A theory-driven evaluation of a community-based family support and education drop-in program
The effect of poverty on children's development has been well documented, and there are many different types of programs which aim to minimize children's vulnerability to a wide range of negative outcomes. One approach to prevention, Community-based Family Support and Education (CBFSE), takes an ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), and aims to both enable parents to take a more positive role in their children's development and strengthen support for families in the broader community (Cochran & Woolever, 1983). The current study involved a comprehensive evaluation of a local CBSFE drop-in program. The evaluation framework was based on the theory-driven approach (Bickman, 1987; Chen, 1990; Weiss, 1995), and made use of program logic models to develop and articulate the program's theory. The research design involved two distinct studies. The first made use of a six-month repeated measures (pretest-posttest) design to gather quantitative outcome and process data. The second study involved qualitative interviews with a smaller group of program participants, gathering information about participants' experiences in the program, including program outcomes and aspects of program process. While Study 1 provided only limited support for the hypotheses (i.e. program impact), these data uncovered some critical issues relating to program process (e.g. component implementation and utilization, participants' level of functioning prior to attending the program, etc.). Study 2, on the other hand, provided rich information about participants' goals, the outcomes they experienced, the mechanisms that led to these outcomes, and a variety of factors concerning program process. This research and its findings hold a number of implications, not only for this program in particular, but also for evaluation theory and research in general. The fruits of this research process have led to: a critical examination of, and an innovative proposal for, the role of program logic models in evaluation research; a series of recommendations for overcoming the evaluation barriers inherent in drop-in approaches to service delivery; contributions to the broader field of prevention research and prevention programming; and a number of concrete recommendations for future efforts in the areas of both evaluation and prevention research.