Setting the Stage
All adolescents, in all economic and social circumstances, need generous amounts of help, instruction, discipline, support, and caring as they make their way from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Such assistance comes from many sources: solid families, good schools, supportive and safe neighborhoods, and a surrounding culture that emphasizes constructive lives and respectful relationships.
Community programs for youth, found in many neighborhoods in America, provide these sources of support. They exist in many forms: special clubs and service programs, sports leagues, community service organizations, faith-based youth groups, academic enrichment programs, music lessons, and many others. They are identified by a vast array of terms—after-school programs, youth clubs, youth development programs, or programs during nonschool hours or out-of-school time.
Many such groups have been around for decades. They range from well-known national organizations with long histories—for example, Little League, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Campfire U.S.A., YMCAs and YWCAs, and 4-H Clubs—to countless smaller groups and organizations that may be only a few years old and whose names are
known only to the teens and families who participate in them—for example, programs that teach swimming and lifesaving run by a neighborhood community center, a series of studio art classes offered by a local museum for talented young artists, and math and computer enrichment programs for middle school youth sponsored by a local business.
GROWING SUPPORT FOR PROGRAMS
Increased funding from diverse federal agencies, foundations, state and local governments, and the private sector has expanded the availability of such programs. For example, in 2000 Congress appropriated $453 million (an amount that increased to $846 million in 2001) to enable schools and school districts to provide after-school programs designated as 21st Century Learning Centers. Private philanthropic foundations have also rapidly expanded their support of community programs for youth. At the same time, a variety of youth-serving organizations, research institutions, technical assistance organizations, and funders have been working, both together and independently, to create frameworks for thinking about positive youth development (e.g., Public/Private Ventures, Chapin Hall Center for Children, the Academy for Educational Development, the National Collaboration for Youth, the National Youth Development Information Center, and the International Youth Foundation). Others have developed studies and frameworks for understanding how much of adolescents’ time is unstructured and potentially available for programmatic activities (Pittman et al., 2000c). However, exactly what should fill that time is still being debated. Some would like to see it used primarily for educational remediation and skill acquisition; others would like to see it used primarily for prevention-focused activities; others argue that it should be used to promote positive development in the fullest sense; and still others express concern that children and adolescents need this time to relax and do the things they want to do with minimal adult-structured activities. Many programs have been designed and implemented across the country—only some of which are being evaluated. Efforts have been made to develop a more integrated, systematic perspective on how best to provide learning and growth-promoting activities for children and youth.
At the same time, there is evidence of increasing public conviction that organized programs during after-school hours can prevent problem behavior in children and adolescents as well as promote their health, development, and well-being. Polls of parents, educators, other adults in
the community, and young people themselves indicate increasing endorsement for improving the supply, quality, and access to after-school programs:
In one survey of the voting public, 93 percent of respondents favored making safe daily enrichment programs available to all children; 86 percent thought that organized after-school activities were a necessity; only 11 percent thought they were not necessary (Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, 1998b);
In a second survey, 84 percent of elementary school principals responded that there was a need for supervision both before and after school in their communities. The teachers surveyed singled out the need for after-school programs as critical to helping students with difficulties (Metropolitan Life, 1994);
In a third survey, children and adolescents reported that they want constructive activities outside school, safe places to go where they can prepare for their future, learn and practice new skills, and spend quality time with caring adults and other children and adolescents (Quinn, 1999).
Perhaps more important than the increased interest in and funding of community youth organizations, however, has been the focus of community programs on goals related to positive youth development, as well as the prevention and reduction of problem behavior. In the early 1990s, a couple of seminal reports on adolescent development and the role of youth organizations attracted the attention of policy makers, youth service practitioners, researchers, educators, and families. The Forgotten Half, published by the William T.Grant Foundation, urged Americans to recognize that young people’s experiences at home, at school, in the community, and at work are strongly interconnected and argued that all young people need more constructive contact with adults; opportunities to participate in valued community activities; special help with difficult problems; and initial jobs that offer a path to accomplishment (William T.Grant Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, 2000). This report also stressed the fact that poor children and children not headed for college were being severely underserved in terms of programs and opportunities that could support positive development and preparation for adulthood.
