In 2016, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) developed the Character Development Learning Institute (CDLI) to enhance youth character development-focused practices among adult youth development workers throughout the YMCA (or Y) Movement. In 2017, Y-USA chose Child Trends as an evaluation partner for the CDLI and Child Trends has since supported data collection and analyses throughout the four phases of implementation.

Due to its wide reach over four years and via engagement with hundreds of YMCAs across the nation, the CDLI reached thousands of participants, prompting a positive self-assessed change in 96 percent of staff and volunteers in youth development programs.

Y-USA conceptualized adult practices to include all of the small, day-to-day interactions that staff members have with young people. The five domains of focus included Emotion Management, Empathy, Personal Development, Relationship-Building, and Responsibility. This focus on the professional development of adults working at local Ys was chosen because youth character is deeply influenced by interactions with adults. In addition to professional development, local Ys focused on the hiring and supervision practices within their associations that would allow them to enhance character development throughout each branch.

Y-USA partnered with staff and volunteers from local Ys to co-develop, implement, and monitor tailored plans to support character development. Throughout the implementation phases, the CDLI team produced resources for local Ys, including a toolkit, a guide for using data, self-reflection worksheets, program reflection worksheets, a capacity assessment tool (meant to be used at the Y association level), and more. The team also partnered with two external vendors who offered validated tools for external observation of the program and self-assessment by Y staff. To expand the understanding among Ys of how to use these tools and resources, local Ys in the first two phases were paired with a technical advisor (TA) to guide them through the CDLI framework. In later phases of the CDLI, approximately half of the Ys were assigned to a local Y that had already implemented the CDLI and could serve as a peer support. This new approach was known as the Hub-and-Hive model and was designed to promote sustainability of the model in the future.

On this page, Child Trends shares research products from our three-plus years as the research and evaluation partner for the CDLI. Products include: