“Child development requires the affirmative presence of positive experiences, including safe, stable, and nurturing environments. The simple prevention or mitigation of adverse experiences cannot itself foster normal child development” (Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, 2016).
The mission of the HOPE research lab is to strengthen children and families through positive experiences. Children and families benefit from the healthy outcomes of positive experiences (Sege & Brown, 2017). Yet, very little research has identified the health outcomes of positive experiences. Positive experiences include (a) being in nurturing, supportive relationships; (b) living, developing, playing, and learning in safe, stable, protective and equitable environments; (c) having opportunities for constructive social engagement and to develop a sense of connectedness; and (d) learning social and emotional competencies (Sege & Brown, 2017). Using a social-ecological lens, the long-term goal of the HOPE research lab is to identify the health outcomes from positive experiences. Currently, the HOPE lab is focused on identifying the health outcomes of positive experiences within (a) adolescent programs and (b) the family context.
Adolescent programs, also referred to as Out-of-School-Time (OST) programs, promote quality of life in active-learning environments. These programs are camps, after-school programs, ministries, community centers, and other non-school programs. These programs can range in outcomes related to health and well-being across the domains of physical development, cognitive development, spiritual development, and social-emotional development. The HOPE research lab conducts program evaluations and original research related to the health outcomes from the positive experiences that adolescents have in these types of programs. We seek to identify the mechanisms of high-yield youth activities that promoted positive development. The three specific aims of the HOPE research lab related to adolescent programs are:
- Identify health outcomes of adolescent programs
- Develop evidence-based strategies to promote high-yield outcomes for youth programs
- Evaluate programs that aim to create positive experiences for adolescents
Family experiences often result from the 3 R’s of formal family time– family rituals, routines, and recreation. The HOPE lab examines the construction of meaningful, positive experiences with families that are linked to individual health outcomes and strengthening family relationships. Thus, we seek to identify optimal family experiences, i.e., family experiences that effectively improve family relationships and human development. Currently, our research has focused on the conceptualization and operationalization of family experiences so that research-based recommendations for families can move beyond the simplistic (and often misleading) advice of “the family that plays together, stays together!” This research is translated into programs that help families move beyond healthy to thriving by becoming an “intentional family” with their resources (time, money, and support). The three specific aims of the HOPE research lab related to family experiences are:
- Identify health outcomes of family experiences
- Develop evidence-based strategies to optimize family experiences
- Evaluate programs that aim to create positive experiences for families
By identifying high-yield youth activities and optimal family experiences, we will be able to invest in science-aligned interventions that promote healthy child development (i.e., social, emotional, and executive functioning skills) that is critical to well-being, successful parenting, and workforce engagement. Altogether, the objectives of the HOPE research lab advance the evidence-based practices and programs that promote positive experiences for children and families.
H.O.P.E. is an acronym first developed by Sege & Brown (2017). Responding to ACEs with HOPE: Health Outcomes from Positive Experiences.