Program Outcomes for Children



Responsibility and independence are two related qualities that help us succeed in adult life.  Responsibility can be defined as the ability to control and manage one’s own life.  Independence can be defined as the ability to take responsibility for one’s life without unnecessary reliance on the help of others.  Adults who are responsible and independent handle their day-to-day lives and schedules themselves, complete tasks carefully and on time, admit their role in mistakes, and work to correct those mistakes.  Adults who are not responsible, in contrast, may constantly turn to someone else to make decisions, forget obligations, miss deadlines, or repeatedly blame their mistakes on others (Shaffer, 1999).

NCEO Responsibility and Independence Model

Developing independence and responsibility is an ongoing process that continues throughout childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood.  Our expectations of responsibility and independence differ depending on the age of the child.  Being able to manage a checkbook and live in an apartment alone would be a reasonable expectation for a 21-year-old but not an 8-year-old.  Being able to complete a task without teacher or parent assistance might be an appropriate expectation for an 8-year-old (depending on the task) but not a 2-year-old (Berk, 1996).  For this reason, discussions of responsibility and independence should be based on age-appropriate expectations.

The foundations of independence actually begin in earliest infancy.  During the first 18 months of life, infants are forming close emotional bonds with their parents and other regular caregivers.  Infants whose caregivers are warm, sensitive, and responsive learn that the world is safe and adults can be trusted.  These infants develop a positive emotional bond known as secure attachment.  In contrast, infants whose caregivers are cold and rejecting or inconsistent may believe that the world is unsafe and unpredictable.  These infants develop an insecure attachment to their caregivers.

The type of attachment formed during infancy affects a child’s independence.  Children who are securely attached are usually willing to explore their world independently, within certain limits, because they know that they can come back to their caregivers for support when they feel afraid or threatened.  Children who were securely attached as infants are more likely to show age-appropriate independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving abilities during childhood and adolescence (Frankel & Bates, 1990; Sroufe, Fox, & Pancake, 1983).

Responsibility, like independence, develops gradually during childhood and adolescence.  Parenting style has important effects on children’s developing ability to take responsibility for their actions.  Children whose parents are overly controlling or overly permissive do not learn how to take responsibility for their actions.  These children tend to become irresponsible adults who cannot manage their lives or accept responsibility for their mistakes.  Children whose parents provide some freedom within clearly defined and clearly enforced limits, in contrast, gradually learn to be responsible for their actions and, as a result, are more likely to succeed in school and in later life (Berk, 1996; Shumow, Vandell, & Posner, 1998; Spencer et. al, 1996). 

As children develop, adults can nurture their growing independence and responsibility through positive guidance.  Positive guidance has two important components: (1) providing children with developmentally appropriate opportunities to make choices, and (2) allowing them to experience the consequences of those choices.  For toddlers, those choices need to be simple and clearly defined — for example, they could choose between a red shirt and a blue shirt.  As children get older, they can gradually be given more freedom to make choices that affect them, within age-appropriate limits set by adults.  Equally importantly, children must be allowed to experience the consequences of their choices.  If a child chooses to leave his bicycle outside in the rain, the bicycle will rust; if a child decides to watch television instead of studying for a test, he is likely to fail the test.  Experiencing consequences such as these teaches children that their actions lead to certain results and encourages them to take responsibility for those actions.  Responsibility and independence are developed through the gradual expansion of freedom within limits, along with the connection between children’s actions and appropriate consequences, provides children with opportunities to develop independence and responsibility for their lives  (Dubow, Huesmann, & Eron, 1987; Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

Participation in certain community-based programs has been shown to increase children’s responsibility.  Children at risk who participated in the High/Scope Perry Preschool program --- a developmentally appropriate program that teaches children to take responsibility for their activities through structured planning and reviewing,  demonstrated greater responsibility than children who did not participate (Weikart, 1998).  Similarly, children in a peer-helper program — whose tasks included teaching younger children positive qualities such as responsibility  —  were more likely to demonstrate responsibility and other positive qualities than classmates who were not peer helpers (Scarborough, 1997).  Clearly, providing opportunities for children to practice responsibility encourages them to be more responsible.

