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Forming and sustaining positive youth development initiatives

The Issue

In the past decade, a number of groups have been trying to develop a positive approach toward youth development in American communities. The “positive approach” is based on research that reveals all youth need certain resources to thrive. Among other things, youth development programs that use the positive approach promote a sense of safety, provide opportunities to belong and offer teens meaningful challenges. This is in contrast to a “risk approach,” which focuses on reducing negative or problem behaviors. Some of the positive approach community efforts have been successful, but just as many have not.

What Has ANR Done?

UC Cooperative Extesnion undertook a study to asertain the common traits of the successful initiatives. Four California positive-approach community initiatives were examined by UC's Applied Developmental Science Workgroup. The study included interviews with adults, youth photo-documentary notebooks, youth focus groups, and document review to explore strategies used in building and sustaining the programs. The study found that even though the programs were different in many respects and located in different communities, the same five steps were used to bring about and sustain the initiatives. The steps the researchers identified are:
1) Engage adults from all sectors of the community to develop positive, sustained relationships with young people.
2) Mobilize young people to act as “change agents” and become part of the community’s decision making process.
3) Activate all parts of the community to create an asset-building environment and culture in the community.
4) Invigorate existing programs to become asset-rich and available to all children and youth.
5) Influence civic decisions by working with community opinion leaders and decision makers.

The Payoff

Results of this project likely to assist other positive-approach initiatives

School districts, YMCAs, Economic Opportunity Commissions, Departments of Social Services, Departments of Alcohol and Drugs, 4-H, community recreation departments, and other community-based and youth-serving organizations have been involved and interested in the research of the workgroup. The research has helped community members understand the nature of UC Cooperative Extension’s role in applied research and education.

Workgroup members have presented research-papers and workshops, and led discussion groups throughout California, at numerous conferences outside of California, and at three conferences outside the United States. This grass-roots presentation approach, along with a planned practical “how-to” manual, will continue to assist many positive-approach initiatives throughout the United States in the years ahead. The information generated by the workgroup's research is being used by groups throughout the country in assisting them in the start-up phase of their initiatives. Organizations have changed their practices and focus areas as a result of the workgroup's results. In addition, the results of the research contribute to the growing body of knowledge on positive youth development and community initiatives.


Supporting Unit: 4-H Youth Development Program

Applied Developmental Science Workgroup, Nancy Hafer, chair, nshafer@ucdavis.edu, (530) 757-8645