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Define supports that the full community must provide

- and specify high-quality standards across all systems and settings where young people spend time.
August 26, 2011

While it’s true that “it takes a village to raise a child,” this is also true: The world is full of villages where many young people are not doing well.


Why? Because raising ready children and youth requires a steady stream of supports from the full community to ensure that young people are not only problem-free, but also fully prepared and fully engaged. To make this happen – to change the odds for all youth – community leaders and providers must dedicate themselves to:

  • Work together – differently.
  • Create an insulated pipeline of supports from cradle to career – one that wraps coordinated, high-quality services and supports around the traditional education pipeline.
  • Focus on the whole child.

So after a community sets its goals and indicators, it must decide who’s responsible for helping to achieve which goals. And it must set up a system of accountability to measure progress.

To do that, communities need shared performance measures across systems and settings. This is a new approach: The development of cross-cutting performance standards links what we know about child and youth development with efforts to assess and improve program quality.

How do you do that? Start with a developmentally appropriate list of performance goals that will guide planning, communications and performance accountability.

Here are some resources that address common questions:

How do I find information about the supports that young people need?

A groundbreaking book in youth work, Community Programs to Support Youth Development, outlines essential elements of adolescent well-being and healthy development. It makes policy and practice recommendations for community supports that meet young people’s developmental needs.

The National Research Council – the nation’s leading independent reviewer of research – identified eight important supports that promote effective education and positive outcomes for young people. It compiled those in a List of Features of Developmental Settings. The document also provides examples of ways that programs can be categorized, from harmful to optimal.

The Research Council’s chart can help you drive home the benefits of high-quality supports across systems and settings in your community, and the risks that arise from harmful settings.

To see what supports correlate with success in both youth and adulthood, read the America’s Promise Every Child, Every Promise Report. The report is built around America’s Promise Alliance’s Five Promises – Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education and Opportunities to Help Others – which are developmental resources that young people need. The report presents research that comprehensively measures the presence of those important supports in the lives
of today’s youth, and correlates them with success in youth and young adulthood.

Surely there must be some commonsense, positive experiences and qualities that help young people become caring, responsible and successful adults. Search Institute went looking, and came up with its compendium of 40 Developmental Assets, which have become a staple in the field of youth work. The assets are based on extensive research by Search Institute, a Ready by 21 Partner.

What basic elements are essential for high-quality youth programs?

There are countless ways to run a good youth program, but regardless of what that program offers – arts, sports, academic enrichment – they should all have certain core elements. In this Program Quality PyramidHigh Scope Educational Research Foundation shows the characteristics of settings that best promote child and youth development.

Communities and programs can use the pyramid to ensure that their young people have supports that go beyond basic safety and needs, to offer opportunities for interaction and engagement as well.

What basic elements are essential for high-quality youth programs?

This toolkit, prepared by United Way Worldwide, encourages United Ways and their community partners to deepen their out-of-school time efforts and outlines how to adopt a system approach vs. a piecemeal approach to ensuring that kids get the supports they need. This toolkit provides a soup to nuts look at what it takes to take the focus off of one magic bullet and put the emphasis on alignment, coordination, access and sustainability. 

We’re ready to talk about the range of youth supports in our community. Now what?

Someone needs to facilitate the discussion. The objective: Get the key leaders thinking broadly about the variety of settings and supports that youth now have access to, and about how the community’s goals for young people fit into the bigger picture. This will help everyone see how well their community is meeting the many needs of its young people.

To help, here’s a dashboard tool: the Supports Dashboard Facilitator’s Packet, which will help you guide leaders through this discussion with a series of tasks focused on your community.


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