This was followed in 1992 by A Matter of Time, a Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development report that observed that individuals develop through connection with a variety of people and systems. The report underscored the broad theoretical and empirical support for the essential role of community programs in promoting young people’s healthy development (Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1992). It also stressed: (1) the growing need for such programs, given the complexity of life in the United States and the growing ambiguity about how best to prepare for a rapidly changing adult landscape, and (2) the paucity of high-quality community programs, especially for youth living in high-risk neighborhoods.
Numerous other reports and books have stressed the growing complexity of adolescent development. Not that long ago, adolescence ended somewhere between 18 and 22—at which point young adults moved into the labor market, married, and began their families. As recently as the 1960s, the transition into adulthood in most Western industrialized countries (particularly in the United States and Canada) was well defined for most social class groups. Adolescents finished high school and either went to college or into the labor market or the military. People generally married and began families in their early 20s. People were thus usually launched into adulthood by their early 20s, and there were only a limited number of fairly well-defined pathways from adolescence into adulthood (Arnett, 2000b).
This is no longer the case (Brown and Corbett, in press; Arnett, 2000b; Mortimer and Larson, 2002). Rapid demographic, sociocultural, and labor market changes have extended adolescence well into the 20s. The median age for marriage and childbearing has moved up to the late 20s. Both the length of time and numbers of youth involved in some form of postsecondary education have increased dramatically. Finally, the heterogeneity of passage through this period of life has exploded. There is no longer a small, easily understood set of patterns for the transition to adulthood. The future job market is unclear because it is changing so rapidly; youth are being advised to expect as many as four quite different occupational careers. The likelihood of today’s youth moving into jobs similar to those held by their parents or other adult mentors has decreased substantially over the last 50 years, as has the likelihood that they will live in the same communities in which they grew up, and the likelihood that they will form a permanent intimate partnership with one other person and raise a family with that person (Elder and Conger, 2000; Giddens, 1990, 1992; Gleick, 1999; Larson, in press).
In the United States, the level of challenge for adolescents is especially high for noncollege-bound youth and for members of several ethnic minority groups, particularly blacks and Hispanics, for at least two reasons: (1) unlike many European and Asian industrialized countries, there is very little institutional support for the transition from secondary school to work in the United States, creating what the W.T.Grant Foundation labeled a “floundering” period (W.T.Grant Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, 2000; see also Rosenbaum et al., 1992) and (2) stereotypes about the competence of blacks and Hispanics, coupled with lower levels of “soft skills” (e.g., the ability to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and prepare for and succeed in a job interview) (Murnane and Levy, 1996) and the loss of employment options in many inner-city communities (Wilson, 1987), have made employment for these youth (particularly males) quite problematic.
Coupled with these changes in the complexity of the adult world into which today’s youth will be moving are the widespread risks confronting them. In the United States, the use of and access to drugs and alcohol has increased. Nearly 90 percent of 10th graders and 75 percent of 8th graders think that alcohol is either “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1996). “Rave drugs,” such as the synthetic psychoactive drug called ecstasy, have become popular at nightclubs, rock concerts, and late-night parties, particularly in urban and suburban neighborhoods and among white middle-class young adults. Ecstasy has become the most frequently mentioned drug in telephone calls to the Poison Control Center (Partnership for Family Involvement, 2000). A review of top-selling popular songs found alcohol mentioned in 47 percent of rap music lyrics (Roberts et al., 1999). In recent television programs, 9 out of 10 drinkers of alcohol are portrayed as either experiencing no effects at all or only positive personal and social outcomes from their alcohol consumption (Gerbner, 1996).
Adolescents are surrounded by a culture of violence. In America, young people are being exposed to increasing amounts of media violence, especially in television, movies, video games, and youth-oriented music. By age 18, the average young person will have viewed an estimated 200,000 acts of violence on television alone (Huston et al., 1992). Youth gangs have grown considerably in the last two decades. The incidence of gangs in schools has almost doubled from 1989 to 1995 (Howell and Lynch, 2000). This presence of gangs in schools has been linked with increased gun possession among adolescents; students reported knowing a classmate who has brought a gun to school at a higher per-
centage (25 percent) when gangs were present in the schools than when gangs are not present (8 percent) (Howell and Lynch, 2000). According to a recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, over 6,000 students were expelled in the 1996–1997 school year for bringing guns to their public school (American Bar Association, 2000).
Programs for young people to combat these negative trends may be helpful. The idea of “positive youth development programs” has emerged over time as common shorthand for a philosophy asserting that “problem-free is not fully prepared,” that remediation and prevention services alone are not enough, and that schools have to be supported and complemented by broader options in the community (Pittman and Irby, 1996; Pittman et al., 2000b).
Stimulated by the growing national interest in the link between positive adolescent development and community programs, the National Academies formed the Committee on Community-Level Programs for Youth with support from a consortium of federal agencies and private foundations. The committee is an interdisciplinary group of individuals with expertise in a range of relevant fields, including child and adolescent development, maternal and child health, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, public policy, statistics, evaluation research, youth service programs, urban planning, and community development. The committee was asked to summarize the rapidly expanding body of research on community interventions and programs designed to promote positive outcomes for adolescent development. It was asked to assess the strengths and limitations of data sources and indicators commonly used to characterize youth health, development, and well-being, as well as to assess the strengths and limitations of methodologies and approaches used to evaluate these activities. The committee was asked to identify gaps and central questions for the design of a unified conceptual framework and research agenda to promote the healthy development of youth. And the committee was asked to identify, to the extent feasible, programs with sufficiently strong evidence to suggest that they could serve as models for communities that are expanding their youth programs.
YOUTH IN THE UNITED STATES: A MIXED PICTURE
The committee began its work by looking closely at the behaviors, needs, and circumstances of adolescents in the United States. We recognized from the beginning that the health and well-being of young people across the country is uneven. Some are doing quite well; others are doing very poorly.
Some Good News
The current cohort of adolescents presents a confusing mix of good and bad news. The good news is very good indeed—many measures of adolescent well-being and behavior have shown significant progress over the past 20 years.
More youth than ever are graduating from high school, and a large number are enrolled in some form of higher education (Ekston et al., 1987). High school dropout rates, although still unacceptably large for some population subgroups, are at all-time lows (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001; Ekston et al., 1987).
In 1998, the rate for serious violent crimes committed by juveniles had dropped by more than half since 1993 and was the lowest it had been since the first data collection efforts in 1973 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). From 1991 to 1997 the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who reported carrying a weapon at least once in the past month declined from 26 to 18 percent (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).
Between 40 and 50 percent of high school seniors report having participated in a volunteer or community-based service program at least a few times in the previous year (Institute for Social Research, 1999).
In 1999, 70 percent of high school students reported engaging in vigorous physical activity in the previous week, and over half of all high school students were enrolled in high school physical education classes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000b). The use of illicit drugs by youth ages 12 to 17 has declined over the past three years, from a high of 11 percent in 1997 to 9 percent in 1999 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Sexual activity has, on average, declined among teens and contraceptive use has increased (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001). Furthermore, the overall rate of babies born to adolescents dropped by a third between 1991 and 1998, and in 1998 the birth rate for 15- to 17-year-olds was the lowest
it has been in over 40 years (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).
Nonetheless, some social indicators suggest continuing problems for many young people, particularly some specific subsets of them.
Although the gap between white and black students’ achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests has narrowed somewhat since 1973, there are still substantial racial and ethnic group differences in performance on these tests. In addition, youth from poor inner-city and rural areas are doing substantially worse on these tests than youth from more affluent school districts (Campbell et al., 2000; Jencks and Phillips, 1998). Youth in poor inner-city areas lose a substantial portion of their school-year academic achievement gains over the summer months—perhaps due to fewer learning opportunities, less support for learning in the home, and limited quality and quantity of parent interaction—leaving them farther behind their more affluent peers at the start of each new school year than they were at the end of the previous one (Entwisle and Alexander, 1992). The proportion of young people dropping out without completing high school increases with age and is particularly high among Hispanic youth and adolescents living in poor communities (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Finally, in the most recent comparative international academic achievement tests, U.S. youth scored substantially lower on tests of both mathematical and scientific knowledge than youth in most other industrialized countries (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995).
Poor Physical and Mental Health
Some teens are still becoming sexually active quite young: 8 percent of students reported having had sex before age 13—a disturbing 15 percent increase between 1988 and 1995 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1999). The rates of sexual activity were particularly high among black youth living in poor communities (Blum et al., 2000; National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). And although most teens (88 per-
cent) said they thought it was important to use contraception each and every time they had sex, 30 percent of girls reported having been completely unprotected the last time they had sex, and between 30 and 38 percent of teens who used contraception did so inconsistently (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2000). Furthermore, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and both HIV and AIDS were alarmingly high among adolescents in general, and particularly high among black and American Indian youth living in poor communities (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). In fact, half of all new HIV infections occurred among people under the age of 25, and one-quarter of new infections occurred among people between the ages of 13 and 21 (Kirby, 1998).
Smoking among teens in 2000 had declined since its peak in 1996, following a dramatic 50 percent increase since 1991. However, smoking is still quite high among youth. Nearly 63 percent of adolescents have tried cigarettes by the 12th grade, and 31 percent are currently frequent smokers (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2000). Smoking rates among white and Hispanic young people are also notably higher than among black youth (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000b). Binge drinking is also quite high, particularly among white and Hispanic youth (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000; Blum et al., 2000).
The daily participation of adolescents in high school physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 1997 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000b). The overall prevalence of obesity among adolescent 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States more than doubled in 34 years—increasing from 5 percent in 1965 to 14 percent in 1999 (National Center for Health Statistics, 1999). And, from 1988 to 1994, approximately 11 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds were seriously overweight (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Of the youth surveyed in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (called Add Health), 13 percent (representing 2.5 million U.S. youth) reported having had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months. White, Hispanic, female, and poor youth were the most likely to report these thoughts and behaviors (Blum et al., 2000; National Center for Health Statistics, 2000).
In 1997, homicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24; it was the leading cause of death among black
youth and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic youth (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2000). Of the youth surveyed in the most recent wave of the Add Health study, 26 percent reported having been involved in weapon-related violence in the past 12 months. Black and Hispanic youth living in poor communities were the most likely to report these experiences (Blum et al., 2000). Between July 1992 and June 1994, 105 violent deaths occurred on or near school grounds or at school-related events. Firearms were used in 77 percent of these deaths (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2000). There was an increasing number of highly publicized incidences of gun violence on school campuses in 2000 and 2001, in places such as Jonesboro, Arkansas; Columbine, Colorado; and Santee, California.
Poor Economic and Family Circumstances
An ever-increasing proportion of teenagers were living some or all of their adolescent years in single-parent homes. Since 1980 the percentage of young people living in single-parent households rose from 7 percent in 1980 to 27 percent in 1999. Despite the recent booming economy, 18 percent of youth under 18 lived in households below the poverty level in 1998. Among minority adolescents, the picture is even bleaker. When poverty is combined with living in a single-parent household, minority youth are at particular risk for all of the problems outlined in this section (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2000).
Adolescent Use of Time
There is evidence that how young people spend their out-of-school time influences their health and well-being.
