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February 2023Vol. 24, No. 1Child Trends Paper Highlights Importance of Positive Youth Development Approaches in Child Welfare

A paper from Child Trends explores the importance of implementing positive youth development (PYD) and racial equity and inclusion approaches in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Research indicates that PYD approaches that focus on young people’s assets and build on protective factors can improve their mental and physical health, education, and employment outcomes. These approaches are especially important for young adults, as data shows that youth who interact with the child welfare and justice systems have difficulty adjusting to independence and living healthy, fulfilling lives. These outcomes are even more prominent for young people of color and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or gender expansive, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit (LGBTQIA2S+).


The paper outlines the following reasons for implementing equity-oriented PYD approaches:


  • Research in adolescent brain science, youth development, and trauma underscores the need for age-appropriate support and resources that foster positive development.
  • Experts have called for a reduction of congregate care.
  • Some service providers have begun to implement strengths-focused and positive youth frameworks.
  • Data document the disproportionate number of Black, American Indian, Hispanic, and LGBTQIA2S+ youth in child welfare and justice systems.


The paper also introduces “STRENGTH,” a conceptual framework that programs and communities can use to guide their work supporting adolescents and young adults in child welfare and justice systems. The “STRENGTH” model focuses on positive characteristics rather than a young adult’s deficits and is structured around eight principles drawn from PYD frameworks: systems integration; trustworthy and safe; relationships; equity, inclusion, and belonging; needs are met holistically; growth, leadership, and opportunities to fail and learn; training and education; and healing. These principles provide public systems with a roadmap to reevaluate how they approach youth and families.


The paper is part of Child Trends’ ongoing work related to integrating PYD and equity-driven approaches in child welfare and justice systems. The next step is to develop a toolkit to provide concrete supports to programs and systems that are implementing or expanding on these approaches for young adults.


More information is available in the paper, Integrating Positive Youth Development and Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Approaches Across the Child Welfare and Justice Systems, which is available on the Child Trends website.