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Q & A: Author Discusses Upcoming Carnegie Report on Youth Groups

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In 1990, the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, a project of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, created the Task Force on Youth Development and Community Programs. The 26-member panel was charged with examining the current activities and potential contributions of U.S. youth organizations in an effort to broaden neighborhood-based services and make them more available to young adolescents, particularly those living in lower-income areas.

Through conducting interviews, youth focus groups, literature reviews, and surveys, and by commissioning 13 papers and reports, the task force has looked at how to improve the youth-development and primary-prevention programs run by national youth groups, independent grassroots organizations, religious youth groups, adult organizations, and public-sector agencies.

The final report of the task force is expected in December. Jane Quinn, the project director at the Carnegie Council and principal author of the report, discussed its preliminary findings with Staff Writer Millicent Lawton.

Q. What is important about examining the relationship between young adolescents and community programs?

A. [T]he early adolescent years, the period from [age] 10 to 15, are second only to the years of infancy in the rapid rate of change and the critical nature of the changes.

We know the early adolescent years are the critical years for the initiation of decisionmaking around substance use, sexual activity, even gang involvement.

We're saying that there's an ignored third leg [after family and school] to that developmental triangle ... and that is a whole set of experiences that young people have in their neighborhoods and in their communities.

Q. What did members of the youth focus groups say?

A. They said that what they wanted was exactly what the research said they needed. They said that they needed places to go to be with kids their own age and with adults. They said that they needed an interesting array of activities. They said they needed much greater access to adults. They want to spend time with adults who care about kids, who like kids, who respect them, who listen to them, and who have standards and expectations for their behaviors.

Q. What were other specific findings of the report?

A. I think on the positive side we found that there is really a rich and diverse array of community programs.

[This has been] described as a crazy quilt, and I think that's a really nice image because it calls attention both to the richness and diversity ... but also to the kind of stitched-together quality of all this--that we really don't have enough planning around the kinds of services and we don't have enough coordination and enough identification of the gaps in service.

On the positive side, I think we also found there's broad-based participation in these kinds of programs.

We found that [these programs] have tradition, that they have durability, that they have a high degree of commitment to what they're doing.

And the other thing that they have, related to credibility, is widespread support. They get money from a lot of different sources.

Those are all strengths, but we found some really glaring problems. And I think the main one is the inequity of access--that young people from higher-income families are more likely to participate [than those from lower-income families] because they are more likely to have access.

Another weakness we found was that the participation in these programs, although it is broad-based, is of extremely short duration and very modest intensity.

Q. Are there any other findings on the down side?

A. Yes. The way that we fund these organizations needs very, very systematic re-examination.

Public money [for example] is very much skewed toward the treatment end of the [youth-service] continuum, and we're arguing that we need to shift the balance, at least to some extent ... [toward] youth development and primary prevention.

Q. What are some recommendations?

A. I don't want to say that we're arguing for a system, because we don't want this to become bureaucratic. But what we're saying is that there should be a network of supportive services in each community and that these services should have the following characteristics:

They should be affordable, accessible, safe, and appealing to the diverse interests of young adolescents.

They should be operating from a philosophical base that views young people as resources to their communities rather than as problems to be addressed.

These services should be much less adult-driven and much more kid-driven and much more responsive to young people, so that they should really offer increasingly large amounts of autonomy and choice. These services should be supported by financial resources that are commensurate with the important work that these organizations do.

And these services--to a much greater extent than they do now--should draw on the best available current knowledge from research and practice.

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