Compared with young people in both Europe and Asia, teens in the United States have more discretionary time—only about 20 percent of adolescents’ hours are spent in school. They spend limited time on schoolwork; much of their discretionary time is spent watching television (especially by young adolescents, boys, youth from low socioeconomic environments, and black youth) or “hanging out” with friends (Larson and Verma, 1999; Zill et al., 1995). In addition, there are approximately 8 million children, ranging from ages 5 to 14 who spend time without any kind of supervision during nonschool hours. And their numbers increase as children get older. Unsupervised time can account for approximately 20–25 hours per week (National Institute on Out-of-
School Time, 2001a). A variety of factors, including rising child care costs, increased work hours, welfare reform, and the limited availability of good programs may account for the large number of children left alone during nonschool hours.
Being alone during nonschool hours invites problems. This is not a new thought: recall the adage: “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Filling empty hours, of course, can be overdone, and there is merit in offering young people unhurried blocks of time to think, play, have fun, talk to parents and friends, and even read for pleasure. However, there is evidence that teens left alone during nonschool hours are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse, alcohol or drug abuse, smoking, violence, and gang-related behavior (Zill et al., 1995). Others simply use this unstructured time to play video games. Some experience fear and anxiety when left at home by themselves.
A study of 5,000 8th grade students in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas found that children left home alone, regardless of race, sex, or economic status, are more likely to drink alcohol or take drugs than children who are supervised by a parent or another adult. And the more hours they were left by themselves, the greater their risk (Richardson et al., 1989). Similar results have been reported by Marshall et al. (1997) and the YMCA (2001).
There is also evidence that participation in “constructive learning activities” during nonschool hours may predict success or failure in school. Reginald Clark’s work (1983, 1988) suggests that participating in such activities as leisure reading and writing, music, chores, homework, or problem-solving games creates opportunities for young people to enhance their cognitive skills and extend their learning. In contrast, young people who do not have the opportunity to participate in these kinds of activities or who engage in excessive hours of unstructured activities (e.g., television, video games, hanging out with friends) tend to underachieve in school.
Participation in Community Programs
What these data mean in the context of this report is that a significant number of young people—particularly those who are poor and live in high-risk neighborhoods—are in particular need of support. Such youth are disproportionately likely to be members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Community programs for youth are being looked on as one way to redress the social inequities that currently confront America.
Studies indicate that participation in voluntary structured activities during nonschool time is associated with development of positive identity, increased initiative, and positive relationships with diverse peers and adults, better school achievement, reduced rates of dropping out of school, reduced delinquency, and more positive outcomes in adulthood (Barber et al., in press; Clark, 1988; Eccles and Barber, 1999; Larson, 2000; Vandell and Posner, 1999). For example, in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, students who reported spending no time in some kind of school-sponsored activity (versus those spending 1 to 4 hours per week in such activities) were 57 percent more likely to have dropped out before they reached the 12th grade. Also, students with high levels of participation in school activities were less likely than non-participants to engage in problem behavior, such as being arrested, taking drugs, engaging in teen sex, smoking, and drinking (Zill et al., 1995).
In recent community-based surveys conducted by the Search Institute (Benson, 1997; Scales and Leffert, 1999) and by Sipe and colleagues for Public/Private Ventures (Sipe et al., 1998), a substantial number of young people were not involved in programs during their out-of-school time. For example, less than 25 percent of youth in low-income communities in Austin, Texas, St. Petersburg, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, reported having been involved in any formal leadership activities in the previous year (Sipe et al., 1998; Scales and Leffert, 1999). The communities included in this survey were chosen to represent communities with high crime rates, low rates of school performance, and high unemployment. In another survey, with a more representative sample from across the United States, similar results were found; only 50 percent of the youth in public and alternative schools, surveyed from over 213 different towns and cities across the United States by the Search Institute, spent even 3 hours per week in constructive out-of-school activities (Scales and Leffert, 1999). Finally, according to an analysis of national survey data collected for the committee by the Urban Institute and Child Trends, 60 percent of youth did not participate in any kind of community-based youth activity. Of the few that were involved, about 20 percent participated less than an hour a day, leaving about half of the youth between 12 and 14 years of age not taking part in any kind of extra-curricular class or lesson. Research from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (U.S. Department of Labor, 1997) echoes these findings, with only about a fifth of teenagers in the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s having participated in some kind of structured out-of-school activity.
