October 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB3

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Using H. Stephen Glenn's Developing Capable People Program with Adults in Montana: How effective is the curriculum?

While there are a plethora of parenting programs, there are few that focus on those adults interacting with youth who are not their own children. As recent risk and resiliency research has shown, these surrogate parents can provide an important protective factor in the lives of vulnerable youth even when home life is chaotic and negative. The Montana Extension Service decided to focus on this important group of adults in 1994 using H. Stephen Glenn's Developing Capable People program. A valid and reliable evaluation instrument was developed to be used as a pre- and post-test. In addition, a post-post test was conducted of a random sample of 30 program participants who had taken the course 6-to-18 months previously. Research shows that DCP is effective in helping adults increase the frequency of using positive behaviors and in decreasing the frequency of negative behaviors as they interact with others, particularly youth. These changes in behavior were sustained over time as well, enduring some 18 months after participants had completed the program.

Kirk A. Astroth
Extension 4-H Specialist
Internet address: acxka@montana.edu

Scott Lorbeer
Graduate Research Assistant
Internet address: scottl@montana.edu

Montana State University
Bozeman, Montana

Parenting curricula have been around nearly as long as parents themselves. The Extension Service in many states often offer training to parents using a variety of these programs. After five years of providing intensive parenting education across Montana, the Montana State University (MSU) Extension Service decided in 1994 to focus on surrogate parents as the next most important audience in the effort to improve the quality of life in the state's communities. Surrogate parents (coaches, volunteer leaders, mentors, tutors) have not been a traditional focus of parent training programs.

Members of the MSU Extension Building Family Strengths Task Force reviewed and evaluated 16 different programs that met a set of standard criteria for inclusion in the review. Task force members developed these criteria based on their experiences with previous parenting programs like Active Parenting and Active Parenting of Teens. Most important, of course, was that the program be useful for adults other than parents who impact a child's life. After extensive review, the task force selected H. Stephen Glenn's program, Developing Capable People (DCP) (Glenn, 1989), as the curriculum for the next programmatic initiative.

The goal of the DCP program is to help adults learn how to more positively interact with others, particularly young people. DCP aims to teach adults how to reduce their control-oriented behaviors and increase their autonomy-oriented behaviors when working with youth (Deci & Ryan, 1987). DCP provides nine structured sessions in which participants learn about the different kinds of behaviors and then are given practice in using new techniques for interacting with others. Between sessions, participants also practice what they have learned from the previous session.

Since its inception in 1994, the DCP program has been offered across the state by a core of 23 trained county Extension agents. The design of the program is such that it is best taught one night a week for nine weeks. County agents can also offer the course for two MSU graduate credits. The program is low-cost (only $25) and agents often find grants or supplemental resources to ensure access to the program by limited resource parents or others.

To date, over 1,000 Montanans have participated in the nine- week program in about 30 counties. More than 450 have taken the course for credit. Participants have been teachers, parents, school counselors, 4-H volunteer leaders, scout troop leaders, hospital nurses, and even border guards looking for a program to enhance their inter-personal skills with the public.

From the beginning, it was planned to carry out both a formative and a summative evaluation of the DCP program. This article reports the results of the summative evaluation that was designed to determine the continued support and dissemination of the program. A formative evaluation is being concluded at this time but is not ready for dissemination.

In June 1994, an evaluation consultant from the MSU survey research center was hired to develop a program-specific evaluation instrument for DCP. After many initial versions, a tool with 32 specific behaviors targeted by the program was field tested. Eventually, three of these behaviors were eliminated because respondents were confused by the wording. A panel of family life experts reviewed the instrument for content validity and agreed the instrument covered the material the instrument was designed to measure. In addition, the revised instrument was field tested again to further assess its construct validity.

Internal consistency was estimated using Cronbach's alpha coefficient for each item in the instrument as well as for the total pilot group. Internal consistency was estimated at 0.76. Nunnally (1978) has suggested that the generally accepted standard for reliability estimates is above 0.70; therefore, the evaluation instrument was judged to be reliable.

Over the past four years, data have been collected using a pre/post-test design for program participants. Results were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (Norusis, 1968). Because the sample population was not a true random sample, the results cannot be generalized to the entire population of surrogate parents, but only applied to those who participated in the Montana DCP program. The limitations of this study do not allow the suggestion that this program will have the same results with others. No control or comparison group was used in this study.

Research on the effectiveness of the program focused on 29 specific behaviors covered in the DCP curriculum that the program tries to impact. Of these, 21 are positive behaviors (such as involving youth in decisions which affect them, negotiating when you disagree or checking assumptions) while eight are negative (such as assuming intentions, giving specific step-by-step instructions for tasks or blaming or shaming a child when s/he makes mistakes). In order to assess how well these behaviors are sustained over time, a follow-up phone survey of a random sample of 30 participants who had taken the course 6-to-18 months in the past was also conducted. The same instrument was used in the phone interviews.

Two-tailed non-independent t-tests were calculated to determine significant differences between pre, post and post-post tests. Three tests were run: one looking at the mean of all 29 behaviors, the second looking at the mean of 21 positive behaviors, and the third looking at the means of the 8 negative behaviors.

The research indicates that the DCP program is effective in reducing the frequency of negative behaviors and in increasing the frequency of positive behaviors (p=<.05) as adults work with youth. In fact, the total mean scores for all 29 statement showed significant differences from the pre-, post- and post-post tests. During the follow-up survey of 30 random participants, it was found that these changes in behavior endured after the participants had completed the nine-week course. For those who had participated in DCP more than 6 months ago, the 21 positive behaviors showed a sustained use and the negative behaviors decreased in frequency over this time period. The follow-up survey of these previous participants showed that these changes seemed to hold over time; months after the course had ended, participants were still using the DCP concepts and improving the ways they worked with other people.

The MSU Extension Building Family Strengths Task Force has found that Developing Capable People is a popular, well-received program adaptable to parents, surrogate parents, teachers, counselors, and spouses. The program appears to be effective in reducing the frequency of negative behaviors and increasing the frequency of positive behaviors. Because of the limitations of this study, these results cannot be said to apply to all participants. However, it is felt that research results to support dissemination of this program, and builds confidence that the program has a positive impact on participants. This impact appears to carry over months after the course has been completed. Montana continues to promote this program in the state with 4-H leaders, teachers, camp counselors, parents, and yes, even border guards who want to change they ways they related to others.

Through this effort, it was learned how to mobilize an inter -disciplinary task force to critically evaluate the impact of a program that is used across the state. Moreover, it was learned that this program can have positive results with those adults working with youth who are not their own children. Finally, it was learned that many adults working with youth rely on control- oriented behaviors that do not foster development of life skills in youth. Many participants said they had few opportunities for training and simply modeled the kinds of behaviors they had been taught in other settings. At the same time, these participants said they were eager for training and wanted to learn new techniques for more effectively working with young people. The DCP program appears to be one viable approach for providing these skills to adults.


Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M. (1987) The support of autonomy and the control of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53, 1024-1037.

Glenn, H.S. (1989). Developing capable people: Leader's Guide. Sacramento, CA: Capabilities, Inc.

Norusis, M.J. (1968). SPSS advance statistics user's guide. Chicago: SPSS, Inc.

Nunnally, J.C. (1978). Psychometric theory 25 years ago and now. Educational Researcher, 4, 7-14; 19-20.