tive youth development in fact devote significant time to efforts designed to prevent specific problems from emerging. Similarly, many programs that call themselves prevention programs include activities linked to community service, mentoring, and other activities associated with positive development approaches. We suspect that much of the tension between these two perspectives derives from competition for funding and the changing trends in public rhetoric and policy. It is not rooted in irreconcilable differences in program design or theory. Consequently, we looked at both types of programs.

The committee concluded that the quest for the perfect program is quixotic. We are unlikely to ever define a single all-time-winner program that should be replicated in cookie-cutter fashion in all American communities. There are several reasons for this cautionary note. First, the diversity of young people, their particular needs, and their surrounding environments argue against the notion that a single program will fit all situations. Second, the funding needed to evaluate all possible models, thereby closing in on the perfect intervention, is simply not available and unlikely to become so. Third and perhaps most important, there is a certain aspect to the challenge of working with young people that is an art, not a science, as any parent or teacher can tell you. Yes, we can describe broad aspects of programs for youth that seem especially useful, such as the widely recognized value of having youth themselves play an active role in the design and tone of individual programs, but in the end, success often hinges on such intangibles as the quality of the relationship between an individual young person and the program leader, or the interpersonal chemistry of a particular group of teenagers (McLaughlin, 2000).

Underlying Values and Perspectives

Conducting the study that produced this report raised numerous questions of values, which are not scientific matters and can spark vehement disagreement. First, although the government has a long history of investing in schools and supporting universal access to education, there is less consensus about whether it should invest in young people’s nonschool hours. For that reason, persuasive evidence that community programs for youth improve their lives cannot be expected to lead automatically to increased public investment in such programs.

One reason cited for the increasing interest in after-school and youth development programs is that the growing presence of women in the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement