New study explores how to incorporate a positive youth development framework.

Rajagopal, S., Harper, K., Holzhauer, K., & Kumra, T. (2022). Utilization of positive youth development framework by youth-facing organizations in Baltimore city. Journal of Youth Development, 17(4).

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Positive youth development (PYD) is an approach that encourages youth to be productive, healthy, and engaged in their communities.
  • Evidence shows that PYD can reduce high-risk behaviors among youth and promote positive youth behaviors.
  • Despite the overall effectiveness of PYD in youth programming, there is a lack of research that explores how youth-serving organizations spontaneously apply PYD principles without formally implementing any frameworks.
    • This is concerning given that a) many youth-serving organizations might not have any previous PYD training and/or operate outside research interventions and b) many research studies on PYD interventions focus on White youths from higher-income backgrounds.
  • This qualitative study evaluates how urban-based organizations that serve African Americans integrate PYD into their practices.
  • Although many participants were not knowledgeable about PYD frameworks, they all organically incorporated PYD into their respective organizations.
    • For instance, they all provided activities that promoted youth autonomy and exposed youths to new experiences, opportunities, and skills that enable youths to make positive changes.
  • Although the PYD principle of contribution wasn’t prominently integrated into programming, organization leaders observed youths exemplifying it through peer mentoring and youth leadership opportunities.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

Positive youth development (PYD) is a strengths-based approach to youth programming which has been tested with success in largely higher income settings with mostly White youth. This study aims to identify the extent to which organizations who work in an urban context serving predominately African American youth incorporate PYD principles into their work. Organizations located in Baltimore, Maryland working with youth ages 14–24 were recruited for participation. In-depth interviews were conducted with organization leaders in this qualitative study. Thematic analysis using a deductive approach identified common themes and activities across organizations that aligned with PYD elements. All 17 youth-facing organizations interviewed described organic use of PYD principles through program activities regardless of prior knowledge of the PYD framework. Organizations prioritized activities to create an empowering environment for youth, build on youth assets and agency. The PYD principle of contribution was less explicitly incorporated into program activities, however organization leaders reported behavioral observations of youth exemplifying contribution. This real-world study demonstrates widespread utilization of PYD principles across a range of youth engagement activities in Baltimore. The results of this study provide insight on how organizations working with youth of color may naturally infuse elements of PYD into their programs. Formal training and evaluation support for these organizations may help achieve positive youth outcomes through application of PYD frameworks.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The qualitative analysis from this study demonstrates real-world utilization of PYD principles by youth-facing organizations in an urban context with largely African American youth and builds on existing research that describes PYD as an effective method of youth engagement towards positive outcomes (Gavin et al., 2010; Taylor et al., 2017; Travis & Leech, 2014). All interviewed organization leaders in this study discussed activities and attributes of their programs that aligned with PYD principles regardless of prior knowledge of PYD frameworks. The results from this study illustrate widespread adaptation of PYD elements by organizations in Baltimore with particular emphasis by organizations to provide opportunities for youth to cultivate assets and agency and to create an empowering environment for youth. Organizations reported relatively fewer activities explicitly engaging the PYD element of contribution compared to the other elements. However, the opportunities for youth leadership and peer mentoring within organizations implicitly encouraged contribution among youth. Furthermore, organizations observed youth spontaneously engaging in contribution over time, which was cited as a positive outcome by program leaders.

Findings from this study are consistent with research on PYD interventions documenting a similar focus of youth programs on building assets through education and skills training within a context of supportive adult and peer relationships, followed by leadership opportunities to encourage agency and social engagement (Woodgate & Sigurdson, 2015; Worker et al., 2018). Informal observations and formal evaluations by the organizations themselves suggest a positive association between their approaches and desired outcomes, such as improved socialemotional regulation, self-confidence, and positive health behaviors (Pierce et al, 2017). These youth were often noted to show concern for others, mentoring younger participants and trying to help their peers in need. These observed outcomes are consistent with aspects of the Five Cs model of PYD, where youth participants were both witnessed and self-reported to feel more confident, competent, and connected to their peers and community (Lerner et al., 2005). Youth were noted to perform better academically, readily take on employment and leadership opportunities and express feelings of optimism about their futures to organization leaders. The prioritization of providing an empowering environment and the development of a familial culture for youth participants across organizations is also consistent with the emphasis on connection in the empowerment-based model of PYD (Travis & Leech, 2014).

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