A Look at ‘Communities That Care’ and Evidence-Based Programs

BlogFamiliesOct 10 2011

The United States (and the world) have faced some particularly daunting challenges as of late.  From the economy to wars to the weather and natural disasters, it’s been a tough couple of years.

But the news is not all bad.  Those of us seeking to develop, evaluate, and disseminate evidence-based programs to improve lives for children feel like this is a golden era. Evidence-based approaches have long been considered essential in the public health field.  For example, we want people to take safe and effective medications based on good evidence. And, now, those same high standards of evidenced-based approaches are being applied to social interventions for children.

To me, this is a deeply important trend.  It implies an emerging consensus among decision makers that child well-being matters and that we want to invest in intervention programs that actually work. This implies a growing recognition that children’s positive development is important, not only for children, but also for our nation’s long-term well-being.

Fortunately, the array of programs that have been rigorously evaluated is growing. At Child Trends, we have reviewed and summarized more than 530 experimentally-evaluated social interventions for children in our What Works LINKS database.  Increasingly, as we mine this database to learn from studies of programs that work, and those that do not, we are developing knowledge about effective practices as well as effective programs.

Many of us have figured out that there is no silver bullet, no single program or approach can have the kind of large and life-changing effects that funders desire.  Impacts tend to be small, and they fade over time.

So, researchers are asking:

What if we had multiple programs in a community? And what if those multiple programs were evidence-based programs?

The work done by Doctors Rico Catalano and David Hawkins and their colleagues at the Social Development Research Group over a period of more than a decade on the Communities that Care project is quite remarkable in anticipating so many of the ideas that have just recently become widespread.

I recently invited Prof. Richard Catalano to be our keynote speaker at Child Trends’ annual Kristin Anderson Moore Lecture.  Dr. Catalano shared an overview of the Communities that Care model and the findings of their rigorous evaluation.

The Communities that Care program:

  • Employs carefully selected evidence-based programs.
  • Implements multiple programs in a community.
  • Is a place-based intervention, like Promise Neighborhoods and other recent approaches.
  • Works with the community to collect data and to select programs that are appropriate for a particular community.
  • Has been carefully and rigorously evaluated and found to have positive impacts.

This is a remarkable project and a source of not just guidance but hope that we can combine what we know about approaches that work to improve the lives of children.