Positive Youth Development: Working with Kids in the Juvenile Justice System

positive-youth-development_positive-youth-justice-coverA few days ago, I posted about a framework for providing opportunities for young people in the juvenile justice system to develop important skills that build on their competencies instead of their deficits in Positive Youth Justice - a Model for Building Assets in the Juvenile Justice System. This was based on a publication authored by Jeffrey Butts, Gordon Bazemore, and Aundra Saa Meroe, and published by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, titled, Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development.
At the back of the publication, I found these inspiring "rules" for creating youth development programs: 

  1. Assume that young people are competent. When you start with the assumption that youth are damaged, some of them will likely “catch” the very problem they think they are supposed to have.
  2. When working with young people, make sure they are in mixed groups—youth and adults solving common community problems together, and making sure youth themselves come from a mix of the usual group labels—good/bad, quick/slow, etc.
  3. Jobs and activities for youth must be important, rewarding, and meaningful to create a sense of success, contribution, and belonging.
  1. When youth are involved in meaningful activities that help individuals and communities, find ways to pay them.
  2. Make sure that youth participate in activities and jobs for which they have some unique competence that others can appreciate.
  3. Provide youth with educational credit and make sure teachers are involved in what each youth is doing—while at the same time, expanding the notion of what education is about.
  4. Organize youth in groups to provide advocacy and support.
  5. Be political—all change is political, but don’t fight dumb battles. Maximize friends, not enemies; and use the media.
  6. Pick institutional change targets where there is reason to believe an activity can become permanent—where institutional change may be an outcome.
  7. Start small to ensure good management, but plan for broader institutional impact.
  8. Find ways to help young people understand how to survive in bureaucracies—youth should learn to be accountable, to negotiate, and to learn to expect and cope with conflict and frustration.
  9. Avoid coercion and negative labeling—especially with justice-involved youth, make sure their participation has no bearing on what happens to them in the justice system.
  10. Evaluate—state program objectives and follow up with published outcomes.
  11. Have fun and always believe in the innate capacities of young people.

(These rules were originally developed by Kenneth Polk, formerly of the University of Oregon and the University of Melbourne, then edited and paraphrased by the report's authors.)

Related:  Strength-Based Bill of Rights for Teens in the Juvenile Justice System, by Dr. Laura Nissen.

Updated: February 08 2018