Youth Development Programs Hold Promise, Often Fall Short

Preparation of a manuscript on positive youth development

From 1996 to 2000, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, colleagues of Columbia University's Center for Young Children and Families (now the National Center for Children and Families), New York, and William H. Foster, PhD, of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, examined the effectiveness of youth development programs on reducing or preventing risk-taking behavior, including substance abuse.

Key Findings

  • Investigators found that while few good evaluations of these programs exist, available evidence points to the effectiveness of the youth development framework in reducing risk-taking behavior, including substance abuse.

  • A common set of factors guide the most successful youth development programs, including:

    • Making available a flexible range of activities and supports that address the needs and characteristics of youth.
    • Linking youth with a caring adult.
    • Sustaining these efforts over time.
  • The investigators found that these programs have a sound basis in adolescent development theory. They used the results of recent research to articulate the implications for youth development programming.

Based in part on the findings of these projects, RWJF started a national program in 1999 called After School: Connecting Children at Risk with Responsible Adults to Help Reduce Youth Substance Abuse and Other Health-Compromising Behaviors. The program will support a three-city demonstration project designed to connect at-risk urban youth with responsible adults in after-school activities.