Positive Youth Development: A framework for improving the lives of all Texas youth
All Texas youth deserve to be healthy, happy, lawful and literate. All Texas youth need access to opportunities to build competencies, skills, and connections with others. All Texas youth need a safe, stable, supportive, caring and responsive families and communities in order to thrive. And all Texas youth need policies and programs that are supportive of youth voice and engagement, and that promote building character, confidence, and connections with caring adults.
Adolescence is an age of opportunity and is generally defined as the period of life ranging from 10 to 25 years of age. The number of Texas youth under the age of 18 grew by one million from 2000 to 2010, and also increase in diversity. This also means that 1 out of every 11 children in the United States calls Texas home (CPPP, 2012).
There continue to be significant racial, ethnic, geographic, socioeconomic, and other disparities that affect the health and well-being of this population. Improving the health of adolescents and young adults is a critical national issue as the well-being of adolescents has “a major impact on the overall health of society: today’s adolescents are tomorrow’s work force, parents and leaders (Birkhead, et al, 2006). Research shows that while investments in early childhood is good, later investments in improving the health of adolescents and young adults results in more favorable results (Knudson, E. & Heckman, J. 2006).
“Positive youth development is an approach, not a program, that guides communities in developing and implementing services, opportunities and supports so that young people can be engaged and reach their full potential.” It is a conceptual and practical lens that can enhance prevention, intervention and treatment models. What makes this approach unique is that it “emphasizes the many positive attributes of young people and focuses on working to develop inherent strengths and assets in youth to promote healthy behavioral development.” Positive youth development depicts youth and young adults as resources to cultivate, not problems to fix, by incorporating the following guiding principles into programs:
1. Strengths-Based – The approach focuses on positive physical and mental health, education, social, vocation- al, creative, spiritual and civic outcomes.
2. Youth Engagement – Youth have a positive sense of self and are connected to positive peers, adults and communities.
3. Youth-Adult Partnerships – Youth work with adults to make decisions for program and policy planning, implementation and evaluation.
4. Culturally Responsive – Adults and youth recognize and respond proactively to variations in backgrounds/ cultures including, but not limited to, ethnic, racial, linguistic, learning and physical abilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and geographic location, to ensure inclusivity and equity.
5. Inclusive of ALL youth – The approach is inclusive, not solely focusing on youth in at-risk environments or exhibiting risky behaviors.
6. Collaboration – Private and public agencies, state and local partners, and the community, including families, work together to support youth.
7. Sustainability – Long-term planning that includes funding, capacity-building, professional development and evaluation exists for ongoing support of youth.
Positive youth development research demonstrates that youth with more assets (e.g., caring school climate) have reduced morbidity and better health outcomes. Key protective factors (e.g., connectedness to parents and family) promote healthy youth behaviors, diminishing the likelihood of negative health and social outcomes. Therefore, a dual strategy of risk reduction and promotion of protective factors through an intentional positive youth development approach holds the greatest promise as a public health strategy to improve outcomes for youth.