Population Characteristics

The committee made the decision to focus on programs and policies for young people between ages 10 and 18; we refer to this target population throughout the report by multiple terms: young people, youth, adolescents, and teens. We recognize that among practitioners, researchers, and policy makers, different age brackets often define adolescence. Some community programs and policies for youth target children as young as 8 years old and as old as 21; others identify a subset within this larger range, such as 12 to 15 or 16 to 18. The committee chose the 10 to 18 age range because in our view it covers the most critical years of adolescent development and coincides more or less with the years of secondary school. However, this age range did not constrain the committee’s work and some deviation occurred when examining programs and policies. Furthermore, we recognize that the principles of adolescent development and the program features identified in this report have useful implications for the programming for younger children and older adolescents and young adults.

There are countless subpopulations of adolescents defined by a great variety of characteristics—such as youth of a particular race or ethnic group; youth with disabilities; gay and lesbian youth; gifted and talented youth; youth with special physical or emotional needs; incarcerated youth; runaway youth; and youth in foster care. The committee made the decision to look broadly at adolescents and not explicitly identify features of programs aimed at adolescents who fall within a particular subpopulation, while recognizing that some adolescents may, in fact, have special needs or interests and that programs may need to be adapted to accommodate them.

Finally, there are various individuals and groups interested in community programs for youth. This report was written in great part with an eye toward these various interests—service practitioners, policy makers, researchers, and the young people and their families participating in the programs. We defined service practitioners as the staff and managers who provide direct services to young people. We defined policy makers broadly, as elected officials and bureaucrats, as well as public- and private-sector staff at the community and national levels, who develop, implement, build the capacity of, provide technical assistance to, and fund these programs. Members of the research community include evaluators of local, state, and national initiatives, developmental researchers, and professionals who consult on the theory, design, and implementation of community programs for youth.

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