By and Reprinted from the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Throughout their childhood and into young adulthood, young people may interact with various systems — schools, youth centers, health care, foster care and others. What if those systems could improve the work they do and help build an “ecosystem of belonging” that is centered on the young people they serve?
Designed for leaders of public- and private-sector services, a new action guide provides recommendations and tools for strengthening efforts to support the well-being and development of youth. Creating Equitable Ecosystems of Belonging and Opportunity for Youth reflects insight from leaders and practitioners and emphasizes the perspectives and experiences of young people. The Forum for Youth Investment produced the guide with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The guide recommends that, for each system and setting that serves young people, leaders ensure they incorporate “belonging” — a feeling of being secure, valued and connected with others — for youth. This feeling of belonging affects youths’ overall ability to thrive. For example, when a young person enters a new school or meets a new service provider, this can prompt a sense of vulnerability in the young person. A sense of belonging, however, can produce feelings of reassurance, safety and understanding.
“This guide is a valuable resource for coordinated initiatives in which multiple agencies and organizations work together on behalf of youth,” says Laura Speer, director of strategy for the Casey Foundation, who contributed to the development of the guide with other colleagues. “It identifies opportunities and actions to equitably support young people within and across systems and help them realize their full potential.”
Creating an Ecosystem by Connecting Youth-Serving Systems and Settings
A key concept of the guide is the youth development ecosystem, defined as the range of youth-serving systems and settings — from schools to foster homes to youth centers — that young people may move through during their development. This ecosystem features a complex, dynamic set of relationships within and across education, child welfare, community-based youth development and other systems.
A reimagined youth development ecosystem would create an enabling environment for positive relationships with teachers, social workers and other adults as young people experience different systems and settings. Such an environment would provide youth with opportunities to plan and make choices, reflect on their experiences and cultivate skills for thriving in education, work and life.
The guide stresses that advancing equity is central to building an ecosystem where all youth, regardless of their identity or circumstances, should have opportunities to experience a sense of belonging that supports their development within and across systems.
A Map for Belonging and Opportunity
The guide features the Youth Journey Map for Belonging and Opportunity, which illustrates:
- Young people’s journey through various settings.
- The agencies primarily responsible for each setting.
- Actions for changing and improving the systems.
The journey map encourages system leaders to put themselves in “youth’s mind space” to identify challenges and pain points posed by their organizations. Inviting youth to participate in agency discussions and provide insights into their experiences is strongly recommended.
Conversations on Belonging
The guide includes a tool for system leaders to reflect on the essential components of an equitable youth development ecosystem to support belonging, opportunities for positive relationships with adults and healthy youth transitions. The tool allows them to rate their practices in three areas:
- Cultivating safety and consistency — for example, implementing practices and routines that support risk taking and make young people feel physically and emotionally safe.
- Building community — for example, developing program expectations with young people.
- Being culturally responsive and inclusive — for example, building on the diversity and cultural knowledge of young people and their families to make learning engaging.
To access the post about this discussion, please click here.