The prevailing problem regarding participation in after-school com-
munity programs seems to be one of unmet need. The number of youth left without some kind of after-school programming now exceeds 11 million (Newman et al., 2000). While not all young people want or need such programs, this number is probably some indication of unmet need. And, adolescents from low- to moderate-income working families are the least likely to have access to programs because of financial and transportation constraints (Newman et al., 2000). Among grantees of the federally funded 21st Century Learning Centers, 40 percent report that they have long waiting lists for youth to get into programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that in the year 2002, the current number of school-age child care programs will meet as little as 25 percent of the demand in some urban areas (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997). Over half of the teens polled by the YMCA (2001) said they wished there were more after-school programs in their community. More than half (54 percent) said they would not watch so much television or play video games if they had other things to do after school.
Nevertheless, it is clear that community programs for young people cannot bear the full weight and responsibility for producing healthy, robust future generations. They may help, but no program can fully compensate for a dysfunctional family, poor schools, chaotic neighborhoods, poor medical care, environmental toxins, and stress-filled early lives, particularly given that many, perhaps most community programs for youth are small and fragile, with unstable funding and questionable futures. Expectations should not therefore be excessive or naive, even for the best and strongest model programs.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
One hurdle faced by the committee was developing a common understanding of what constitutes a community program for youth. The characterization of these programs is complicated, and the landscape is vast. They may be called after-school programs, youth programs, youth activities, youth development programs, community programs, extracurricular activities, or programs during out-of-school time or nonschool hours. In addition, we debated whether school programs should be included, since schools in the United States are, for the most part, locally controlled. We also debated what constitutes a community.
Rather than thinking of such programs in certain categories—such as those that focus on sports or academics or those that are faith-based or school-based or recreational center-based—we decided that it would be more useful to see programs as arrayed along a continuum and to be generous in our definition of community. At one end are small, informal, and unaffiliated programs, typically only marginally funded by public dollars, that touch the lives of relatively few teenagers. At the other end are the large, often national programs that may have many state and local-level franchises, enroll sometimes millions of young people, have large and relatively stable budgets (often including substantial public dollars), and involve many adults in various capacities ranging from membership on a national board to service as volunteers in a particular program. In the context of this report, communities include neighborhoods, block groups, towns, and cities as well as nongeographically defined communities based on family connections and shared interests or values.
The committee also decided to look at programs and the organizations operating them in terms of the developmental needs the program is attempting to fill, rather than the particular structural form they have taken. This perspective stems from our view that young people have a number of fundamental needs—including, for example, the need for affiliation, friendship, and belonging to a group and the need to feel competent, efficacious, respected, and significant—and that they will seek ways to meet these needs in a variety of places and situations. Some of the possible places and situations can increase the likelihood of developmental pathways that include antisocial behaviors, such as joining a gang; others can increase the likelihood of developmental pathways rich in positive social (prosocial) and health-promoting behaviors, such as joining a community service group or a prosocial peer network. Community programs are therefore best seen and described from the perspective of how they are addressing what teenagers need and how these needs may change over the years of adolescence. In developing this report, we began by discussing what current research, theory, and practice show that young people require from their immediate environments as they grow toward young adulthood (see especially Chapters 2, 3, and 4). We then looked at individual programs and their evaluations through this lens (see especially Chapters 5 and 6).
Equally important is the question of what role these programs play in the lives of young people. Are they extensions of school? Are they merely luxuries for some families, or are they essential for healthy devel-
opment for all adolescents? Are they simply efforts to fill empty hours while parents are at work—even serving as a kind of babysitter? Our answer to these questions is that community programs should be purposeful, voluntary activities designed to offer concrete benefits to all the young people enrolled in them. Although they may indeed keep young people occupied while their parents are at work, their goal is not to simply fill up time but rather to support positive development during adolescence in specific ways that also help prepare youth for adulthood. As such, these programs and organizations should, and do, complement and support the primary nurturing and teaching roles of the family and the academic mission of the schools. Many of the best-regarded programs craft explicit links with both home and school. Some of the programs we reviewed even take place during the normal school hours in the school building itself.
