Civic Engagement

How much do you know about…4-H and Positive Youth Development?

  • 4-H provides opportunities for youth development and for youth to develop skills, practical knowledge, and wisdom through observing, doing, and living through experiences.
  • The 4 H's are Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.
  • 4-H emphasizes the practical application of knowledge or "learning by doing" to develop skills and acquire a sense of responsibility, initiative, and self-worth.

Report Shows Majority of Americans Civically Engaged in Their Communities

Boomers and Older Adults Rank High Across Several Key Categories of Civic Engagement

Washington State Youth Take Civic Activism To New Level

photo of Sierra"I don't think anyone should have to go through what a lot of kids face; I've been taking care of my mom since I was ten," says Sierra, a student facing family mental health issues, who attends school in a Spokane dropout retrieval program.

"And life isn't fair, but you have to learn how to deal with it anyways. All the life problems outside the school doors come first before we are going to read a textbook."

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement involves “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”1 Civic engagement includes both paid and unpaid forms of political activism, environmentalism, and community and national service.2 Volunteering, national service, and service-learning are all forms of civic engagement.

According to the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, seven percent of 15- to 25-year-old Americans participated in 10 or more community engagement or political activities within the previous year.3 When compared to their peers who report no civic engagement activities, this group was more likely to be African-American, urban, attend church regularly, from a family with parents who volunteer, a current student (in college or high school), and from college-educated home.4

AmeriCorps (formerly the Corporation for National and Community Service, or CNCS) is a federal agency that sends people power and funding to communities across the country for causes such as disaster response, opioid crisis, and education.

Participation in civic engagement activities can help youth become better informed about current events. For example, according to the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, approximately a quarter of youth who had not participated in civic engagement activities within the last year did not answer any questions regarding current politics correctly.5

Definition and Constructs

Youth civic engagement is defined as working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community. It also involves developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.6 These activities enrich the lives of youths and are socially beneficial to the community. Four interrelated constructs have been identified in the research literature as necessary for civic engagement (see Figure 1).

FIGURE 1: FOUR CONSTRUCTS OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Four Constructs of Civic Engagement: Civic Action, Civic Commitment or Duty, Civic Skills, Social Cohesion

Volunteering is only one form of civic engagement included, as defined above, in the construct of civic action and civic commitment or duty, but research has also shown a connection between youth who volunteer and other forms of youth civic engagement. Findings suggest that “among youth, volunteering plays a valuable role in shaping how youth learn to interact with their community and develop the skills, values, and sense of empowerment necessary to become active citizens.”7

While many youth volunteer, most young people do not see a connection between volunteering and political engagement or activism. In the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, the majority of young people said that they volunteered in order to help others, not to address a social or political problem. Only six percent of youth believed that their volunteering was a means to address social or political problems.8

Another possible form of civic action and civic commitment and duty is service-learning. According to the American Psychological Association,9 service-learning and civic engagement can be related but are not the same thing. Service-learning does not have to include a civic dimension and all forms of civic engagement are not service-learning. Civic engagement is a broader concept that may encompass, but is not limited to, service-learning. Service-learning differs from community service or volunteerism in two distinct ways:

  • The service activity is integrated with academic curriculum and content.
  • Students engage in reflection activities after their service experience and apply their learning in real-life activities.10

Resources

Character and Civic Education
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools’ Character and Civic Education group administers various programs in character and civics education. These programs include providing financial assistance for character and citizenship education activities in elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education, and reporting on issues and programs, disseminating information, and providing technical assistance to state agencies and state and local correctional institutions.

AmeriCorps (Formerly the Corporation for National and Community Service, CNCS)
AmeriCorps was created (as CNCS) as an independent agency of the United States government by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. AmeriCorps brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges, through national service and volunteering.

Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen (PDF, 43 Pages)
This resource from the U.S. Department of Education provides information about the values and skills that contribute to character and good citizenship, including guidance on what parents can do to help their elementary-, middle-, and high school-aged children develop strong character.

References

1 Erlich, 2000
2 Michelsen, Zaff, & Hair, 2002
3 Lopez, Levine, Both, Kiesa, Kirby, & Marcelo, 2006
4 Dávila & Mora, 2007
5 Dávila & Mora, 2007
6 Erlich, 2000
7 AmeriCorps, 2005
8 Lopez, Levine, Both, Kiesa, Kirby, & Marcelo, 2006
9 American Psychological Association, 2010
10 College of Southern Maryland, 2010

Positive Youth Development

Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments = Positive Youth Development

Based on the literature, the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, a collaboration of 21 federal departments and agencies that support youth, has created the following definition of positive youth development (PYD):

PYD is an intentional, prosocial approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.

The Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs developed a research agenda focused on positive youth development. Through a collaborative consensus-building process, representatives from federal agencies identified three research domains (conceptual issues, data sources and indicators, and program implementation and effectiveness) and key research questions that could benefit from future research.

PYD has its origins in the field of prevention. In the past, prevention efforts typically focused on single problems before they surfaced in youth, such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency.

Over time, practitioners, policymakers, funders, and researchers determined that promoting positive asset building and considering young people as resources were critical strategies. As a result, the youth development field began examining the role of resiliency — the protective factors in a young person's environment — and how these factors could influence one's ability to overcome adversity. Those factors included, but were not limited to, family support and monitoring; caring adults; positive peer groups; strong sense of self, self-esteem, and future aspirations; and engagement in school and community activities.

Researchers and practitioners began to report that young people who possess a diverse set of protective factors can, in fact, experience more positive outcomes. These findings encouraged the development of interventions and programs that reduce risks and strengthen protective factors. The programs and interventions are strengthened when they involve and engage youth as equal partners, ultimately providing benefits for both for the program and the involved youth.

YouthGo.gov

The Department of the Interior (DOI) supports and promotes youth involvement in the environment by working across bureaus within DOI to develop policies and programs that support youth engagement, collaborating with other federal departments and initiatives that support youth involvement in the great outdoors, and sharing information and resources through a youth-targeted website, YouthGo.gov.

Youth ChalleNGe Program

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and the Department of Defense's National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program began their collaboration in 2009 as a way to assist one another with placement and leadership opportunities for disadvantaged and out-of-school youth serving in their programs.