Positive youth development

The last two decades have seen abundant research in the factors influencing positive youth development (PYD). Research has helped to consolidate the features of health promotion settings that promote positive outcomes for young people.

The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine1 identified personal and social assets and the features of positive developmental settings considered most important:

Personal and social assets for general youth development
  • Physical development
  • Intellectual development
  • Psychological and emotional development
  • Social development
Features of positive developmental settings
  • Physical and psychological safety
  • Appropriate structure
  • Supportive relationships (including role modeling, peer support and diversity of staff)
  • Opportunities to belong
  • Positive social norms
  • Support for efficacy and mattering
  • Opportunities for skill building
  • Integration of family, school and community effort.

The Search Institute2 has also identified 40 developmental assets for youth within six broad categories: Commitment to learning; Positive values; Social competencies; Positive personal identity; Commitment to positive use of time; Sense of autonomy and mattering.

Reference to the Evaluation Framework for Youth Peer Programs shows a high degree of consistency with the list of assets and features identified in the PYD research above. This is very encouraging for service providers of peer-based programs.

A couple of points are noteworthy when reviewing the PYD research. Firstly, the PYD research has been based primarily on work with white, middle-class populations, mainly US-based. There may be cultural differences evident within other groups. Further, certain assets may be more significant for at risk youth than others e.g. the provision of a safe, stable and predictable environment and increased knowledge and awareness of support services available may be more important for at risk youth in the short term than improved academic outcomes. This potentially suggests the need for different indicators of program effectiveness based on the target group and context.

Secondly, taking a holistic systems approach to providing youth services may influence the effectiveness of programs. There is some evidence to indicate that peer-based programs that are co-located within other youth services may be more sustainable than ‘standalone’ programs (Ref). Peer-based programs need to be able to make recommendations for other services at risk youth may need e.g. housing, domestic abuse counseling, and maintain strong relationships with referral agencies. Otherwise, any positive impacts associated with peer-based programs may not be lasting and may only be seen within the ‘safe’ peer program context.


  1. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington DC, The National Academies.
  2. http://www.search-institute.org/