“Youth” by flickr user CN

Title: Arts-Based Programs and Arts Therapies for At-Risk, Justice-Involved, and Traumatized Youths

Author(s): Development Services Group, Inc

Publisher: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Year: 2016

URL: http://www.ojjdp.gov/mpg/litreviews/Arts-Based-Programs-for-Youth.pdf

Topics: Arts participation, arts programs, arts therapy, youth development, at-risk youth, justice-involved youth, traumatized youth

Methods: Literature Review

What it says: This study presents a review of recent research on arts programs for three types of youth: 1)at-risk youth, or those with risk factors that increase likelihood of delinquency or other problem behaviors; 2) system-involved youth who are currently in the juvenile justice system; and 3) traumatized youth, identified based on their personal experiences. The review focuses on two types of intervention: 1) art-based programs where arts engagement are considered a type of therapy, and 2) arts therapy programs where arts approaches are part of a therapeutic process.

The review does not find clear evidence on the outcomes of arts interventions for these categories of youth in the literature, because of methodological deficiencies such as small sample sizes, lack of comparison groups, short follow-up periods, and reliance on self-reported measures. They also note that studies of programs with multiple components do not isolate the effects of each component, meaning that there is no evidence on the outcome of the arts element specifically. They conclude that more research is needed to understand the the potential impacts of these interventions, and to understand differences between the impacts of interventions using different arts disciplines.

The report does note that arts participation has been found to be associated with strong social and emotional skills among youth generally (Menzer, 2016), and that there are theoretical foundations for the efficacy of such interventions. Cognitive behavioral theory promotes changing dysfunctional beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors by helping people change the way they think. The reflective nature of many arts based approaches is well suited to this kind of therapy. Positive Youth Development theory focuses on developing the positive assets of youth by providing opportunities for pro-social involvement, such as arts programs with a social element. Additionally, multiple theoretical frameworks support the use of arts therapies with traumatized children.

The report concludes with a summary of a select number of arts-based programs that have demonstrated positive impacts on youth, including Reading for Life, Project Venture, and Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS).

What I think about it: The authors of this review provide a useful summary of the theory and practice surrounding arts-based programs and therapies for these specific categories of youth, as well as a clear summary of the available evidence and its limitations. In spite of a lack of conclusive evidence, this research provides a good overview of how such programs are theorized to work. The review would benefit from a clearer explanation of how works were identified and included in the review, in order to provide more context for the findings.

What it all means: The positive outcomes noted in individual programs (even with the methodological problems cited), as well as the strong theoretical basis of such programs, points towards the usefulness of further research aimed at identifying specific outcomes of arts programs for at-risk, justice-involved, and traumatized youth. Such research could also help isolate the characteristics of effective programs. This knowledge could both inform program design, and help to justify spending on such programs in the future.