggest positive benefits. Specifically, structured programs incorporating theatre components while focusing on making cognitive and behavioural changes appear to be effective in promoting pro-social behaviours and preventing general aggression, hyperactivity, and internalizing symptoms among at-risk elementary-aged school children. However, effects were only significant when considering teachers’ reports, and so future research should be conducted to glean a better understanding of how children and their parents perceive this and similar programs. As well, long-term follow-up studies should be conducted to determine if such programs have significant effects regarding long-term outcomes. Finally, theatre-based programs aimed at preventing dating violence among youth appear to be effective, but the studies presented within this report deal only with a very specific rural youth population. Future research should be conducted with various types of youth in terms of location, risk-level, age, race, and socio-economic background. Due to the finding that the booster included in the follow-up study was not found to be efficacious, it is suggested that future studies be conducted in attempts to identify effective strategies for maintaining positive effects of programs such as Safe Dates.

Secondary Benefits

Above and beyond the primary and immediate benefits that quality child care and structured recreational activities can offer are a host of secondary benefits in terms of long-term social, behavioural, and cognitive effects regarding both at-risk children and their families (Doherty, 1991; McKay, Reid, Tremblay and Pelletier, 1996). One study conducted in Ontario tested for the possibility of reasonably long-term effects of two-year exposure to subsidized quality child care and recreational activities (Brown et al., 1999). Specifically, a variety of behavioural, social, and cognitive outcomes for at-risk children, as well as a number of secondary effects regarding parents and their use of social service resources, were assessed. Parents deemed eligible to receive social assistance were approached to participate in the study, resulting in an initial baseline sample of 765 families with 1,300 children, who were then randomly assigned to either a proactive recreation/childcare group (treatment condition) or a self-directed recreation/childcare group (control condition). Due to attrition, the final sample at the two-year follow-up time period consisted of 173 families with 337 children in the proactive/treatment group and 188 families with 304 children in the self-directed/control group. The age of the children ranged from newborn to 24 years.

Families in the proactive/treatment group were provided with age-appropriate child after-school recreation opportunities and subsidized recreation/quality childcare intervention through a collaborative effort between the local YMCA and a variety of other youth-serving organizations. The authors report that children up to 13 years of age joined existing YMCA-based programs that were tailored for their age group, with school-based programs being offered for the high-school-aged youth and re-employment initiatives for youth between 18 and 24 years of age. In contrast, children in families assigned to the self-directed/control condition were offered no additional provider-initiated or financed recreation/childcare service. Instead, parents and children in this group were free to enroll in recreation activities of their own choosing and received no subsidy.

Measurement tools assessing possible primary effects regarding children’s involvement in the proactive/treatment group involved a variety of age-appropriate psychiatric and child competence scales administered at baseline and follow-up time periods. Specifically, the Survey Diagnostic Instrument of the Ontario Child Health Study was administered to assess the possible presence of childhood psychiatric disorders (e.g., conduct disorder, hyperactivity, neuroses) in children aged four years and older. Parents of children under four years, depending upon their specific age, reported on their child’s behaviour through either the Minnesota Child Development Inventory (MCDI) or the Early Child Development Inventory (ECDI), which are used to assess gross and fine motor skills, language, comprehension, and personal-social skills, as well as the possibility of specific developmental problems.

Secondary effects were focused on testing for differences in parent mood, social adjustment, and use of health and social services from baseline to follow-up. Specifically, the University of Michigan Composite International Diagnostic Interview (UM-CIDI) was used to assess parents’ emotional well-being in terms of depressive episode, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and alcohol and substance abuse. As well, the Social Adjustment Scale (SAS) was utilized for measuring parental adjustment and quality of life variables, focusing on specific areas within the broader domains of social and vocation function. Parent employment activities were assessed in terms of months of job training and months to financial independence (partial or full).22 For the purposes of this study, economic savings were defined as expenditures avoided due to decreased use of social and health services in the past year, assessed using the Health and Social Service Utilization Inventory (HSSUI).

The general results of the study found that in comparison with children in the self-directed/control group, the proactive/treatment group children were engaged in more activities and, specifically, in more high-quality structured activities (e.g., social clubs, sports teams), and that involvement in such activities was associated with higher levels of social and overall competence. Moreover, benefits regarding competency were found to be most pronounced among children identified with an initial behavioural disorder at baseline. As well, children in the proactive/treatment group were lower users of physician, social work, and childcare services. Parents of the children in the proactive/treatment group reported fewer nervous system, sleep, and anxiety disorders, and required less childcare, counselling, and food bank services. As well, these parents were more likely to indicate greater economic social adjustment as well as receiving more child support from former spouses/partners. Regarding overall economic savings, the authors report that, after considering the cost of the recreation services provided, the total costs of services were not significantly different between the two groups.