Moreover, there is no question that some programs are organized to provide a modest counterweight to popular youth culture, which some see as toxic and damaging to young people. For example, some, seeing the current youth culture as misogynistic, organize programs for young men to encourage them to be respectful of young women and programs for young women to understand how current popular culture demeans them. Others offer both young women and men programs that teach them techniques to resist cultural pressures to become sexually active at an early age, to use illicit drugs, and to join gang activities. And still others include “media literacy” training that attempts to teach young people to become critical, discerning consumers of media. Thus, in such instances, community programs are not so much filling gaps left by families and schools, but rather trying to counteract broader cultural influences perceived to be harmful.
Discussion of whether or not to include school-based programs occupied a significant portion of the committee’s early deliberations. Although there are often fundamental structural, budgetary, and organizational differences between school-based and other programs, the function and potential impact of these programs are more similar than they are different. In our view, the examination of youth programs operating in schools and taking a positive youth development approach yet are independent of the schools’ instructional activities is necessary in order to provide a complete picture of community programs for youth. This is particularly true given the increased movement toward housing community programs for youth in schools and creating collaborations between schools and community-based organizations.
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.
For those who design, study, fund, and work in the field of community programs for youth, there can be a tension in approach. Two major program orientations are often identified: on one side are “prevention” or “problem-centered” programs; on the other are “positive youth development” programs. Programs focused on prevention or problems are often stereotyped by advocates of a positive youth development perspective as identifying teenagers as collections of specific problems in place or about to happen—drug use, early and inappropriate sexual activity, violent behavior, school failure, etc. Such programs often emphasize preventing problem behavior (e.g., reducing teenage drug use) and are often centered on a single problem, even though problems may be closely related (e.g., a program may concentrate on preventing teenage pregnancy but give minimal attention to preventing sexually transmitted diseases). In contrast, people linked to the positive youth development orientation define themselves as being interested in young people as collections of assets and opportunities, rather than problems (Pittman and Irby, 1996; Roth and Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Programs designed from this orientation emphasize positive growth and development and are not usually designed to address specific individual problems. Broad skills are typically fostered and taught rather than strategies for preventing or managing single problematic behaviors.
From the outset, the committee rejected this polarized view of youth programming. Although our charge stresses the importance of programs designed to promote positive adolescent development, we decided that both prevention and promotion approaches are needed and have great value. Clearly, all young people need multiple opportunities to grow in positive, healthy ways. They need adults who teach and encourage them, who help them set challenging and meaningful goals for the future, and who nurture an array of skills and values. But young people often also need specific, focused help in steering clear of specific obstacles that current popular culture places in their paths, such as the lure of drugs and alcohol and inappropriate and early sexual activity. Although an emphasis on overall positive youth development can help in addressing specific problems and challenges, more targeted, problem-centered interventions are often needed as well.
But even more important, this distinction is often blurred when one examines the content and nature of individual programs. In fact, many programs that are broad in nature and clearly designed to promote posi-
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
workforce has led to greater demands for activities that, among other things, provide youth with supervision during nonschool hours. Discussion of these programs often reveals widely varying views about the role of women (or, in this case, mothers) in the workforce and the extent to which their changing roles underlie community programs for young people.
Any attempt to understand the role of community programs in the lives and development of young people necessarily incorporates some basic judgments about the attributes we hope that young people develop (see Chapter 3). The committee acknowledges up front that cataloguing the personal characteristics that young people need to possess invariably includes subjective judgment. Other groups might come up with a different set of desirable attributes. But we also decided that it is important for community programs to have explicit goals regarding what assets or characteristics they would like to promote. Such goals are important because they should be used to design and then evaluate the program activities. Having explicit goals makes both evaluation and accountability much easier. The committee expanded its charge to include a scientific assessment of what such goals might be.
