Compassion International Project

The CI Study of PYD is a three‐nation, cohort comparative longitudinal study of the use of the Lerner and Lerner model of Positive Youth Development (PYD) for understanding the bases of PYD among some of the world’s poorest youth enrolled in Compassion’s child development centers. Compassion International (CI) is a faith-based child‐sponsorship organization that partners with over 8,000 churches to promote thriving in over 2.1 million children living in poverty in 25 countries located in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

The project includes both quantitative (in El Salvador, Rwanda, and Uganda) and qualitative (in El Salvador) research studying the development of youth involved in CI’s programs.

The quantitative work involves a longitudinal study of the development of youth using a counterfactual causal modeling design to compare the development of CI program participants to youth who are not participating in CI’s programs. This design enables the researchers to identify specific facets of the CI program that work, with specific children, in specific contexts, over specific time periods. The identification of such specific findings is enhanced by our measure‐development work. We undertake theory‐predicated, measurement invariance testing of the constructs involved in the Lerner and Lerner PYD model including constructs related to faith and spirituality. These constructs are emphasized as key strengths in the lives of youth in CI’s theory of change as well as in the model of Lerner and Lerner. We measure spirituality through use of measures developed by Professor Pamela Ebstyne King and her colleagues at Fuller Theological Seminary. In Uganda, to provide heretofore unavailable person-specific information about character virtue development among youth within the CI intervention, we will employ an idiographic, person-specific intensive-measurement longitudinal “burst” design with a randomly selected subsample of youth from both groups (n=24; 50% CI). Integrative Data Analysis will be used to compare idiographic trajectories within and across groups and, as well, to contrast person- centered findings vs. variable-centered findings (e.g., involving variance accounted for and predictive validity).

The qualitative work explores cultural and local meanings about beliefs and experiences related to PYD, thriving, spiritual development, and features of effective youth development programs (termed the Big Three), and to gain greater insight into concepts that have arisen since the start of our work with CI (e.g. joy, purpose, being known and loved, mattering) in the context of CI programming in El Salvador.

Two waves of data have been collected in El Salvador as well as qualitative data. One wave of data has been collected in Rwanda. We hope to collect the first wave of data on Uganda before the end of 2021. The research team hopes to travel to Rwanda, El Salvador, and Uganda as soon as it is safe to travel given the challenges of COVID-19.

Boston College is leading mixed methods analyses. The analyses explore youth contribution and the role of the Big 3 features of effective programs in more detail and the relation between spirituality and perceived safety.

As we approach the end of Year 5 of the project, several manuscripts have been published, are in press, or are nearing completion. To date, every manuscript we have submitted has been published in excellent journals, and this record of publication is building the visibility of the CI Study and of CI more generally in the sector.  This visibility has been furthered by conference presentations wherein the project was either the primary focus of the presentation or a key component of the presentation.

In short, the project is moving the field of PYD and the study of religious and spiritual development in international settings forward. The results of analyses can be used to enhance the work of CI and improve the child-sponsorship sector through never-before available theory-predicated developmental data. USAID, UNICEF, and many others are looking to our research for guidance about measurement and are particularly interested in whether we can establish measurement invariance across the international contexts we are studying.

Building on the CI Study of PYD, Dr. Jonathan Tirrell will be leading a grant with Dr. Erin Kelly from Tufts’ Philosophy Department entitled “Building Youth Resilience and Communal Justice: Forgiveness as a Civic Virtue in Rwanda”.  Thanks to the University of Oklahoma’s “Self, Virtue, and Public Life” Initiative (funded by Templeton Religion Trust), the study will involve qualitative interviews with exemplars in Rwanda about ideas related to conflict, forgiveness, and justice in post-genocide Rwanda.

Project Updates

Project Collaborators:

Pamela Ebstyne King, Ph.D.
Peter L. Benson Associate Professor of Applied Developmental Science
Thrive Center for Human Development
Graduate School of Psychology
Fuller Theological Seminary

Jacqueline V. Lerner, Ph.D.
Co-PI, Compassion International Project
Professor of Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology
Boston College Lynch School of Education

Alistair Sim, Ph.D.
Program Effectiveness Research Director
Compassion International
Sydney, Australia