Document Type


Publication Date



Evidence-based practices for reducing youth involvement in the criminal justice system have gained a considerable amount of attention over the past few decades. One such practice is delinquency prevention and promotion (PP) programs, which aim to promote positive behaviors and prevent negative behaviors. Research has demonstrated that PP programs can target risk factors at different stages of development thought to contribute to antisocial behavior, reducing the likelihood of criminal justice involvement (Pardini, 2016). Once a program is in place, however, recruiting the youth most likely to benefit from the program and retaining those youth can be a significant challenge. Specifically, research has shown that youth of color are less likely to participate in out-of-school activities compared to White youth and youth living in poverty are less likely to participate than youth of higher income families (Theokas & Bloch, 2006). This report focuses on what PP programs in one state are doing to ensure they are recruiting and retaining the appropriate youth and crucially includes youth’s own experiences about why they began attending the program and why they continue to come back. This report includes 13 of the 33 FY 2018-2019 Nebraska state-funded PP programs. A mixed-methods approach was employed with Juvenile Justice Institute researchers conducting 13 focus groups with 204 youth and 13 in-person or phone interviews with PP program coordinators. The focus groups were semi-structured with open-ended questions designed to facilitate discussion about youth participants and program activities. One-on-one interviews with PP program coordinators were semi-structured focusing on identifying and understanding effective strategies for recruitment and retention. Based on discussions with youth and program coordinators, several strategies for effective recruitment and retention are suggested: •utilize current participants in efforts to attract more youth •collaborate with established local community programs •offer diverse activities based on youth’s backgrounds •ensure location and time of program is as convenient for the youth as possible •involve family members and support networks •offer food or snacks •offer incentives for regular attendance •help the youth see the benefit of program attendance Overall, nearly every program self-identified areas for improvement, summarized in the recommendations outlined below. In order to maximize their impact, PP programs need to pay special attention to who they are attracting to ensure youth who are most likely to benefit from the program are being captured. While the focus groups were successful at gaining an in-depth understanding of youth experiences, there were some drawbacks to this method. First, our ideal sample size for a focus group was about 10 participants to allow for healthy discussion of the topics and gather participants’ diverse experiences. Unfortunately, many of the focus groups did not reach this ideal size typically because programs did not have enough youth attend on a regular basis. Second, researchers were unable to conduct some focus groups because either the programs met only a few times a year or sessions were rescheduled at the last minute. Finally, the focus groups’ effectiveness depended on the degree to which youth were familiar with the overarching program goals.