This report does not take on directly the question of the appropriate relationship between schools and community programs. Rather, as noted earlier, we concentrate on discussing what young people need for healthy growth and development, recognizing that, in some communities, families, schools, and existing community organizations may well provide most, if not all of the structures, conditions, and experiences necessary to meet the needs of young people—making additional government-funded community programs relatively marginal. In other areas, the need for community programs may be acute because existing institutions, including the schools, are not able to meet the needs of all adolescents. What this logic suggests is that communities as a whole should regularly review what is available for their young people and then make judgments about which institutions—schools, community programs, and others—can and should fill the gaps. Invariably, communities will answer this challenge differently and come to varying views about the precise responsibilities of home, school, and community programs.
Finally, we do not pretend that this report offers the definitive or final blueprint for positive youth development. Young people are influenced by a large array of factors, ranging from their family to the complicated world of the Internet and the forces of popular culture. In truth, all such forces can and should be enlisted to bolster the development of
the next generation. But the work of this committee and its report are confined to one small part of the puzzle: community programs for youth. We have not outlined a plan to overhaul adolescence in America, but only to consider one small part of the enterprise.
There is a set of core concepts around which the committee based its work and that serve as a foundation for this report:
Some youth are doing very well;
Some youth are taking dangerous risks and doing poorly;
All young people need a variety of experiences to develop to their full potential; and
Some young people have unmet needs and are particularly at risk of participating in problem behaviors (e.g., dropping out of school, participating in violent behavior). These include young people who often, but by no means always, live in high-risk neighborhoods, are poor, experience repeated racial and ethnic discrimination, and have a substantial amount of free, unsupervised time during nonschool hours. Other youth who are in special need of more programs include youth with disabilities of all kinds, youth from troubled family situations, and youth with special needs for places to find emotional support.
GUIDE TO THE REPORT
This report has four parts. Part I, which includes Chapters 2, 3, and 4, provides a framework for promoting adolescent development. Chapter 2 is an overview of adolescent development with attention to developmental issues for youth of different ages. Chapter 3 discusses what constitutes evidence of positive youth development, drawing on empirical studies of well-being and positive developmental outcomes, as well as practical wisdom from leaders in this field about the core human needs and attributes that young people need to develop. This chapter presents a list of personal and social assets that predict current and future well-being. Chapter 4 reviews what is known about the features of the settings in adolescents’ daily life that facilitate the development of these assets. Evidence from both theoretical and practical field-based observations is included.
Part II, which includes Chapters 5 and 6, reviews what the committee found out about community programs themselves. Chapter 5 examines the ways in which programs incorporate features of positive developmental settings and provide opportunities for young people to acquire the personal and social assets characteristic of positive youth development. To do this, we map the features of positive developmental settings against a variety of programs that have been studied with nonexperimental evaluation methods and then draw conclusions about the program practices that are linked empirically to positive indicators of adolescent development. Chapter 6 reviews the evidence of effective program practices from experimental evaluations of community programs for youth. We end this chapter by mapping what we learned from experimental program evaluations onto the features of positive developmental settings outlined in Chapter 4.
Part III, which includes Chapters 7 and 8, examines the role for evaluation and social indicator data in thinking about community programs for youth in the future. Chapter 7 discusses the various methods and tools available to evaluate youth programs and generate new information about them. Chapter 8 explores existing social indicators and data instruments that help elucidate the attributes of program participants. We also suggest other information and tools needed in order to better understand young people and evaluate these programs.
Finally, Part IV examines the intersection among research, policy, and practice for community programs for youth. In Chapter 9 we examine existing and anticipated policy and system-level supports and barriers. In the final chapter, Chapter 10, we summarize the committee’s conclusions and recommendations that span the areas of practice and policy and evaluation, research, and data collection.