Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Education

Supervisor

Dr. Claire Crooks

Abstract

Interventions for youth offenders should aim to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors. Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs aim to enhance intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competencies. Research demonstrates that SEL programs reduce antisocial behaviours and improve prosocial skills; however, to date, SEL programs have been primarily implemented in schools. This integrated-article dissertation explored the feasibility and preliminary outcomes of implementing a SEL program in youth justice settings. The first paper proposes the implementation of SEL programs in youth justice settings and identifies unique programming and implementation considerations for this population.

The second paper presents a two-phase study examining the feasibility, acceptability, and utility of an SEL program in youth justice settings. The initial phase piloted the Healthy Relationships Plus Program. Data collected from staff indicated high levels of feasibility and acceptability and several important adaptations. The second phase piloted the adapted program (Healthy Relationships Plus - Enhanced Program) and youth reported high levels of acceptability and utility.

The third paper evaluated the Healthy Relationships Plus - Enhanced Program with justice-involved youth to explore preliminary outcomes. Results from the mixed methods quasi-experimental study found at post-intervention youth reported significant increases in assertiveness, self-control, empathy, problem-solving, and a significant decrease in attitudes towards peer conflict. Many of these improvements remained significant at one-month follow-up.

Taken together, the theory and preliminary evidence from these papers suggest that an adapted SEL program is relevant and compatible with youth justice settings, and it can also improve the attitudes and skills of youth offenders.

Summary for Lay Audience

Youth involved in the justice system often have many complex problems and risk factors. It is not enough to reduce risk factors, we must also support these youth in developing protective factors. Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs help youth to better understand their emotions, effectively manage stress, build and maintain healthy relationships, show empathy for others, and make responsible decisions. Research has shown that SEL programs reduce problem behaviours and increase positive behaviours. However, to date, SEL programs have only been taught in community schools. This integrated-article dissertation explored whether it is appropriate and practical to teach SEL programs in youth justice settings. The first paper (Chapter Two) summarizes the theories and effective components of youth justice interventions and highlights the similarities with SEL programs. The paper argues that SEL programs should be taught in youth justice facilities and identifies some unique considerations for this population.

The second paper (Chapter Three) presents a two-phase study examining whether it is practical, appropriate, and useful to teach an SEL program in youth justice settings. In the first phase, we evaluated the Healthy Relationships Plus program in youth custody facilities. Data collected from staff indicated that the program was appropriate and perceived to be beneficial; however, several adaptations were recommended to improve the program. In the second phase, we evaluated the adapted program (Healthy Relationships Plus - Enhanced Program) and the youth reported that the program was useful and enjoyable.

The third paper (Chapter Four) evaluated the Healthy Relationships Plus – Enhanced Program with youth offenders to determine if participation in the program was associated with improved skills. Results from questionnaires and focus groups indicated that participation in the program promoted the development of positive skills. After the program, youth reported significant increases in assertiveness, self-control, empathy, problem-solving, and a significant decrease in attitudes towards peer conflict. Also, many of these improvements were maintained at one-month follow-up.

Overall, the theory and results from these papers suggest that an adapted SEL program is relevant and appropriate for youth justice settings. This program can also improve the attitudes and skills of youth offenders.

Available for download on Sunday, August 16, 2020

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