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Evaluation of Internet Child Safety Materials Used by ICAC Task Forces in School and Community Setting

Summary. This project involves a multi--pronged content and process evaluation of Internet safety education materials currently utilized by the Internet Crimes against Children (ICAC) Task Forces in school and community settings across the country.  Internet safety programs have proliferated, but there is little information to guide law enforcement or policy makers in determining which materials or delivery methods have the greatest chance of increasing children’s online safety.  This evaluation will provide an objective review of existing Internet safety materials and their use. The project draws from the expertise of two knowledgeable teams in youth Internet safety, the Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC) and the Fox Valley Technical College's Internet Crimes Against Children Training & Technical Assistance Program (FVTC/ICAC T&TA) (http://www.icactraining.org/ ).   

Background

Publicity about online predators or sex offenders who use the Internet to meet juvenile victims has raised considerable alarm about the extent that Internet use may be putting children and adolescents at risk for sexual abuse and exploitation. Internet safety education has been a visible part of the response. Sophisticated web and classroom-based curricula have been developed to disseminate materials on Internet safety and educate youth and the public (e.g., Netsmartz, i-SAFE, Web Wise Kids, and iKeepSafe).  However, Internet safety education is still in a formative stage.  Although there have been a small number of outcome evaluations, they have mostly lacked rigor and provide no evidence that existing programs change youth behavior or reduce risk.  While future outcome studies will be critical to establishing the effectiveness of Internet safety education, the field must start by systematically reviewing existing efforts to identify those with the greatest chance of effectiveness. 

This evaluation project will provide a critical first step. The study that is underway will compare the most prominent youth Internet safety programs against a large body of research that has identified effective youth prevention and education program components. The project will first review the appropriateness and quality of internet safety curricula as they were meant to be implemented and then study how they are actually being used by ICAC Task Forces and others.  Feedback on all results will be provided by a panel of prevention, youth education, and Internet safety professionals. At the conclusion of the project, we will make detailed recommendations to ICAC Task Force educators and other national stakeholders regarding important components of Internet safety education content and delivery.

Goals and Objectives

Methodology

The first objective of the project is to rate and compare the programmatic elements of four extensively developed Internet safety curricula (Netsmartz, i-SAFE, Web Wise Kids, and iKeepSafe.org) in the context of practices shown to be effective in other areas of prevention and youth education.  This will be completed through the creation of a Prevention Component Matrix based on summaries from a comprehensive review of research summaries and meta-analyses on successful prevention program components in the areas of youth drug abuse, sex education, traffic safety, smoking prevention, dental health, suicide, youth violence, and school failure. We will also consult a panel of professionals with expertise in prevention, education and Internet safety.  The Prevention Component Matrix will be used as the basis for a structured content analysis of the four selected Internet safety education curricula using written and electronic material from each of the four programs and data from key informant interviews.

The content analysis of the Internet safety curricula described above evaluates the materials in the optimal format recommended by developers.  However, there is a substantial literature suggesting that dissemination of program materials rarely occurs as recommended or designed. Therefore, the second objective of the study will be to collect implementation and contextual data for ICAC Task Force internet safety education efforts through surveys with three different groups of respondents:  ICAC Task Force commanders, ICAC Task Force educators, and school coordinators. The latter group of respondents is being included because many law enforcement educators present materials in schools where other Internet safety education efforts are in place, for example in computer or library classes.
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The last goal of the proposed project is directed at developing key products to help ensure that the research findings from this project and others are incorporated into future expansions of Internet safety education.  These products will include: 1) an Evaluation Toolkit, with piloted outcome measures for use in future program monitoring and outcome evaluation efforts; and 2) an Internet Safety Prevention Clearinghouse, a community portal for the placement of Internet prevention education materials and relevant research data.  An additional goal of the project is to identify state education department partners for future evaluation research efforts and begin groundwork discussions about how such evaluation projects might proceed. Due to new legislation requiring Internet safety education in schools, partnerships between law enforcement and schools are likely to increase in the future.  Additionally, as so much of law enforcement prevention takes part either in or in coordination with schools, future outcome studies will require the involvement of multiple school districts.   For evaluation of school-based prevention programs, large samples of schools are needed and at each school, significant planning periods are often required to approve materials and methods.

 

For More Information Contact:

Lisa M. Jones, PhD, Principal Investigator
Crimes against Children Research Center
603-862-2515
Lisa.jones@unh.edu