Compassion International Project

The Compassion International Study of Positive Youth Development is intended to be an, at least, three-nation, 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 International’s (CI) child development centers. CI is a Christian child-sponsorship organization that partners with over 7,000 churches to promote thriving in over 1.9 million children living in poverty in 25 countries located in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

At this writing, the project includes both quantitative and qualitative research studying the development of youth involved in CI’s programs in two nations: El Salvador and Rwanda.  With additional money we are raising through grant submissions, we hope that during Year 4 we will expand our research to a third country, possibly Uganda.

In each nation, 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 as well as of 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 the measure development by Professor Pamela King and her colleagues at Fuller Theological Seminary. Supplementing the quantitative measurement of spirituality, is the qualitative work we have undertaken.  This work is designed to explore cultural and local meanings about beliefs and experiences related to thriving and spirituality.

At the end of Year 3 of the project (June 2019), we are in the process of analyzing data from a proof-of-concept study in El Salvador, and from Wave 1 survey data from both El Salvador and Rwanda. Coding of qualitative interviews from El Salvador is also underway. With funding support from CI for Year 4, Wave 2 of survey data will be collected from El Salvador (August-September 2019) and from Rwanda (July-August 2019). Analyses of qualitative data from El Salvador will continue.

At the end of Year 3 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.

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