A Critical Review of the Evidence On the Effects of Community Based Programs On Young People’s Social and Emotional Skills Development

Researchers often develop their arguments using different methods, most of which are scientific. As such, this leaves little room for examination of the processes used, especially by laymen. When the concept of critical thinking of the same processes is evaluated, gaps can be revealed. The subject of critical thinking, therefore, is important to evaluate the premises put forward by scientists and researchers. Young people have different social and emotional needs. The society needs to understand these needs and develop programs, which have verifiable outcomes and positive. Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) aimed to look at the lives of young people and determine the impact of intervention programs designed to develop young people socially and emotionally.

            This paper evaluates the works of Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) by evaluating the paper using a critical analysis lens. The paper starts by evaluating how critical thinking as a concept has been developed over history. After understanding the history of critical thinking, the paper will focus on the development of Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) and summarize how the paper has been developed by restricting this as a summary based on the objectives of the study. It is after understanding the premise of the study that this paper will deploy critical analysis methodologies to critique the study. A conclusion of the paper will highlight the major findings of the paper.

Critical thinking is a considerable old concept that was initiated by the teachings of Socrates more than 2500 years ago.[1] Socrates described critical thinking as a method of probing questions that people would otherwise not rationally justify with common knowledge.[2] The basis of this kind of reasoning as explained by Socrates is that authorities in different subjects could not be relied upon, to provide sound knowledge and insight since they might be confused and possibly irrational. As such, the importance of seeking evidence and examining underlying reasoning, as well as, assumptions supporting a claim, is necessary. Socrates further extended the same to tracing the implications of what is claimed and done, not forgetting the analysis of basic concepts.2 It all boiled down to the pursuit of logical consistency and clarity of ideas.

With Socrates having set the stage for critical thinking, Plato, a Socrates student, and others such as Aristotle made a frantic emphasis that things are in most times absolutely different from what they look.[3] To look beyond the surface of the face value of things or claims was seen to require a trained mind that is prepared to get deeper than normal. As such, an individual with enough inspiration to have a deeper understanding of the reality requires systemic thinking, to trace the implications of a claim or a thought in broad terms.

With the advancement of age and the idea of critical thinking, other scholars such as Thomas Aquinas advanced the concept of looking and thinking critically about other subjects such as religion, art, law, freedom, and economics among others. It was their belief that almost all facets of human life needed critiquing. Critical thinkers such as Descartes believed that the mind needed special and systemic disciplining to guide it in its thinking and developed the “principle of systematic doubt.”[4] Other important names in the concept of critical thinking include Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton among many others.

Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) evaluated the intersection of community-based programs and their impacts on the emotional and social skills development in young people. To get to the bottom of the concept, the study started by acknowledging that enhancing the well-being of the youth on the aspects of their social and emotional fronts is critical to the realization of the youths’ potential, as well as, reducing social inequities. Such a dimension was viewed as an important driver of young people’s success in the future.

The study was set in the United Kingdom but borrows heavily from other jurisdictions, especially the United States. It built on the findings of an earlier study that employed experimental designs and conducted out of school settings. The study reviewed literature work that was availed from 2004 until 2016. The study aimed to determine the quality of current evidence with regards to the effectiveness of community youth programs that have been implemented in the United Kingdom. Community-based organizations were defined as “organized programs supervised by adults that usually occur outside of regular school classes.”[5] The study did not consider programs that were delivered by teachers in the realm of schools and its operational hours. Further, the study excluded community-based parenting programs that involved families of young people and the young people themselves. The study aimed at evaluating outcomes related to social and emotional skills development including, behavioral, health, and academic outcomes.

To conduct the study, a systemic review of other studies was conducted using guidelines provided by the PRISMA 2009 checklist. For a study to fit the bill, it had to pass some given criteria, which comprised three items. The first was that for the study to be considered it had to address at least one social and emotional skill outlined by CASEL and the Young Foundation. The second item was that the study had to be implemented in a community-based setting that has been set in the UK. The third aspect was that the study had to be implemented at a universal intervention. The study that was under consideration had to be published between 2004 and 2016, be a random controlled trial or a quasi-experimental design, and the intervention must have been implemented and evaluated in the United Kingdom. To search for the studies, Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) considered different databases such as Embase, Scopus, PsychInfo, and the British Education Index among others, which went over the count of 24. Books and other Grey literature techniques were employed. Identified studies were assessed for quality evidence before being selected.

The study questioned most of the research aspects employed by the articles it selected for the study. At some point, the study questioned the integrity of data collection mechanisms of the articles selected. Further, it went ahead to evaluate the strength of the evidence provided by the article. It found out that none of the 14 studies was strong in terms of its methods, six studies had a strong study design but had poor, invalid, and unreliable outcome measures. The studies that had strong psychometric properties were found to have weak designs, especially because of sample bias, and eight studies fell into this category. The study questioned the psychometric properties of newly developed scales that could have been adopted from previous studies and found out that they were not fully established. Such scales often assess the psychological constructs and were used differently across the selected articles. The adoption of non-validated outcome measures was found to compromise the quality of data. It also limited the conclusions that could be drawn with reference to the program effects and other important outcome variables.

