Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.
Integrating Positive Youth Development into Programs
PYD can be integrated into any youth development program. First and foremost, all youth-serving organizations should work toward assuring that young people have the chance to engage in positive relationships and interactions that can help them develop into healthy and productive adults. PYD strategies also include providing youth with access to experiences that help them learn healthy and valued behaviors, expectations, and principles. The following model was developed by Jacquelynne Eccles (2011) and describes the types of opportunities that should be provided to young people and how these opportunities help young people develop into happy, healthy, and secure young adults.
Eccles, J. (2011).f Community-based programs for youth. Presented at National Academies of Science Conference: 10 Year Follow-Up to “Community Programs to Promote Youth Development.”
A comprehensive review of the research literature focused on community programs for youth,1 identified key environmental factors and experiences that have been found to promote PYD. These factors and experiences are recommended by experts to be integrated into PYD programs. They include:
Physical and Psychological Safety
A program should provide ground rules that are developed, agreed upon, and posted by the youth participants. Adequately trained staff members who understand and respect youth are essential to providing a safe space for a positive program experience. A program should also include youth and adults who are trained in team building and can understand and recognize symptoms of cliques and find alternative means for using group and team-building exercises.
A program should provide appropriate youth-to-adult ratios for supervision, a system for ensuring that youth are welcomed when they arrive, and a balance for different learning styles in programmatic activities.
Programs should create opportunities where youth share their interests and work collaboratively with their peers. Staff should be trained in handling conflict, recognizing symptoms of withdrawal, and understanding how to engage youth without singling them out.
Opportunities to Belong
A program should provide opportunities for youth to be engaged in small group activities based on interest. Structured team building should also be provided to ensure that all youth have a chance to get acquainted. For the youth to feel involved, opportunities for sharing need to be incorporated into each activity.
Positive Social Norms
Programs should engage youth and program staff in creating a respectful environment that involves a respect for diversity and culture in activities.
Opportunities to Make a Difference
A program should engage youth in exploring career and workforce opportunities, provide occasions for goal setting, and create opportunities for youth to make a difference in service learning or peer support.
Opportunities for Skill Development
Programs should provide opportunities for youth to master and apply skills and engage the youth in determining choices toward progression of new levels of learning.
Integration of Family, School, and Community Efforts
A program needs to incorporate ways to engage parents and/or guardians, staff, and youth participants through family activities, newsletters, websites, and program policies. Programs should be aware of when youth are in school or out of school and plan accordingly to support youth and their families in extended programming opportunities. Additionally, programs should be mindful of certain populations such as disconnected youth, that may be more difficult to engage and how best to get them involved in programming.
Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches
This webpage content from the Office of Adolescent Health offers approaches and resources for successful youth engagement including topics such as: youth councils, youth governance, youth serving on boards, youth voice, youth advocacy, and youth organizing.
Embracing a “Youth Welfare” System: A Guide to Capacity Building
This guide focuses on challenges that state child welfare agencies face when working with youth. To address these challenges, the guide presents the Youth Welfare approach, which outlines how agencies can shift from a child-focused system to a youth-focused system by implementing practices that support youth and their needs. Agencies and others working with youth in care can access the complete guide or download the tools, which include a graphic and several exercises to build staff knowledge and skills in youth welfare.
Family and Youth Services Bureau Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The mission of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) is to provide national leadership on youth and family issues. FYSB promotes positive outcomes for children, youth, and families by supporting a wide range of comprehensive services and collaborations at the local, tribal, state, and national levels. Grant programs supported by FYSB include the Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program, Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, and Family Violence Prevention and Services.
National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health
The National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health is a collaborative effort to improve the health, safety, and well-being of adolescents and young adults ages 10–24. The initiative was launched and is led by Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration and is supported by a group of partner organizations. A range of resources, including a guide for state agencies and local organizations, is available on this website.
Positive Youth Development Resource Manual (PDF, 210 pages)
Developed by the ACT for Youth and the Upstate Center for Excellence at Cornell University, this manual provides resources and tools for community members and professionals to help promote PYD in their communities and assist organizational and community change.
Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center
This is a centralized national resource for Runaway and Homeless Youth grantees funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Training and technical assistance are directed at assisting the grantees to engage in continuous quality improvement of their services and to build their capacity to effectively serve runaway and homeless youth.
Science of PYD (PDF, 1 page)
This fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a brief history of PYD's roots, a look at PYD today, and details about how the 4-H program serves as a model for the practice of PYD.
1 Eccles & Gootman, 2002
Other Resources on this Topic
Tools & Guides
Videos & Podcasts
Webinars & Presentations
Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people
Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.
Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.
Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.
Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).