Youth development programs seek to improve the lives of children and adolescents by meeting their basic physical, developmental, and social needs and by helping them to build the competencies needed to become successful adults. Examples of youth development programs include community service, mentoring programs, and neighborhood youth centers.
It is unclear exactly how many youth development programs are operating in the United States in the early twenty-first century. In 1998 the Internal Revenue Service identified more than 5,700 nonprofit organizations–almost 3 percent of all charitable agencies–that focused their primary services on youth development. In addition, countless other organizations offer youth development activities within a different primary focus. Examples include youth groups within religious organizations and after-school activities offered by public elementary schools.
The purpose of this entry is to provide an overview of youth development programs. It is organized in the following manner. First, a brief history of services for children and youth is presented. Second, the current framework for youth development programs, including school-based youth development efforts, is discussed. Next, issues regarding access to youth development programs and findings from evaluations of youth development efforts are presented. Finally, several issues regarding implementation of youth development programs and future research directions are discussed. Historical Development of Youth Development Programs
The concept of childhood as a unique and crucial stage of human development is a relatively recent idea. Until the mid-1800s, children were viewed as miniature adults who, without strict guidance from their families, would follow their natural inclination toward aggression, stubbornness, sinfulness, and idleness to their doom. Not surprisingly, the earliest programs and services for children who were poor, orphaned, delinquent, or mentally ill focused heavily on helping them avoid their natural inclination toward vice and sought to help them gain useful occupation. Apprenticeships were arranged for older children, while younger children were cared for in almshouses where their health, morals, and education would be improved with the overall goal of ensuring future self-sufficiency.
Beginning in the mid-1800s, numerous factors combined to influence a transformation in the view of children and childhood and subsequently in services for children. Writings of the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) and American transcendentalists fostered the view of children as pure and good human beings who learn from experience and, as a result, are corrupted only by the influence of society. The nineteenth-century English naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution–specifically its premise of environmental influence on behavior and development–contributed to the growing belief that, with appropriate nurturing, children could be molded into successful adults. As a result, childhood began to be viewed as a particularly critical point in human development. Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852), the German educator and founder of the kindergarten movement, encouraged this viewpoint and contended that children required special preparation for adulthood, as well as opportunities for recreation and play. The publication of American psychologist and educator G. Stanley Hall's seminal work Adolescence in 1904 expanded this notion to older children and served to further cement such views.
This shift led to significant changes in services for children and adolescents. Institutions specifically designed to nurture the needs of children replaced apprenticeships and almshouses. Although the earliest institutions for children date to the mid-1700s, the movement to remove children from...