Another more recently conducted Canadian study also sought to test for secondary benefits that various provider-initiated interventions in health and social services might have on sole-support parents (almost exclusively mothers) of at-risk children (Browne, Byrne, Roberts, Gafni and Whittaker, 2001). The authors note that research indicates that single-parent mothers receiving social assistance are especially vulnerable to lower health status, greater likelihood of having a psychiatric disorder, higher risk of mental health co-morbidity, and that they use more mental health services. As well, the authors note that children in such households are more likely to experience maladjustment during childhood, have mental health problems, exhibit anti-social behaviour and engage in future criminality, have co-morbid emotional and behavioural problems, and experience abuse from their mothers.

A total sample of 765 parents and 1,300 children located in Ontario and deemed as eligible for social assistance were included in the study and randomly assigned to receive one of five treatment strategies: 1) basic social assistance and self-directed resources; 2) basic social assistance plus health promotion; 3) basic social assistance plus employment retraining; 4) basic social assistance plus recreation/childcare/skills development programs; and 5) basic social assistance plus all extra resources available to groups 2, 3, and 4. The health promotion intervention consisted of an outreach public health nurse case manager visiting families’ homes over a one-year period to assess need for resources and aid in instilling positive feelings and empowerment. The employment re-training intervention consisted of employment counsellors providing from one to six sessions during the initial six-month period, involving assessments of needs, employment preparation, and resource inventory brokerage, followed by six-month follow-up visits for up to two years. The recreation intervention involved subsidized, age-appropriate, after-school recreation/childcare/skills development provided through the previously described collaborative effort between the local YMCA and 21 other youth serving organizations. Once again, measurement tools were administered at both baseline and follow-up times in order to test for possible effects attributable to the interventions. Individual-level assessment tools included are identical to those described in the previous study. Once again the Health and Social Service Utilization Inventory (HSSUI) was incorporated in order to assess families’ use of all types of health and social services, with economic savings being defined as expenditures averted due to parental exits from social assistance over a one-year period or decreased use of health and social services.

The results of the study are categorized in terms of individual-level effects and economic savings. Regarding individual-level effects, it was found that all groups exhibited decreases in parental mood disorders and child behaviour disorders, as well as increases in adult social adjustment, with no significant differences between any of the groups. Additionally, it was found that children in the two groups in which recreation programs were provided experienced increases in competence compared with those children not offered recreation programs, and that this effect was found to be strongest among children identified as having a behaviour disorder. Regarding social independence, findings indicated that parents who received comprehensive care were significantly more likely to cease using social assistance at some point during the previous 12 months. Finally, regarding savings/expenses, it was found that, except for the employment retraining group, all groups experienced a minimum 50 per cent reduction in per-parent expenditures. The authors also note that by the two-year follow-up period, the cost of health and social services used by the self-directed control group was equivalent to the cost of providing these services proactively to the group with the most comprehensive care package profile.

Together, these studies indicate that offering comprehensive provider-initiated childcare and recreation services to at-risk families can help not only to produce a number of immediate and primary benefits regarding at-risk children, but also an array of secondary benefits regarding parental outcomes in a number of domains. Such benefits can conceivably lead to significant short- and long-term effects regarding financial gains and societal benefits. As well, the results of these studies suggest that it is no more expensive to provide such comprehensive services. In fact, due to demonstrated reductions in parental mood disorder and child behaviour disorders, as well as increases in parents’ social competence and child competence levels, especially for those exhibiting behavioural issues, a proactive comprehensive care approach is likely to be more cost-effective in the long run.


Ultimately, it appears that youth involvement in recreation activities can lead to a number of positive primary and secondary outcomes, and that the greatest effects appear to occur among youth with multiple risk profiles. However, there is evidence to suggest that the positive outcomes associated with such programs are highly dependent upon the need for structure, and that low-structured youth recreation may in fact produce negative effects. As well, recreation programs that are more holistic in nature, focusing on individual, family, school, peer, community, and societal factors are those found to be the most effective. Moreover, it appears that focusing on parent and peer involvement in youth recreation can play an important role in mediating the positive effects of specific programs. Family-based programs focused on instilling perceptions of activities being challenging may also prove to be promising approaches. As well, it is important to recognize the role that culture can play when designing and implementing programs aimed at youth from different cultural backgrounds and/or from visible minority groups. Arts-based recreation appears to be a promising alternative for a number of youth, but a great deal of research still needs to be conducted in order to better determine what aspects of such programs work best in specific settings and how best to maintain any positive benefits associated with them. As well, there are a number of secondary benefits in terms of parental outcomes that provider-initiated comprehensive childcare and recreation appears to be associated with, including increased emotional and social competence. The effects of such secondary outcomes may be best discerned through long-term follow-up studies regarding future outcomes of at-risk children within such families. Finally, it is vital that continual assessments are conducted by objective researchers and that programs are methodologically designed in such a manner as to allow for sound experimental research. Without valid and reliable research being conducted, there is simply no way to state with any level of confidence, what does or does not work regarding youth recreation approaches.


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20 This chapter was written with the assistance of James Dorion, MA, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto.

21 All references regarding the relationship between the three cultural concepts and their relationship to factors linked to youth violence are cited within Soriano, Rivera, Williams, Daley and Reznick (2004).

22 Parents may engage in part-time or full-time work and still be eligible to receive supplementary assistance if income is below the poverty line for their family size.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews