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- What key elements of co-regulation strategies can program facilitators apply to support youth self-regulation development?
- What capacity building supports (such as training, coaching, observational tools, and measures) do program facilitators need to integrate co-regulation in their practice?
- Are co-regulation strategies feasible to implement in youth HMRE programs?
Youth need support to process emotions, cope with stress, and for self-regulation—managing thoughts and feelings to achieve goals and make healthy decisions in the moment and for the future. Caring adults such as parents, guardians, teachers, and coaches support the development of self-regulation skills from infancy through young adulthood through a process called co-regulation. This report describes how researchers in prevention science and public health partnered with practitioners who deliver youth healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programs to translate the concept of co-regulation into action. The partnership resulted in a set of strategies and capacity building resources, grounded in brain science, that can be intentionally layered onto pre-existing youth program models. The application of a co-regulation framework to youth service delivery provides a promising new approach to supporting youth development and strengthening program implementation and outcomes.
ACF sponsored the Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth (SARHM) Project to bring more focus to self-regulation development in programs for youth. Specifically, SARHM’s aim was to build on developmental psychology and prevention research on the adult role in youth self-regulation development to create resources for educators in Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs for youth (defined as ages 14 to 24).
SARHM is a formative research project to develop and test the integration of co-regulation approaches in two youth-serving HMRE programs. It is funded by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) and overseen by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE). SARHM focused on youth and young adults aged 14 to 24 because this is a time of rapid brain change and development. It also is a time of many transitions, risks, and opportunities. However, there are few resources to guide youth-serving practitioners in supporting youth self-regulation development.
Adult support is critical for helping young people make healthy decisions, engage in prosocial behaviors, and prepare for the future. The goal of this report is to share strategies and resources for practitioners and researchers interested in enhancing adult-youth co-regulation in real-world settings to promote youth self-regulation and boost program implementation and effects. Strategies include effective use of praise, steps to foster a welcoming environment, tailored noticing or mindfulness exercises, tips for using breath to enhance focus, steps for successful skills coaching, and approaches for staff to reduce stress and achieve goals.
Key Findings and Highlights
The SARHM team found that:
- Incorporating co-regulation into HMRE programs took time and investment. Educators reported benefiting from ongoing coaching and reinforcement to provide co-regulation support and implement the strategies as intended.
- Educators reported that with practice, the co-regulation strategies improved youth engagement and reduced disruptions, such as youth talking over one another or using cell phones during the session.
- Successful integration of a co-regulation framework into HMRE programs required a partnership between researchers and practitioners that combined the wisdom and input of key stakeholders in the field.
Educators described the main result of the partnership—more important than the success or viability of any one strategy—was an overall shift in mindset. Educators reported a greater understanding of the importance of self-regulation in youth development, the significant role that educators play in promoting youths’ self-regulation, and the types of interpersonal and environmental strategies they could implement to amplify the impact of their program.
The SARHM project occurred in three phases:
Phase 1 – We conducted a review of the scientific literature and youth-serving HMRE programs and curricula. Informed by the review, we developed an initial menu of co-regulation strategies and capacity building resources.
Phase 2 – We partnered with two youth-serving HMRE programs: a program serving a population in suburban high schools and a community-based organization serving young adults who were formerly in foster care. Each site selected strategies that best fit their organizational culture and context. We worked with these partners and consulted with experts to further develop the training, strategies, capacity building supports, and design of the pilot for each site.
Phase 3 – We conducted formative rapid cycle evaluations (RCE) to pilot test and further refine co-regulation strategies and capacity building resources. During the RCEs, we collected data from administrators, program facilitators, trained observers, and youth about the implementation of co-regulation strategies. Together with the sites, we conducted a total of three learning cycles per site in which we analyzed feedback, refined the strategies, and tested them again. We then analyzed data from surveys, focus groups, site visits, and observations to assess the feasibility and acceptability of integrating co-regulation into pre-existing youth HMRE programs.
Next steps for developing and testing co-regulation strategies include:
Formative research and development. This includes (1) additional development and refinement of strategies in different settings and with diverse populations; (2) more descriptive research on program dynamics relating to educator-youth relationships, peer interactions and norms, and adult self-regulation; and (3) a greater emphasis on coaching, training, and technical assistance for youth-serving programs.
Efficacy testing and effectiveness evaluation. Once strategies and implementation supports are refined, their efficacy can be tested. Efficacy tests should focus on implementation indicators such as engagement and program completion and program outcomes including self-regulation, relationship skills, and well-being.
Baumgartner, Scott, Frei, Aly, Paulsell, Diane, Herman-Stahl, Mindy, Dunn, Rebecca, and Yamamoto, Chelsea. (2019). SARHM: Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth. OPRE Report #2020-122. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed behavior.
- The supportive process between an adult and a young person that promotes self-regulation. Co-regulation integrates three key types of support: (1) providing warm, responsive relationships; (2) helping youth find and create supportive environments; and (3) coaching and modeling self-regulation skills.
- Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth
- Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education
- Formative RCE:
- Short, iterative pilot testing of a strategy in a contained practice setting to collect timely and actionable feedback to strengthen the strategy design and implementation prior to scaling.