Outcome Components

According to the NCEO conceptual model (Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1993), as adapted for community-based programs by the Children’s National Outcome Work Group, the outcome domain of responsibility includes three outcome components.  Although the model was originally designed to be used in public education settings, these outcomes are equally relevant for State Strengthening and other community-based programs seeking to improve the lives of children.

The following outcomes are included in responsibility and independence:

• Demonstrates age-appropriate independence
• Gets about in the environment
• Demonstrates age-appropriate responsibility for self
Suggested Indicators

The following are some appropriate indicators of positive program outcomes for children in the area of responsibility and independence, based on the NCEO model (Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1993), as adapted for community-based programs by the Children’s Outcome Work Group.  The appropriateness of any given indicator for your program evaluation depends on the age of the children you serve, the setting, and the goals and activities of your particular program.

Within the domain of responsibility and independence, it is especially important to remember that the definitions of responsibility and independence change as children get older.  These indicators should be adjusted, if necessary, to reflect age-appropriate expectations for the children in your community-based program.

• Percent of children who initiate and follow through on activities
• Percent of children who accept responsibility for their actions and mistakes
• Percent of children who can decide when help is needed and obtain it in an emergency
• Percent of children who act in ways that reflect an understanding of the responsibilities of group or family membership
• Percent of children who get to and from destinations within the program environment
• Percent of children who feed themselves and participate appropriately in mealtime activities
• Percent of children who dress themselves appropriately
• Percent of children who attend to their own hygiene needs
• Percent of children who take care of their own belongings


Responsibility and independence are qualities that develop throughout childhood and adolescence, based in part on the quality of children’s relationships with parents and other adults.  Children who have warm, secure relationships and freedom to make choices within limits gradually learn to control their lives and take responsibility for their actions.  Children who are responsible and independent are more likely to succeed in school, in their careers, and in social relationships (Dubow, Huesmann, & Eron, 1987; Shaffer, 1999).

State Strengthening community projects can play an important role in helping children develop responsibility and independence.  When working with infants, remember that  early parent-child relationships are crucial for developing independence.  Help infants and young children establish secure attachments with their parents.  Encourage families to spend time with their children, especially when they are young.  Teach them to be warm and responsive to their baby’s cries.  Help parents establish age-appropriate choices, limits, and consequences for their young children.

Community-based programs can also help children develop responsibility and independence.  Keep caregivers consistent, especially for infants and toddlers, so that young children can develop secure relationships with adults.  Set clear rules and limits that are appropriate to children’s ages, but provide them with opportunities make choices within those limits.  As children get older, allow them to help set and enforce the program “rules”.  Teach children to take responsibility for their education by helping them establish routines for bringing home papers, completing and turning in homework, and preparing for tests.


Berk, L. E.  (1996).  Infants, children, and adolescents. (2nd Ed.).  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Dubow, E. F., Huesmann, L. R., & Eron, L. D.  (1987).  Childhood correlates of adult ego development.  Child Development, 58, 859 - 869.

Frankel, K. A., & Bates, J. E.  (1990).  Mother-toddler problem-solving: Antecedents in attachment, home behavior, and temperament.  Child Development, 61, 810 - 819.

Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A.  (1983).  Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction.  In P. H. Mussen (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, Volume IV (pp. 1 - 101).  New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Scarborough, J. L.  (1997).  The SOS club: A practical peer helper program.  Professional School Counseling, 1, 25 - 28.

Shaffer, D.  (1999).  Developmental psychology: Childhood and adolescence (5th Ed.).  Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Shumow, L., Vandell, D. L., & Posner, J. K.  (1998).  Harsh, firm, and permissive parenting in low-income families: Relations to children’s academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.  Journal of Family Issues, 19, 483 - 507.

Spencer, M. B., Dupree, D., Swanson, D. P., & Cunningham, M.  (1996).  Parental monitoring and adolescents’ sense of responsibility for their own learning: An examination of sex differences.  Journal of Negro Education, 65, 30 - 43.

Sroufe, L. A., Fox, N. E., & Pancake, V. R.  (1983).  Attachment and dependency in developmental perspective.  Child Development, 54, 1615 - 1627.

Weikart, D. P.  (1998).  Changing early childhood development through educational intervention.  Preventive Medicine: An International Devoted to Practice & Theory, 27, 233 - 237.



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