The study in its presentation of results declared that due to poor quality studies in terms of their study designs and analysis, it was essentially difficult to find sufficient evidence with regards to interventions aimed at increasing social and emotional skills using creative arts and sporting activities. The study borrowed from other previous studies to indicate that outdoor adventure and sports activities have considerably positive effects on young people in terms of their social and emotional wellbeing. The study left it open that it was important to have stronger studies from the quality perspective before making further conclusions.

Out of the 14 studies that were selected for review, the study was able to draw important conclusions. The study by Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) found that there was an increased investment in social and emotional skills development programs for young people in the UK. Such programs were found to have a special focus on the need for a valid and credible empirical-based, with an aim of understanding how such programs work and further, deliver evidence capable of guiding future investments to come up with the best practice in this area. The study found it appropriate to always determine the suitability of interventions for the adoption, implementation, and scaling of such programs to the national arena.

The study mentioned that there was encouraging evidence that youth social action and interventions meant for mentoring, have an important dimension in taking the youth towards a direction of positive outcomes, better community engagement, and reduced problems in behaviors. The study indicated that there is a need for more comprehensive evaluation of programs to develop important evidence that can be used to realize and inform the scaling-up of the most effective approaches to support the development of positive youth development. 

The study by Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) evaluated 14 studies that it found fitting its agenda and objectives. Up to the stage where the study discussed the results, everything about the articles was fine. After this step, the study did a U-turn on the studies and claimed they were not of the required standard but either way, the study carried on using the studies. This development leads to two important questions.

First, how credible was the selection and evaluation criteria employed by Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018)? The study has detailed how it managed to get the 14 articles it used in its study but later in the development of the study, it claimed that the articles were not of the required standard and even going to the point of dismissing them as unreliable and invalid. This indicates that the study in itself used a faulty methodology that led to the adoption of faulty articles. Second, using the deductive reasoning approach[6], how reliable are the results that Barry, Clarke, Morreale, and Field (2018) presented? The study’s modus operandi has been thrown into doubt, therefore, how appropriate is it to make conclusions from the same process? The results are hence questionable for relying on questionable evidence to develop its argument.

The researchers in the study mentioned that there were different psychometric properties of newly developed scales that were not fully developed – a claim that has been put in the paper. This aspect presented a threat to the validity of the internal aspects of the study. The researchers did not demonstrate how they dealt with the shortcoming, which was in itself more questionable. If such scales were left unattended, it would have been a demonstration that the results of the study might have been compromised. With additional information, especially on how to deal with the shortcomings raised above, the study could have been able to seek alternative means of finding evidence for the claims it had in a more reasonable and valid way. The study could have possibly conducted a controlled study in the real world setting to validate or disapprove the conclusions arrived herein.                                         

In conclusion, the above critique has demonstrated that there is more than what is on the surface as Socrates claimed. By looking on the face of the study above, it might be described that the study has made critical misgivings in the presentation of the study and its results. As such, the study has led to us questioning the validity of the entire study due to the methodology adopted during its development. To quell such discomfort from a critical eye, the researchers in this study ought to have done more to ensure that their study gets full credit even when evaluated from a critique point of view. Further, the researchers ought to have considered the relevance of adopting an approach of having a parallel study or a control study to validate or invalidate the results of their study.  


Barry, Margaret M., et al. “A Review of the Evidence on the Effects of Community-based Programs on Young People’s Social and Emotional Skills Development.” Adolescent Research Review 3.1 (2018): 13-27.

Butler, Judith, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. “What is critique?” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2015): 225-248.

Halpern, Diane F. Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. Psychology Press, 2013.

Moore, Brooke Noel, and Richard Parker. Critical thinking. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

The Foundation of Critical Thinking. (1997). Retrieved from The Foundation of Critical Thinking Website: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/a-brief-history-of-the-idea-of-critical-thinking/408

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The project of pure enquiry. Routledge, 2014.


[1] The Foundation of Critical Thinking. (1997). Retrieved from The Foundation of Critical Thinking Website: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/a-brief-history-of-the-idea-of-critical-thinking/408

[2] Halpern, Diane F. Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. Psychology Press, 2013.

[3] Butler, Judith, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. “What is critique?.” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2015): 225-248.

[4] Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The project of pure inquiry. Routledge, 2014.

[5] Barry, Margaret M., et al. “A Review of the Evidence on the Effects of Community-based Programs on Young People’s Social and Emotional Skills Development.” Adolescent Research Review 3.1 (2018): 13-27.

[6] Moore, Brooke Noel, and Richard Parker. Critical thinking. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

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