Positive Youth Development

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

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency established in 1993 that engages Americans in service through its core programs: AmeriCorps, and Senior Corps, as well as national volunteer efforts through Serve.gov. CNCS serves as the nation’s largest grantmaker for service and volunteering and harnesses the energy and talents of citizens to solve problems. Everyone can make a difference and should try, regardless of age.

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.

Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)
CNCS was created as an independent agency of the United States government by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The mission of CNCS is to “support the American culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility.” Currently, CNCS delivers several programs that are designed to help communities address poverty, the environment, education, and other unmet human needs. From 1993-2013, Learn and Serve America provided funding and other resources to support school-based, higher education, and community-based service-learning.

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 Corporation for National and Community Service, 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.

Mentoring

Positive youth development research has long demonstrated that youth benefit from close, caring relationships with adults who serve as positive role models (Jekielek, Moore, & Hair, 2002). Today, 8.5 million youth continue to lack supportive, sustained relationships with caring adults (Cavell, DuBois, Karcher, Keller, & Rhodes, 2009). Mentoring—which matches youth or “mentees” with responsible, caring “mentors,” usually adults—has been growing in popularity as both a prevention and intervention strategy over the past decades. Mentoring provides youth with mentors who can develop an emotional bond with the mentee, have greater experience than the mentee, and can provide support, guidance, and opportunities to help youth succeed in life and meet their goals (DuBois and Karcher, 2005). Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal with substantial variation, but the essential components include creating caring, empathetic, consistent, and long-lasting relationships, often with some combination of role modeling, teaching, and advising.

National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS)

The National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) began in 1994 and is a coalition of national organizations, business leaders, and federal agencies focused on youth engagement and the promotion of health and safety for youth.

Key components that support the structure of NOYS include the following

  • Board of directors
  • Meetings and communication
  • Working groups

The collaboration’s best practices include

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 Corporation for National and Community Service’s 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.

Navicate

Navicate (formerly Linking Learning to Life, Inc.) is non-profit organization that acts as both a direct service program operator and an intermediary that supports a collaboration of schools, businesses, colleges, and other organizations to foster opportunities for community service, leadership development, career and college exploration, internships, and employment for youth in Vermont as they transition from school to careers and postsecondary education. Navicate started as a local collaboration and it is now supporting programs and partnerships across Vermont.

Los Angeles YouthSource Centers

The City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District work in partnership to reengage youth who have dropped out of high school and assist youth who have graduated high school but are not currently employed. The collaboration is primarily based out of the city’s YouthSource Centers, where youth receive a full assessment and are subsequently referred to appropriate education- or employment-related placements.

Components of the collaboration follow:

Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development (ICYD) Council

The Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development (ICYD) Council is an interagency effort involving multiple state-level departments. Since 1999 the council has worked to coordinate its efforts and support positive youth development throughout Iowa.

ICYD’s structure includes

Partnership for Results

Partnership for Results(The Partnership) is a model of local governance designed to implement a broad spectrum of evidence-based programs for the benefit of youth at risk. Operating in Cayuga County in Central New York, it has improved outcomes for children and youth and their families since its founding in 2000.