Q&A: Building the Evidence Base for Preventing Pregnancy Among High-Risk Youth

A young researcher.

Over the years, we’ve shared how youth workers are moving toward an “evidence-based” approach by adopting programs supported by research. Now, three Family and Youth Services Bureau grantees are partnering with researchers to see if their programs have what it takes to make the list of evidence-based interventions.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Ohio Health Research Innovation Institute are grantees of the Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies, or PREIS, Program, which seeks to prevent pregnancy among high-risk youth ages 10 to 19. Last year, each agency partnered with Mathematica Policy Research on a series of implementation studies that describe programs geared toward young moms and youth in foster care. Additionally, all three organizations are participating in a randomized controlled trial, sometimes called an RCT, to see if their respective programs—AIM 4 Teen Moms, POWER Through Choices, and Teen Options to Prevent Pregnancy—are truly making a difference in young people’s lives.

We spoke to Brian Goesling, Mathematica’s associate director of human services research, to find out what motivated this research project, how the programs were selected, and where researchers are in the process.

NCFY: Both FYSB and the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) adminster programs like PREIS to prevent teen pregnancy. How does this research project connect with their broader goals?

Goesling: Pregnancy prevention has a big-picture policy emphasis on evidence-based programming, and OAH and FYSB each invest in it in different ways. Their shared policy interest is not only in disseminating evidence-based practices, but also in adding to the list of evidence-based practices that could be innovative. In 2010, OAH and FYSB decided to coordinate the release of their [innovative strategies] grant announcements—one announcement went out for both federal programs. The federal evaluation Mathematica is working on is tied to that announcement.

NCFY: How did you select these three PREIS grantees and their respective programs for the federal study?

Goesling: It wasn’t until after all the grants were awarded that federal staff went through the process of deciding who would be in this federal evaluation. FYSB had their group, OAH had their group, and for the federal evaluation, we [at Mathematica] looked at both pools and picked programs. All the programs we chose had this in common: they were not yet considered evidence-based, and they were looking for their first rigorous test.

These three [PREIS programs] stood out because each program was novel in some way, and because of the populations they are targeting—high-risk populations in need of certain types of programs. For example, programs for teen mothers to reduce incidence of rapid repeat teen pregnancy. There are not a lot of programs of this type that have been shown to be effective.

NCFY: How have the programs been preparing for their randomized control trials?

Goesling: Something that’s unique to this study is that in addition to the federal team, each of the sites has a local evaluation team working with them, geographically located in their communities. It’s a three-way collaboration between the federal team, grantees operating the program, and local evaluators in their area. A lot of the work over the past five years was figuring out the best way all three parties could work together.

NCFY: What are the next steps?

Goesling: For each site, we are producing its own RCT, and for each RCT, we are producing two reports: an interim report with shorter-term findings and a report with final, conclusive findings. One of the interim reports, for Oklahoma (PDF, 1MB), was released already this past fall.  The interim reports for Los Angeles and Ohio should come out sometime this spring. We have all the data collected for the RCT, and we are in the process of analyzing the data and writing the reports, which should come out over the next nine to 12 months.

Lean more about the PREIS Program. You can also read our summary of the ongoing debate on balancing research and practice. 

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