Optimizing life success through residential immersive life skills programs for youth with disabilities

Funding Details
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
  • Grant type: Insight Grants
  • Years: 2013/14 to 2018/19
  • Total Funding: $412,867
Keywords
Principle Investigator(s)
Collaborator(s)
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Project Summary

Objectives: In Canada, between 3.6% and 7.7% of children from birth to 19 years of age are estimated to have a chronic health condition resulting in disability or activity limitations. These young people experience difficulties in employment, schooling, independent living, and establishing meaningful personal relationships. A lack of life skills has been recognized as an important factor contributing to these poorer life outcomes. Life skills refer to adaptive behaviors such as problem-solving and goal-setting that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands of everyday life. Several Ontario children's treatment centres offer short-term residential immersive life skills (RILS) programs to equip youth with the foundational life skills required to assume adult roles. RILS programs hold great promise with respect to sustainable impacts, as they appear to provide powerful ''situated learning'' through participation in an environment involving intensive interaction with peers and opportunities for supported risk-taking. Little attention, however, has been directed towards understanding the maintenance and generalizability of acquired skills or the enhancement of higher order life skills such as self-determination. This is unfortunate because the question of how such programs create change is an important research agenda. The proposed research will address the following questions: (a) What opportunities are provided by RILS programs? What strategies are most highly used by those delivering these programs?; (b) What are the experiences and perceptions of youth prior to, during, and following participation in a RILS program? What are the expectations and experiences of their parents?; and (c) What changes in outcomes are observed, including self-determination and self-efficacy? Proposed Methodology: This four-year multi-site prospective study will use a time series with non-equivalent control group design. Cohorts of treatment and control groups will receive the study protocol over 3 successive years. There will be 4 measurement points, including pre- and post-intervention, and 3- and 12-month follow-ups. In each study condition, 90 youth will be targeted for recruitment. Youth attending RILS programs will be compared to: (a) youth who have applied to a RILS program and meet eligibility criteria but do not attend and are placed on a deferred list for the coming year, (b) a group of matched youth who are engaging in non-residential life skills programs, and (c) a group of matched youth who are not taking any life skills programs. Anticipated Significance and Impacts of the Proposed Research: The proposed research has significant implications for understanding what works and why with respect to optimal design and delivery of RILS programs for youth with disabilities. Our research program aims to uncover transferable processes and essential features by which ecologically based group training programs, using a residential immersive format, have their effects on changed attitudes, cognitions, and behavior. This theoretically grounded study will provide important new information about the fundamental processes by which RILS programs influence immediate and ongoing changes in youth; we know of no other work examining the effects of RILS program environments. The research will elucidate the specific nature of the learning opportunities provided by these programs, and the strategies used by service providers. It will also contribute to clinical understanding of best practices by identifying essential design features and key intervention approaches and strategies. The findings will support evidence-informed practice and service planning in Ontario and beyond, leading to improved life outcomes for youth with disabilities.

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