Delivering good practice services

Program factors1

According to the Evaluation Framework for Youth Peer Programs, the program factors thought to contribute to positive outcomes for at risk youth can be summarised as positive role models; increasing protective factors; strengths-based and flexibility; and youth participation and involvement.

Positive role models

Peer-based programs aim to empower at risk youth and establish a sense of personal agency through developing a range of knowledge and skills including: communication skills; social skills; problem solving skills; help seeking skills; and coping skills. Both adults and peers involved in a peer-based program can provide positive role models who contribute to realising this aim. The idea of learning through observation is described by Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) and the process of adopting positive attitudes and behaviours observed in positive role models can be explained by Diffusion of Innovations Theory.

Given the potential influence of young people in leadership roles, stringent screening, selection and monitoring processes need to be implemented to ensure that peer role models are perceived as credible and knowledge peer role models; have good peer networks in which to exert their influence; and continue to exert a positive influence within the peer group.

Increasing protective factors (and reducing risk factors)

There is now abundant evidence to show that increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors promotes positive outcomes for young people.

Knowledge of protective factors and risk factors has been consolidated through research on resiliency over 40 years (see Resilience Theory). Peer-based programs increase protective factors and promote personal resilience for at risk youth through: access to positive role models; a safe space; knowledge of help services; opportunities to learn and develop skills; peer support/shared experiences; access to help services; and building a sense of attachment/belonging.

Positive Youth Development Framework

Providing a physically and psychologically safe environment is very much echoed in the literature on positive youth development (PYD) and is listed as one of the key features of settings that promote positive outcomes for young people.

Much of the PYD research has been conducted amongst white middle-class youth. It is noteworthy that access to a safe space may be even more significant for at risk youth who may be subject to abuse and bullying or who may lack supportive and positive family or peer influences. The safe space provided by peer-based programs for at risk youth may provide an important ‘life line’ or coping strategy that ‘gets them through’ and keeps them safe during periods of vulnerability. As one service provider commented:

“…at least I know that for two hours each week I can keep this girl safe [from abuse]. It may be the reason why she copes with her situation knowing there is somewhere safe to go each week and supportive people”. (Service provider)

Strengths-based and flexibility

Historically, youth services were based on a deficits model which focused on addressing the skills gaps, problems and issues faced by young people. In the early 1990s, there was a shift to adopting a more strengths-based approach to delivering youth services. As Karen Pittman stated:

“Problem free is not fully prepared” (Pittman 1991)

Pittman noted that it was not enough to ‘fix’ young people’s problems. Young people also needed to develop a battery of personal and social assets that would help them make a successful transition to adulthood. The use of a strengths-based model which is focused on the development of “assets” as opposed to a deficits model which is focused on problems, skills deficits or therapeutic needs is characteristic of peer-based programs.

Regarding program flexibility, while peer-based programs do not have the capacity to support a case management approach, flexibility within the program to meet individual needs is common and is consistent with alternative education models.

Youth friendly programs with active youth participation

The active involvement of young people as program participants, peer supporters, peer educators or peer leaders is characteristic of peer-based programs. A program that is labeled ‘youth friendly’ is associated with high levels of active youth involvement and is very consistent with a youth empowerment model described below.


  1. Lobo, R., G. Brown, B. Maycock., A. McManus. 2010. Development of an evaluation framework and evaluation approaches for peer-based youth programs – Interim Report. Perth: Western Australian Centre for Health Promotion Research, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute.