Compassion international Study

of Positive Youth Development

Project Dates

July 2016—Present

Thrive Research Team

Co-Investigator: Pamela Ebstyne King

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Susan Mangan

Student Researchers: Jennifer Vaughn, Casey Taylor, and Sean Noe

Lead Team

Principal Investigator: Richard Lerner, IARYD, Tufts University

Co-Investigators:

  • Jacqueline Lerner, Boston College
  • Alistair Sim, Compassion International
  • Elizabeth Dowling, IARYD, Tufts University
  • Jonathan Tirrell, IARYD, Tufts University

Funded By

This study was made possible through the support of a generous grant by Compassion International and King Philanthropies.

Project Overview

The Compassion International (CI)1 Study of Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a collaborative,2 multi-nation, comparative longitudinal study of positive youth development among youth in poverty. Drawing on the expertise of the research team, the project draws on cutting edge, theoretically predicated research. Using a mixed methods design , this research examines the relationships between youth strengths and ecological assets to gain an understanding of how youth can thrive and become fulfilled and responsible adults in their communities. Based on the Lerner and Lerner PYD Model, the study considers youth spirituality, hope, internal self regulation, the 5 C’s of PYD (connection, caring, confidence, competence, and character), and contribution. In addition, contextual resources are assessed through safety, activity participation, religious involvement, and the Big 3 of Youth Development Programs (e.g., caring adult relationships, the development of life skills, and opportunities for leadership). Currently, in the context of faith-based CI youth development programs in El Salvador and Rwanda, the research team compares the development of participants in the CI program to youth who are not participating in CI’s programs to identify what works, with what children, in what context, over what time period. 

The study is one of the first longitudinal studies on youth development that does not focus on a deficit or epidemiological model, but is based on the optimistic notions of human plasticity, youth agency, and optimizing the fit between a young person and their context so they can thrive and become citizens who contribute to the world around them. The PYD framework not only emphasizes what can go right with young people, but also considers the role of religion and spirituality as important motivational and moral resources accessible to many youth in international settings that promote prosocial and civic engagement. Results from this study will be used to enhance the work of CI and improve the global child-sponsorship sector through never-before available theory-predicated developmental data.


Endnotes

1. Compassion International is a Christ-centered, child-sponsorship organization that partners with over 7,000 churches to support and promote thriving in over 1.8 million youth living in poverty in 25 countries located in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.

2. The Thrive Center has partnered with Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) and Boston College for this project.

Related Publications

  • Lerner, R. M., Tirrell, J. M., Gansert, P. K., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Geldhof, G. J., Dowling, E. M., & Sim, A. T. (2021). Longitudinal research about, and program evaluations of, positive youth development in low- and middle-income countries: Methodological issues and options. Journal of Youth Development, 16(2-3), 100–123. doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2021.1040
  • Tirrell, J. M., Gansert, P. K., Dowling, E. M., Williams, K., Iraheta, G., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Sim, A. T. R., & Lerner, R. M. (2021). Interrogating ergodicity and specificity in youth development programs in El Salvador. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 73, 101243. doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2021.101243
  • King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Vaughn, J. M., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., & Dowling, E. (2020). The measure of diverse adolescent spirituality (MDAS) and refined findings from Mexican and Salvadoran youth. Assessing Spirituality in a Diverse World, 383–410. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52140-0_16
  • King, P. E., Vaughn, J. M., Yoo, Y., Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E. M., Lerner, R. M., Geldhof, G. J., Lerner, J. V., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., & Sim, A. T. (2020). Exploring religiousness and hope: Examining the roles of spirituality and social connections among Salvadoran youth. Religions, 11(2), 75. doi.org/10.3390/rel11020075
  • Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E. M., Gansert, P., Buckingham, M., Wong, C. A., Suzuki, S., Naliaka, C., Kibbedi, P., Namurinda, E., Williams, K., Geldhof, G. J., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Sim, A. T., & Lerner, R. M. (2019). Toward a measure for assessing features of effective youth development programs: Contextual Safety and the “big three” components of positive youth development programs in Rwanda. Child & Youth Care Forum, 49(2), 201–222. doi.org/10.1007/s10566-019-09524-6
  • King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Vaughn, J. M., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A., Stephenson, P., Dowling, E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2021). Evaluating the measure of diverse adolescent spirituality in samples of Mexican and Salvadoran youth. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 13(2), 246–253. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000279doi.org/10.1037/rel0000279
  • Tirrell, J. M., Gansert, P. K., Dowling, E. M., Geldhof, G. J., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A. T., & Lerner, R. M. (2019). Illuminating the use of the specificity principle to go inside the black box of programs. Zeitschrift Für Psychologie, 227(2), 121–128. doi.org/10.1027/2151-2604/a000363
  • Lerner, R. M., Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E. M., Geldhof, G. J., Gestsdóttir, S., Lerner, J. V., King, P. E., Williams, K., Iraheta, G., & Sim, A. T. (2018). The end of the beginning: Evidence and absences studying positive youth development in a global context. Adolescent Research Review, 4(1), 1–14. doi.org/10.1007/s40894-018-0093-4
  • Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., King, P. E., Dowling, E. M., Sim, A. T., Williams, K., Iraheta, G., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2018). Measuring spirituality, hope, and thriving among Salvadoran youth: Initial findings from the Compassion International Study of Positive Youth Development. Child & Youth Care Forum, 48(2), 241–268. doi.org/10.1007/s10566-018-9454-1
  • Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Geldhof, G. J., Gestsdóttir, S., King, P. E., Sim, A. T., Batanova, M., Tirrell, J. M., & Dowling, E. (2018). Studying positive youth development in different nations. Oxford Scholarship Online. doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190847128.003.0004

Selected Presentations

  • King, P. E. (April 2019). Reciprocating spirituality: Where are we in the process. Invited address at the Ninth SRCD preconference on child and adolescent spiritual and religious development, Austin, TX.
  • King, P. E., Vaughn, J. M., Yoo, Y., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., Sim, A., Dowling, E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (March 2019). Exploring Ecological Assets and Personal Strengths Among Salvadoran Youth: The Complex Relationship between Religion and Hope. Paper at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development. Baltimore, MD.
  • King, P. E. (March 2019). Excavating Religion. Discussant for Paper Symposium: Religiosity as a Multifaceted Resource for Positive Youth Development among Diverse Youth at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development. Baltimore, MD.
  • Vaugh, J. M., Yoo, Y., King, P. E., Tirrell, J. M., Dowling, E., Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Iraheta, G., Williams, K., & Sim, A. (March 2019). Profiles of Youth Strengths and PYD Outcomes for Salvadoran Youth. Paper at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development. Baltimore, MD.
  • King, P. E. (February 2019). Grace: To infinity and beyond. A response to Dr. Peter Hill on “Grace as Religiously Inflected Experience.” Integration Lecture, School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.
  • King, P. E., Yoo, Y., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Iraheta, G., William, K., Sim, A., Stephenson, P., Dowling E., Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (October 2018). Measure of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality in Mexican & Salvadoran Youth: Confirmatory Factor Analysis and Measurement Invariance. Paper Symposium at Special Topic Meetings at the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Yoo, Y., & King, P. E. (October 2018). Further Testing of the Measurement of Diverse Adolescent Spirituality (MDAS) in the United States and Mexico youth. Poster presentation at Special Topic Meetings at the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA.
  • King, P. E., Loya, J., Yoo, Y., Tirrell, J. M., Geldhof, G. J., Dowling E., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (August 2018). Religious attendance, relational spirituality, hope, & positive development in El Salvadorian youth. Paper Symposium at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA.
  • King, P. E., Vaughn, J. M., Yoo, Y., Tirrell, J., Lerner, R., Dowling, E., …Sim, A. (May 2018). The role of personal, social, and transcendent resources in religion for Salvadoran youth. Paper presented at Travis Research Institute Research Colloquium, Pasadena, CA.
  • King, P. E. (April 2018). Future directions of the study of religious and spiritual development. Discussant for paper symposium at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Minneapolis, MN.
  • King, P. E. & Vaughn, J. L. (April 2018). Living on purpose: Adult support of spiritual purposes. Paper at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Minneapolis, MN.
  • King, P. E., Tirrell, J. M., Aymong, C. C., Weiner, M. B., Lloyd, C. R., Vaughn, J. M., & Lerner, J. V. (October 2017). Spirituality and hopeful future expectations: Measuring spiritual development in El Salvadorian Youth. Poster presented at the 10th Biennial Meeting of the Society for the Study of Human Development, Providence: RI.
  • King, P. S. (September 2017). Igniting youth to thrive. Plenary at Compassion International’s Global Council Meeting, Colorado Springs, CO.

Media Coverage

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COMpassion International Wins SRA 2020 Biennial Meeting Award

Compassion International was named as the co-recipient of the 2020 Organizational Award for Excellence in Research & Programming for Youth.

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