Community-Directed Engagement and Positive Youth Development

Developing Positive and Progressive Pathways Between Youth and Their Communities in Reclaiming Futures

In addition to treatment, young people with substance abuse and delinquency challenges need opportunities for education, positive engagement, meaningful service and work.

In this article, the national program director for Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative to create integrated care systems for youth with substance abuse disorders in the juvenile justice system, posits that positive youth development and community-directed engagement not only helps youth return to their community, but benefits their communities as well.

Among the types of positive youth development and community-directed engagement activities implemented at Reclaiming Futures’ 10 pilot sites:

  • Youth leadership opportunities within programs or the community as a whole.
  • Mentoring programs such as those that use community volunteers as “natural helpers.”
  • Recruitment of adults for youth leadership or mentoring activities, or to engage in other supportive programs that help youth build life skills.

The author suggests that future efforts adopt three attitudes toward community-directed engagement. First, to foster long-term success, think beyond system reforms to engage community support. Second, hold authentic community conversations to create trust between community members and juvenile justice system representatives. And third, address the lack of data available to measure community engagement activities and positive youth development.

This article is part of a special issue of Children and Youth Services Review on the RWJF-funded Reclaiming Futures program.