Definitions and Methodology


Cognitive Development & Education

Positive outcomes related to cognitive development include developing language, reasoning, problem-solving, and math and reading skills. Positive outcomes related to education include earning good grades, doing well on standardized tests, and earning academic honors. Other key positive educational outcomes include not dropping out of school or not being “held back” in a grade; graduating from high school or completing a GED; and being accepted by, attending, and graduating from college.

Social & Emotional Health and Development

Positive outcomes related to social and emotional health and development include the ability to develop friendships and connections with others; engagement in institutions, such as school, the family, and the community; confidence in social situations; high levels of self-esteem; the ability to regulate emotions; feelings that one “matters” in his or her social world; and positive communication, coping, and conflict-resolution skills.

Life Skills

Positive outcomes related to Life Skills encompass the abilities to find and keep a job and housing, establish and maintain financial health, and avoid or recover from the need to go on welfare.

Physical Health

Positive outcomes related to physical health include establishing and maintaining good health habits, such as having a nutritious and balanced diet, participating in regular physical activity, and developing age-appropriate motor skills in young children. These outcomes also include avoiding health risks by seeing doctors and dentists regularly, obtaining the necessary vaccinations and other preventive services, warding off injuries, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Behavioral Problems

Positive outcomes related to behavioral problems include stopping and/or lowering levels of criminal and delinquent activities (e.g., physical fighting, suspensions/expulsions, drunk driving, and arrests), as well as lowering levels of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use.

Teen Reproductive Health

Positive outcomes related to teen reproductive health include avoiding and/or postponing pregnancy; lowering the frequency of sexual activity, number of partners, occurrences of unsafe sex, and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); and increasing the levels of abstinence and safer sex practices.

Positive Citizenship

Positive outcomes related to positive citizenship include voting, political participation, volunteering, and general engagement in the civic life of the community.

Mental Health

Positive outcomes related to mental health include a positive self-image, high self-esteem, and decreases in or the absence of symptoms of depression and other forms of mental illness.



Note: A program may be listed under more than one of the following categories where applicable; for instance, the Quantum Opportunities Program is listed under Mentoring/tutoring, Clinic/provider-based, and Service/vocational learning.

Child Care / Early Childhood Education

Programs in this category provide child care or day care, and/or age-appropriate educational activities for children ages 0-5. Educational services may be administered by the child’s parents or by program staff, in or out of the child’s home. These services are found in many children’s programs and in programs for teen and young adult parents.

Clinic-Based, Provider-Based, or Miscellaneous

The majority of programs included in this category are those affiliated with centers, institutions, or other provider-specific locations that are not schools (e.g., community or recreation centers, clinics, shelters, physicians’ offices). The “miscellaneous” aspect of this category applies to federal, state, and/or local programs that provide welfare, employment, and social services (e.g., Minnesota Family Investment Program, New Hope project). Because many of these programs’ services are administered by clinics, institutions, or providers, it is appropriate to include them in this category. However, it is important to note that these comprehensive, social welfare programs are often much more complex than this categorization would indicate.

Community or Media Campaign

Programs in this category feature a community-wide component-such as media campaigns, changes in a community or city’s policies (e.g., regarding alcohol or tobacco sales), or community organizing-as part of their design. Programs with this component typically aim to promote program goals (e.g., increase school attendance, decrease drinking and driving) through changing its participants’ social and physical environments, and/or to change government policies. Often, a community-wide component is complemented by individual-level or program site-level components in comprehensive, multi-component programs.

Counseling / Therapy

Programs in this category feature a counseling and/or therapy component that is typically designed to address behavioral, mental, or emotional problems in the participant. Examples of such counseling and therapy include behavior therapy, psychotherapy, and medicinal/chemical/hormonal therapy (e.g., anti-depressants).

Home Visiting

These programs feature a home-visiting component, for which program staff (or individuals hired by the program) arrange and make visits to homes of program participants. This component is most often found in programs designed to improve child development and parenting outcomes, and discourage abuse and neglect. In typical home-visiting programs, home visitors observe parent-child interactions, assess and address the family’s needs for outside social services, teach parents about child development, and train parents in positive parenting practices (e.g., appropriate discipline, cognitively-stimulating children’s activities).

Mentoring / Tutoring

The programs in this category feature a mentoring and/or tutoring component. Typically, this occurs in a one-on-one relationship with an older teen or adult and-for mentoring programs, particularly-is designed to promote bonding, trust, and accountability between the mentor and mentee.

Parent or Family Component

Programs in this category are designed to involve participants’ parents or other adult family members in program activities. Typical family-inclusive activities include parent-child therapy, group meetings, or home visiting. Most often, the parent/family component is found in programs for young children, where involvement is designed to enhance parenting behaviors and/or knowledge.

It should be noted that while the majority of home visiting programs are cited in the parent/family category, there is a category dedicated exclusively to home visiting programs (above).


Programs in this category have a school-based component; that is, some of the program is administered in the classroom or school-wide setting. Program curricula or activities may be lead by teachers, peer leaders, or program staff.

Service or Vocational Learning

Programs in this category feature either a service component-often manifest as service to the community through tutoring children, visiting the elderly, or otherwise volunteering with disenfranchised populations-or a vocational learning component, which engages participants with local businesses in paid or unpaid work. Typically, programs are designed with a service component to empower participants and promote a sense of “mattering” in their community, or with a vocational component to promote life skills and increase the participants’ later employability.



What Works

Experimental evaluations have shown that these programs have produced at least one positive outcome-short- or long-term-in a specific area.

Web site visitors should note that the positive impacts of certain “what works” programs have been found to dissipate over time, following the end of the program. These programs are categorized as “what works” despite this dissipation, as it is possible that modifications to the program (in the form of booster sessions, for example) may help sustain positive program impacts in the future.

Web site visitors should also note that programs identified as “what works” are not guaranteed to be successful when replicated.  Variations in characteristics such as community, population, region, structure, leadership, or funding, or in the degree to which the program is implemented with fidelity to the original program design, will affect the program’s influence on participant outcomes.

What Doesn’t Work

Experimental evaluations have shown that these programs have had no impact, or have produced only negative impacts, on measured outcomes in a specific area.


The age-specific categories into which the programs are organized correlate roughly with different stages of development: prenatal, early childhood (0-5), middle childhood (6-11), adolescence (12-14), youth (15-21), and young adults (21-24). The categories also roughly correlate with different educational settings: preschool and childcare (0-5), elementary school (6-11), middle school/junior high (12-14), high school and college (15-21), and post-college (21-24). These categories are designed to give website users rough indications of the age range served by any given program; website users are invited to read program descriptions to ascertain exact participant age ranges.