Youth Development refers to the improvement of youth’s performance in school, health and social welfare as well as their integration into society. The term Youth Development is also used in a broader context, which includes children and adolescents. It refers to anything concerning or resulting from the empowerment of children. Among the areas being tackled by Youth Development are: parenting and youth, pre-school education, teen pregnancy and teens, substance abuse and youth, violence against children and youth, work opportunities for youth, the teen brain development, and much more.
Positive youth development activities are deliberately designed to maximize youth development progress. Youth Development USA (YFD USA), a Washington-based non-profit organization, is one of the leading Youth Development organizations in the US. Youth Development USA says that “Everyday kids go through life without a sense of self-worth… Youth Development USA was formed in 1985 with a vision of reversing the cycle of neglect and abuse that had doomed so many children over the years. Today YFD helps to provide the resources, information and guidance necessary to ensure healthy, productive and positive outcomes for children and families.”
In order to determine whether or not a particular Youth Development program is effective in its goal to empower youth, a longitudinal study must be conducted. A longitudinal study, in its most simple definition, follows a group of people over a certain period of time. In this case, the study would follow a group of youths who have previously participated in a particular Youth Development program and see how their performance changes over time. Youth Development USA does just this with its Youth Control Group. Youth Control Groups are youth development teams which assess programs, services and individuals in a community-wide perspective.
Programs and activities are only successful in their own realm; consequently, it is necessary for Youth Development USA to evaluate each program at a national, regional and local level. Youth Development USA does just that by inviting every one of its regions and offices to participate in a “National Youth Development Survey”. The survey is designed to provide Youth Development USA with an objective look at their nation’s youth development initiatives. This national assessment also allows Youth Development USA to compare success stories from one region to another.
Another important tool used by Youth Development USA is the involvement of local government officials. Through the work of Youth Development USA, police departments have been more pro-active in addressing community-wide crime issues. Through a series of community-wide initiatives Youth Development USA has reduced the number and frequency of shootings in low-income communities across the country.
One such initiative involves the involvement of the Chicago Police Department in a pilot program that will allow a single police officer to serve as a Youth Development Assistant in a single family income household. The Police Chief says; “In my role as Police Chief, I have always looked for ways to partner with community service organizations and other government agencies to provide quality, professional and supervised service to families in our department. This program goes well beyond our current experience in providing police service to these particular neighborhoods. We recognize the vital role that families play in keeping the city of Chicago a safe place to live. We want to make sure we are doing everything possible to assist them in preventing crime, enhancing quality of life and protecting their right to live in the community with safety and security. I look forward to working with this organization and others like it to make this happen.”