Defining and Promoting Youth Well-Being — With Young People Leading the Way

By and reprinted from The Annie E. Casey Foundation

How do young peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al back­grounds define their well-being? How is youth well-being tied to racial and eth­nic iden­ti­ty? What does it take to improve well-being?

Youth & Young Adult Well­be­ing, a new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, begins to answer these ques­tions. The report — devel­oped by Fresh Tracks, a youth-led ini­tia­tive of the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Com­mu­ni­ty Solu­tions — lever­aged young peo­ple across the Unit­ed States and Cana­da to define, col­lect and assess data on their well-being.

“Young peo­ple are the experts on what well-being and thriv­ing look like in the con­text of their own lives and their own iden­ti­ties,” says Cyn­thia Weaver, a senior asso­ciate in Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. ​“This project is devel­op­ing new def­i­n­i­tions, mea­sures and tools about what it means to be well across cul­tures so those work­ing to advance well-being for young peo­ple will have more rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion about what they can do to make a dif­fer­ence — and under­stand what it means to succeed.”

Key Areas of Youth Well-Being

The project estab­lished three teams to help dri­ve the research: Amer­i­can Indian/​Alaska Native, Latine Bien­star (Bien­es­tar mean­ing ​“well­ness”) and Black Expres­sions of Well­be­ing. Each team paired adult researchers and men­tors with youth and young adults who iden­ti­fied with one of the three cul­tur­al affil­i­a­tions. Team mem­bers defined sev­en key inter­sect­ing areas of well-being with­in their own cul­ture and traditions:

  1. a healthy envi­ron­ment, includ­ing a con­nec­tion to nature;
  2. cul­tur­al con­nec­tions, such as being ground­ed in faith, spir­i­tu­al prac­tice and tra­di­tion­al cul­tur­al practices;
  3. finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty, described as access to good health care and feel­ing free from the pres­sure to hus­tle for money;
  4. inclu­sion and safe­ty with access to safe phys­i­cal spaces;
  5. com­mu­ni­ty self-effi­ca­cy, which requires the pres­ence of a sup­port­ive community;
  6. healthy, car­ing rela­tion­ships with fam­i­ly mem­bers, friends and men­tors; and
  7. good men­tal health, which they described as expe­ri­enc­ing hap­pi­ness, heal­ing and joy and hav­ing the abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize and deal with emotions.

Rec­om­men­da­tions on Pro­mot­ing Youth Well-Being

The teams also pro­duced rec­om­men­da­tions for pro­mot­ing well-being among youth and young adults with­in their same cul­tur­al group. These rec­om­men­da­tions, which over­lapped in some areas, dif­fered slight­ly for each group:

  • The Latine Bien­es­tar team sought inter­gen­er­a­tional con­ver­sa­tions around well­ness, pol­i­cy changes that sup­port finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty, an invest­ment in com­mu­ni­ty spaces and more free­dom of movement.
  • The Black Expres­sions of Well­be­ing team want­ed more access to ther­a­py and coun­sel­ing ser­vices, poli­cies and resources aimed at prac­tic­ing well­ness and stress reduc­tion as well as an expand­ed focus on lever­ag­ing non-West­ern edu­ca­tion and knowledge.
  • The Amer­i­can Indian/​Alaska Native team rec­om­mend­ed using Indige­nous cul­ture as a frame­work for youth well-being, increased access to men­tors and com­mu­ni­ty when youth are away from home and more con­sid­er­a­tion of the role that fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty play in pro­mot­ing youth well-being.

“The future of well-being com­ing out of this process is that we will be able to cre­ate pol­i­cy that sup­ports well-being for our com­mu­ni­ties and have the data to back it up,” Shaqua­na Boykin of the project’s Black Expres­sions of Well­be­ing design team notes in the report. ​“We will be able to imple­ment more spe­cif­ic pro­grams that fos­ter well-being.”

Next Steps in Improv­ing Well-Being for Youth

Equipped with these find­ings, par­tic­i­pants will now shift to phase two of the project. This phase includes iden­ti­fy­ing and gen­er­at­ing a tool aimed at help­ing oth­ers assess and enhance youth well-being.

“Achiev­ing well-being is crit­i­cal for young peo­ple to thrive as adults,” notes Weaver. ​“The more we know about how to help our young peo­ple get to that state, the brighter our future will be.”

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