Positive youth development programs engage young people in intentional, productive, and constructive ways, while recognizing and enhancing their strengths. These programs promote positive outcomes by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and giving the support needed to build on their strengths as well as prevent risky behaviors.
Research indicates that young people who are surrounded by a variety of opportunities for engagement encounter less risk and ultimately show evidence of higher rates of successful transitions into adulthood (Alberts, Chase, Naudeau, Phelps, & Lerner, 2006; Bandy & Moore, 2009; Eccles & Gootman, 2002; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Pittman, Irby, & Ferber, 2001; Pittman, 1999; Lerner, 2004). Positive youth development programs are one venue to ensure that young people have access to adequate positive opportunities. Describing the evidence of effectiveness for positive youth development programs is difficult because the evidence base is fragmented. There have been many evaluations of programs that target specific outcomes (e.g., substance abuse prevention) that may use a positive youth development approach, but to date there has not been a comprehensive review to capture the available evidence from these sorts of evaluations. However, the evidence available suggests that positive youth development programs can prevent a variety of risk behaviors among young people, and improve social and emotional outcomes. For example:
Although there has been limited evaluation of positive youth development programs, the evidence that is available suggests that the opportunities, skills, and atmosphere offered in a positive youth development program can lead to better health, social, and educational outcomes.
Alberts A. E., Chase P., Naudeau S., Phelps E., & Lerner R. (2006). Qualitative and quantitative assessments of thriving and contribution in early adolescence: Findings from the 4-H study of positive youth development. Journal of Youth Development, 1(2).
Bandy T., & Moore, K. A. (2009) Non-participation of children and adolescents in out-of-school time programs: Child, family and neighborhood factors. Pub. #2009-39. Washington, D.C.: Child Trends. Retrieved from http://www.caction.org/CAN-Research/Reports/2009/Child_Trends-2009_07_22_RB_Nonparticipation.pdf (PDF, 6 Pages)
Eccles J. S., & Gootman J. A. (Eds.). (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Gavin, L., Catalano, R., David-Ferdon, C., Gloppen, K., & Markham, C. (2009). A review of positive youth development programs that promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 44, S11.
Pittman, K. (1999). Youth Today: The power of engagement. Forum for Youth Engagement. Retrieved from www.forumforyouthinvestment.org/node/500.
Pittman, K., Irby, M., & Ferber, T. (2001). Unfinished business: Further reflections on a decade of promoting youth development. In P.L. Benson and K.J. Pittman (Eds.), Trends in youth development: Visions, realities and challenges. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Lerner, R. M. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. F., & Phelps, E. (2008). Wave of the future: The first five years of the 4-H study of positive youth development. Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development. Medford, MA: Tufts University.
Roth, J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). What do adolescents need for healthy development: Implications for youth policy. Social Policy Report 14(1), 3-19.
Conducts intensive reviews to help determine which program and policy interventions have been proven effective, conducted a systematic review of youth development interventions with an impact on adolescent sexual and reproductive health outcomes. The Guide found evidence to recommend interventions that are coordinated with community service to reduce sexual risk behaviors in adolescents.
This publication identifies six strategies that teachers, administrators and other school staff, and parents can implement to increase the extent to which students feel connected to school.
Map My Community is a tool designed specifically to assist you in locating resources in your community to help you build and strengthen your youth program. Get ideas for new partnerships, identify gaps in your community, and learn about resources to avoid duplication of effort.
FindYouthInfo.gov is the U.S. government Web site that helps you create, maintain, and strengthen effective youth programs. Included are youth facts, funding information, and tools to help you assess community assets, generate maps of local and federal resources, search for evidence-based youth programs, and keep up-to-date on the latest, youth-related news.