The Youth Development Handbook: Coming of Age in American Communities
Stephen F., Hamilton and Mary Agnes, Hamilton (2004).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 408 pages. $109.00. ISBN 0761926348.
Researchers, practitioners, policy makers and funders are continually challenged to define their field of “youth development.” Moreover, they are asked to explain how their work makes a difference in the lives of young people. Whether working in a small local or a large national youth program, teaching a class of graduate or undergraduate students, or working with policy makers and/or funders, clearly defining “youth development” is the first of step to understanding how youth successfully transition to young adulthood.
The Youth Development Handbook offers a foundation for forming this definition and suggests its implications for the development of young people. The editors posit that youth development is best understood from three different but logically related perspectives: as (1) a natural process, (2) a set of principles, and (3) a range of practices. These approaches emphasize that youth development proceeds along a continuum: from working with one young person to providing varied experiences across multiple contexts for many young people to interact with diverse participants. Experiences across this continuum can promote positive youth development and facilitate their successful transition to adulthood.
Part I of this text, entitled “Processes and Practices in Youth Development Contexts,” examines youth development programs in context. These chapters are rich with case studies and real-life examples of how programs in different settings incorporated key youth development principles to promote positive development. Dechenes, McDonald and McLaughlin explore community-based youth organizations. Ream and Witt expand our understanding of the influence of contexts by considering contrasting settings such as recreation programs and faith-based programs. Barton offers an insightful perspective on juvenile justice programs, and Kreipe, Ryan, and Seiblold-Simpson provide an understanding of youth development in regard to health and health care. Ziegler provides an informative chapter on the potential of high school-based programs, and Hamilton and Hamilton conclude this section by discussing the role of work and service learning as contexts for positive youth development. These types of programs are accessible for most youth, but many of them do not incorporate the key factors necessary to promote positive youth development.
This handbook takes the additional step of offering critical information about the wider contexts that must be considered when working with and on behalf of young people: family, peers, neighborhood, community, and the media. The chapter entitled, “Using and Building Family Strengths to Promote Youth Development” is particularly impressive. Far too often youth development work is conducted with little consideration or inclusion of the family, which diminishes a program’s impact on the lives of the participants. In this chapter, Bradshaw and Garbarino highlight the connections between what parents do with and on behalf of their children and the impacts of youth programs. They underscore the importance of integrating families into youth programs, rather than seeing families as simply a source of transportation for youth.
Part II of this handbook, entitled “Action Steps,” identifies key factors for success in youth development programs. Dorgan and Ferguson provide a thoughtful overview of factors that influence the success of community-wide initiatives. Izzo, Connell, Gambone, and Bradshaw discuss the importance of program evaluation as a tool for improving work in the field, and Partee discusses strategies for funding youth development programs. This chapter provides a concise yet comprehensive overview on philanthropy, including private and community foundations, community-based fund raising, corporate grants, youth philanthropy, and governmental funding.
In conclusion, Hamilton and Hamilton offer an important summation:
The principles and practices for promoting youth development change in response to changes in the contexts in which development occurs, not just the physical location, but the values, ideas, and assumptions that permeate them. The principles stated and illustrated in this volume reflect a view of the youth as responsible, engaged, and capable in the present, as well as preparing for the future. Today, we believe all youth should thrive; historically, many have not been afforded that right. The principles interact reciprocally with reality: The more we can put them into practice, the more they hold true for more youth. Acting on the principles helps to create a world in which they are self-evident.
This handbook makes an important contribution to the field of youth development. Researchers, practitioners, policy makers and funders will find it interesting, thought provoking and useful.
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Division of Human Development and Family Studies
Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences
The University of Arizona
Lynne M. Borden is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Division of Human Development and Family Studies at The University of Arizona. Her research focuses on community youth development, community programs that promote the positive development of young people, and public policy. She also works with communities to strengthen their community-based programs through evaluation and training. Her research concentrates on the influence of youth programs as a context for the development of young people with a specific emphasis in understanding why young people chose to participate or not participate in youth programs.