Youth Involvement Frequently Asked Questions

Brief answers to questions often raised about youth culture, youth development, and youth involvement with system of care communities.

What is Positive Youth Development and how can I incorporate it into my system of care?

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is an approach to serving young people that concentrates on strengths, meeting developmental needs, and focusing on opportunities for growth, rather than on risks, negative behaviors, or problems. In addition, the PYD model stresses the need for youth to become involved in their communities in ways that build on young people’s strengths, give them hope for the future, and provide them with success experiences. There are several important principles that you should consider when incorporating a Positive Youth Development approach into your system of care:

  • Focus on building strengths rather than on reducing problems, risks, or deficits.
  • Youth engagement involves more than just providing services for youth.
  • The youth/adult relationships that develop through your programs are more important than the programs themselves.
  • View young people as partners, and enable them to have meaningful roles in your organization.
  • Emphasize community involvement.
  • Engage services/supports that assist with transition into adulthood.
  • Focus on long-term outcomes for your youth.

The following list contains examples of how PYD principles and opportunities can be incorporated into your system of care. This list was adapted from A Guide to Positive Youth Development (PDF) by the ACT for Youth Downstate Center for Excellence and Upstate Center of Excellence.

Focus on Building Strengths

  • Become familiar with the strengths and interests of the young people you work with, and create and take advantage of opportunities to foster those strengths and interests;
  • Provide training to system of care staff and board members on youth development concepts and strategies; and
  • Create opportunities for youth to express themselves through creative interests – e.g., dance, arts, writing, etc.

Promote Youth Engagement

  • Learn to view young people as resources, contributors, and leaders;
  • Involve youth in designing and delivering programs and services;
  • Create forums for young people to present/teach their skills, interests, and experiences to other young people; and
  • Support young people in advocating for themselves and their peers.

Encourage Youth/Adult Relationships

  • Create opportunities for program staff and youth to meet on an informal basis;
  • Design a mentor program;
  • Invite family members and community residents to recognition events to celebrate young people’s accomplishments;
  • Create opportunities for young people to showcase their talents to their family members, agency staff, and community residents; and
  • Sponsor informational presentations that bring together young people and family members – e.g., parenting skills, communication skills, etc.

View Young People as Partners

  • Involve youth in meetings and on boards and committees;
  • Invite youth to contribute articles to your agency’s newsletter; and
  • Arrange opportunities for young people to educate their parents, community residents, and local and state elected officials about issues of concern.

Community Involvement

  • Invite community residents to attend a program activity;
  • Form partnerships with community organizations and other youth agencies in order to provide more opportunities and supports for youth, design new ways to solicit funding, and develop and promote improved policies for young people;
  • Encourage and support young people to volunteer in community agencies and community events; and
  • Involve youth in mapping the youth-friendly services and businesses available in their community, creating a directory of community resources, and advocating for additional or missing resources.

Long-Term Involvement

  • Sponsor reunions of youth participants;
  • Invite former youth participants to special events (e.g., picnics, holiday parties, recognition events);
  • Regularly communicate with former youth participants;
  • Provide ongoing training opportunities to system of care staff and other community agencies on youth development principles; and
  • Help policymakers, practitioners, and community members value youth as resources.

There is no single PYD model that can be applied in all communities. Communities must use the PYD principles to adapt a program that best meets their unique strengths, needs, and resources. Implementing a PYD approach requires organizational culture change, collaboration, and education. Your organization must reconsider its mission, structure, and decision-making procedures in order to incorporate PYD principles. It must initiate collaboration efforts with other youth-serving agencies, families, and the youth themselves. Your organization must also educate internal staff, committee members, providers, policymakers, families, and communities on the PYD approach and your community’s approach. Implementing a PYD approach, therefore, requires rethinking and modifying your current systems so that they reflect the PYD philosophy of supporting and valuing young people.