This article presents the findings and methodology of a true experimental evaluation of a national volunteer service program, Teen Outreach, which was designed to prevent adolescent problem behaviors by improving normative processes of social development in high school students.
The evaluation focused on the adolescent problem behaviors of teen pregnancy and school failure, for which there is little evidence of successful prevention programs. The program evaluated is called Teen Outreach, which engages youth in a high level of structured, volunteer community service that is linked to classroom discussions of future life options, such as future career and relationship decisions. Volunteer service offers students the opportunity to view schools from a new role and enables them to assume adult roles in ways that do not undermine parental or school authority structures. Teen Outreach has a developmental focus, as it helps youth understand and assess their future life options. For the current evaluation, all sites known to the evaluators to be conducting Teen Outreach were contacted in late spring of each school year and asked whether they were willing and able to participate in the random assignment evaluation of Teen Outreach during the following school year. A total of 695 students in 25 sites nationwide were randomly assigned to either a Teen Outreach or control group. They were assessed at both program entry and program exit 9 months later. The evaluation found that rates of pregnancy, school failure, and academic suspension at exit were substantially lower in the Teen Outreach group, even after accounting for student sociodemographic characteristics and entry differences between groups. These findings not only indicate the benefit of the Teen Outreach program, but also more broadly the inclusion of developmental tasks during adolescence. 3 tables, 1 figure, and 52 references