Social Service Programs that Foster Multiple Positive Outcomes

Publication Date:

December 01, 2015

Social service programs are typically funded by agencies with a specific mission. Accordingly, evaluations also tend to have a narrow focus, be it drug use, crime, or teen pregnancy. However, research and practitioners’ experience indicate that varied problem behaviors often share root causes. This suggests that effective interventions may actually influence multiple outcomes, whether or not they are designed to do so.

Furthermore, developmental research has identified varied outcome domains (such as health, academic success, etc.) and finds that well-being in one domain often affects well-being in other domains. For example, health affects academic success and academic success affects substance use. So, it seems that good outcomes in one domain may lead to a good outcome in another domain.

The strongest intervention strategy, then, may be an approach that affects multiple outcomes. Such a program would not only be good for children and youth, but it would be economically efficient because, all else equal, a single program would produce multiple positive outcomes. Theoretically, even if only modest effects were produced, the existence of multiple small effects could accumulate to make a given program more cost-effective. That is, unless new components are added to achieve additional outcomes, program costs will not increase and programs that impact multiple outcomes can achieve a number of benefits “for the price of one.”1

Child Trends searched for such programs, identifying a number that have positively affected multiple outcomes according to rigorous evaluations. While they may be measured for certain primary outcomes thought to be directly affected by a program, many programs have been shown to improve other outcomes thought plausible, based on prior research and theory, as well. In this brief, we highlight examples of programs that have conducted rigorous experimental evaluations and found impacts on multiple outcomes.2