More than one in five U.S. children are in families living below the federal poverty line. Due to systematic barriers and race-related factors, families in poverty are disproportionately of racial/ethnic minority background. Adolescents of color living in poverty are at elevated risk for mental health problems with limited access to quality care, and 21% of youth in poverty are diagnosed with mental health disorders that left untreated lead to significant long-term consequences including poor quality of life, lower educational attainment, and lower lifetime earnings. Positive future orientation among vulnerable adolescents has been identified as a unique protective factor associated with positive mental health trajectories. Out-of-school-time (OST) programs can promote positive future orientation among adolescents; however, we know relatively little about factors that influence youth enrollment and engagement, in particular in communities of high poverty and among ethnically/racially diverse families, who may stand to benefit the most from positive developmental experiences in neighborhood programs. Little research has examined the roles of cultural (e.g., ethnic identity) and contextual (e.g., safety from community violence) factors that may influence adolescent engagement, positive future orientation and caregiver satisfaction with OST programs. The proposed dissertation will leverage ongoing partnerships with three community-based OST programs (Fit2Lead PIP, Girl Power, E-SToPP) serving adolescents and families of color, living in urban communities of high poverty and violence, to examine cultural and contextual factors as potential facilitators and barriers to family engagement and future orientation. We will recruit adolescents enrolled in partnering OST programs, and their caregivers (n=~96; 48 adolescents, 48 caregivers), to complete surveys and participate in focus groups. We will use a sequential exploratory mixed-methods design to complete two aims:
Aim 1 : Examine associations among program-level cultural/contextual influences (e.g., cultural respect, ethnic matching of staff and youth), engagement (i.e., youth engagement and caregiver satisfaction), and future orientation;
and Aim 2 : examine family-level cultural /contextual influences (ethnic identity, discrimination, financial strain) as potential moderators. Findings will reveal to what extent and in what ways program- and family-level cultural/contextual factors influence engagement and positive future orientation in OST programs. Implications may include policy recommendations on development, evaluation and funding of OST programs for vulnerable youth and families of color to maximize engagement and facilitate positive mental health trajectories.
Positive future orientation (optimism about education, employment, relationships) can help to facilitate positive health and education trajectories for adolescents of color in communities of poverty and violence. Out-of- school-time community programs, such as after-school programs, can promote positive future orientation, but we know little about cultural and contextual influences on youth enrollment and engagement. We will invite youth and caregivers in partnering programs to answer survey and focus group questions about program-level culture/context (e.g., cultural respect), family engagement and satisfaction, and family-level culture/context (e.g., ethnic identity), and we will examine associations that may inform program development and improve the quality and reach of programs for vulnerable youth and families of color.