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Research & Theory


The theoretical underpinnings of the Hope Squad are based on youth empowerment and ecological theory. Empowerment theory, according to Zimmerman suggests that not only do youth need to develop specific skills and positive assets, but also that youth must become motivated to actively apply these skills and knowledge to become agents of positive change for themselves and in their communities. The Hope Squad was developed on this basis and fulfills these requirements by training youth in the warning signs for suicide and how to act, then connecting youth with local resources and adult role models, and engaging youth in community service activities.

Independence High School Hope Squad

Ecological theory (Bronfenbrenner) complements empowerment theory because it focuses attention on the social contexts in which youth develop and their interactions between these contexts, and the roles youth can play in these contexts (e.g., schools, communities). An intervention approach like Hope Squad informed by these two theories should enhance positive youth development by engaging youth in relevant ecological settings where they can learn skills, practice those skills, and establish the social resources to effectively navigate the social contexts in which they find themselves and develop into healthy adults.

Research findings based on two school-based surveys of Hope Squad members have been positive. These surveys demonstrated that squad member’s knowledge of suicide warning signs, capacity to take action to assist their peers, and helping behaviors all increased significantly (p. < .05) from pre to posttest. Further, during the second year of the study it was shown that returning Hope Squad members retain their acquired knowledge and skills. Survey findings from school counselors also indicate that Hope Squad training systems and materials facilitate a high degree of program adherence to model fidelity.

Other research findings indicate that neither the adolescent Hope Squad members or the school counselors (Hope Squad Advisers) who work directly with the squad members suffer from significant levels of psychological stress, burnout, or compassion fatigue as a result of their involvement in the Hope Squad.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977) An Experimental Ecology of Human Development. American Psychologist 32. 5413-531

Bronfenbrenner, U (1988) Interacting Systems in Human Development: Research Paradigms – Present and Future. In: N.Bolder, A. Caspi, G. Downey, and M. Moorehouse (Eds). Persons in Context: Developmental Processes. pp 25-49. Cambridge University Press.

Hope Squad 2013-14 Final Report. September 1, 2014. Social Research Institute, College of Social Work. University of Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Hope Squad 20143-15 Final Report. February. 15, 2016. Social Research Institute, College of Social Work. University of Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Zimmerman, MA (2000) Empowerment theory: Psychological, organizational and community levels of analysis. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds). Handbook of Community Psychology, Chapter 2 (pp. 42-63). New York: Plenum Press.

Want to Learn More?


The Hope Squad has changed the culture of our school to one where everyone looks out for one another and lets adults know when they see or hear something that concerns them.

Springville Junior High

At this point, I think it is the most effective program available to us, the school and students are so used to it by now it’s almost a legacy. Students count on it–they would be more upset if we changed programs.

Dixon Middle School

Kids this age are marvelous at listening to their friends but they get overwhelmed and don’t know how to carry it after a while. So if you have a program that addresses what to do and how to get help sooner perhaps break cycles sooner. I think peers are very relevant.

Hillside Middle School