Key Elements to Successful Youth Programs

The following are key elements that contribute to successful youth programs

  • Youth Programs that have a clear, consistent mission. The mission is the heart of the initiative and should provide the basis for continuous improvement.
  • There should be a logical relationship between the program's mission, activities, and the youth it serves. An effective program will target, recruit, and select young people most likely to benefit from the program's activities. It is important for bidders to establish linkages with organizations and agencies serving those youth in order to maximize program effectiveness.
  • The youth program will need staff who work well with youth and who are committed to positive youth development and to the success of all youth who participate. Expectations include: clear, cogent minimum qualifications for individual staff positions; and the communication of high expectations.
  • The program must create an environment where youth want to come to, where they feel physically and emotionally safe, and where they have fun but are also challenged.
  • Research and experience both support the value to young people of connections with caring, competent adults. Effective programs will therefore include adults that can be teachers, counselors, mentors, case workers, community members, or other trained individuals who understand and deeply care about youth, who provide young people with time and attention, and who work with small numbers of youth and can demonstrate that they are committed to the program and the youth who participate.
  • Effective programs individualize services and activities for participants, keeping in mind each young person's goals and needs. In such programs, Individual Service Strategies become active documents that youth, family members and staff use to direct and consider options. An individualized plan, based on a thorough assessment, will look at any and all factors which impact a young person's development and success and will focus on assets as well as needs.
  • Based on the objective assessment the program should also provide age and stage appropriate services for its participants. For example, less mature youth may not be ready for a job in the private sector and may benefit from some other work-based activities located in the non-profit or public sector. Older youth may be ready for direct placement in the private sector or an employment upgrade after appropriate training.
  • Effective programs encourage positive relationships with family and peers. "Family" can be a grandparent, a neighbor, a sibling-whoever is an important positive personal influence and support for a young person outside the program. To ensure that peers are a positive influence, effective programs help young people form peer and peer group relationships that support a young person's program attachment, achievement, and success.
  • Effective programs contain career awareness and exploration activities which encourage youth to identify their interests and consider a variety of goals and careers, including options that may not be traditional for their gender, race or ethnicity. Young people who are exposed to a variety of educational and occupational options are more likely to make positive connections to work and education to pursue that goal.
  • Effective programs ensure that employers are actively engaged in the program. In addition to providing employment and work experience, local businesses and public-sector employers can provide instructors and speakers and share their technical business experience. Successful programs seek to involve, or become involved with, employers in ways that help accomplish the program's mission, strengthen its activities and benefit youth participants.
  • Effective programs provide continued support to help youth stay positively connected to the workforce, education, the military or otherwise. This support is reflected in what is referred to as follow-up services.
  • Last, effective programs collect data that enable them to document their operational effectiveness and their ability to achieve desired outcomes. The kinds of results youth programs often measure are: competency outcomes such as basic skills, work readiness skills and occupational skill goals achieved. Educational outcomes include youth who gain a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma. Connective outcomes include connections and retention in post secondary education, employment, military service, etc.