Youth Development Background and Resources

Youth development is the process by which all young people seek ways to meet their basic physical and social needs and to build competencies (knowledge and skills) necessary to succeed in adolescence and adulthood.

Youth development also is an approach to working with young people that intentionally helps them meet developmental needs, builds their capacity and provides relationships and connections needed for their success.

The youth development approach not only includes youth building their skills to prepare themselves for adulthood, but also youth working to transform their community to address the social, physical, educational and cultural challenges that impede youth growing up successfully. This includes youth serving roles as leaders, civic advocates and community mobilizers.

The youth development approach is based on more than 40 years of research in the youth development, asset development and resiliency fields.

The Youth Development approach is based on this set of principles:

Problem free is not fully prepared ― We need to do more than prevent youth problems; we also need to ensure youth are prepared to take on adult roles and responsibilities.

Single-focus strategies don’t work ― Developing the whole child requires that we use comprehensive and collaborative approaches that address the full range of competencies we want youth to have ― civic, social, vocational, cognitive, creative/cultural and physical. Since no one person or agency can supply all of what youth need to succeed, we need to collaborate to create a web of support around youth to ensure they get the full range of supports and opportunities to help them develop.

Development happens across all settings ― Youth are developing 24/7. By ensuring every setting has what we know youth need to succeed, we can help youth develop in positive ways. Everyone has a role in developing youth.

All young people need the same supports and opportunities ― We know through research that youth need supports and opportunities to succeed. Some youth have less access to these supports and opportunities, but all youth need the same supports and opportunities.

Youth are resources, not just recipients of services ― Youth have much to contribute if adults give them a chance to be part of the solution. Being engaged is critical to their development, as well as to making programs more relevant and communities more youth-friendly.

Framework for Practice

REACH uses the framework for change developed by Michelle Gambone, Finding Out What Matters for Youth. Her research shows that children and youth who have certain supports and opportunities are more likely to achieve positive developmental outcomes. These outcomes include: being productive (graduating, becoming employed or going to college); being able to navigate (solve problems, know where to get help, manage living situations) and being connected (have healthy relationships, contribute to the community, belong to groups).

The framework identifies these key supports and opportunities that contribute to the developmental outcomes:

  • access to basic nutrition, shelter and health
  • access to emotionally and physically safe environments
  • multiple supportive relationships with adults and peers
  • meaningful opportunities for youth voice, group membership and leadership
  • meaningful opportunities to be involved in the community, impact the community and transform the community
  • challenging, relevant and engaging activities and learning experiences

Agencies can create high-quality experiences/programs through practices, policies and environments that offer youth these supports and opportunities. Organizational practices that support high-quality youth development approaches include: low staff-to-youth ratios, continuity on staff to ensure relationship building with youth, clear and fair standards of behavior, use of multiple teaching modalities, staff training on youth development, structures and policies in organizations that include youth in decision making and leadership, collaboration and partnership with the community and families, cultural competency, flexible funding, evaluation and continuous learning.

Communities can create policies that ensure youth have access to environments and experiences that provide youth the supports and opportunities they need to succeed ― more safe places after school, mentors for any child who wants one, inclusion, cultural competency and community-based services to ensure access and relevancy, opportunities for youth to engage in service to community, more youth on decision-making bodies, program evaluations that include youth voice and perspective/youth-led evaluations, adult training on how to engage with youth, and developing policies that support a stable and well-trained youth worker workforce.

Youth Development Resources

Youth Development Research and Web sites

Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine

Exemplary Practices in Adolescent Development
Sierra Health Foundation

Finding Out What Matters for Youth
Youth Development Strategies, Inc.

Forum for Youth Investment

National Youth Development Information Center

Search Institute

Youth Leadership Institute

Engaging Youth

Engaging Youth: A How-to Guide for Creating Opportunities for Young People to Participate, Lead and Succeed
Sierra Health Foundation

Engaging Youth: Catalogue of Organizations and Resources in the Sacramento Area
Sierra Health Foundation

Youth Voices in Community Design Handbook ? A How-To Guide for Adults on Involving Youth in Community Planning
California Center for Civic Participation and Youth Development
Funded by a grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Washington Youth Voice Handbook
Activities and workshop outlines for engaging youth

Innovation Center
Research and tools for youth engagement in community and civic activism

Tools and Resources

National Youth Development Information Center

Youth in Focus

Youth Development Network
Up-to-date information on local training, jobs, grants, resources and research