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Carnegie Urges Youth Programs for 'Adrift' Adolescents

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The nation's 20 million young adolescents, many of whom have been "left adrift'' by adults to use drugs, join gangs, and have sex, need stronger community-based youth programs to fill their nonschool hours and insure their full development and contribution to society, a report released last week concludes.

But conditions must "change dramatically,'' it says, for the country's fragmented, uncoordinated, and underfinanced array of youth-serving programs to reach beyond advantaged children to better serve 10-to-15-year-olds in low-income urban and rural areas.

"Vastly understudied and largely ignored in public-policy debates, these programs and organizations deserve society's attention and critical appraisal,'' the report by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development says.

The 150-page report, released in Washington at a conference designed to disseminate its findings, is the first comprehensive analysis of the more than 17,000 community organizations nationwide that serve youths including national youth groups, independent grassroots organizations, religious institutions, adult service clubs, museums, and parks-and-recreation agencies.

During two years of work, the Carnegie council's 26-member task force on youth development and community programs conducted focus-group discussions with young adolescents, interviews with youth-development leaders, site visits, and an extensive literature review. It also commissioned a dozen papers and surveyed independent youth agencies.

Co-chaired by the Yale University child psychiatrist James P. Comer and the New York civic leader Wilma S. (Billie) Tisch, the task force found that young adolescents and their parents want programs that help the youths build personal and social skills, and that research shows that such programs work.

Such activities, the report says, provide youths with opportunities to learn decisionmaking and problem-solving, establish mentoring and coaching relationships, achieve public recognition, and find safe harbor in dangerous neighborhoods.

'Developmental Triangle'

But in order to realize the "untapped potential'' of these programs, communities must work to build networks of youth programs to appeal to the diverse interests--and cultural diversity--of adolescents, according to the report.

And, it says, the United States as a whole must improve the "sense of community'' in its neighborhoods and vastly improve its national family, child, and youth policies to match those of other industrialized nations.

"The nation cannot afford to raise another generation of adolescents without the supervision, guidance, and preparation for life that caring adults and strong organizations once provided in communities,'' it says.

Community programs are so essential, the report says, that they represent the third leg of a "developmental triangle'' for youths, which is also made up of families and schools.

With the latter two institutions in shaky condition, the report argues, youth programs "can be critical to young adolescents learning the skills and developing the confidence they need to enter the adult world.''

The need for such programs is seen as all the more critical in light of the developmental stage of young people ages 10 to 15.

"With the exception of infancy,'' the report says, "no time of life compresses more physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and moral development into so brief a span.''

Youths of that age also spend more waking hours in discretionary activities--such as watching television, playing sports, or attending church--than they do in school.

Forty-two percent of the waking hours of young adolescents is discretionary time--not committed to meals, school, or homework--much of it "unstructured, unsupervised, and unproductive,'' the report says.

Fully 29 percent of young adolescents are not reached by youth programs at all, the report says, and some programs reach young people for only one or two hours a week.

Involve Youths, Get Partners

To try to change that situation, the task force recommends, among other steps, that community programs:

  • Involve young people in program planning and implementation;
  • Actively compete for the time and attention of youngsters by responding, for example, to the adolescents' priorities of finding employment and earning money;
  • Strengthen the quality and diversity of adult leadership, which has been identified as "the most critical factor in program success'';
  • Establish partnerships with families, schools, and other community institutions;
  • Enhance the role of adolescents as community "resources''; and
  • Incorporate evaluation into program design.

The task force also recommends that funders of all types--including local United Ways, national and community foundations, businesses, government, and individuals--all work with youth-development groups and with one another to address the needs of youths.

Philanthropic groups, the report says, should focus on four major problems in the youth-development sector: instability of core support, inadequate total financial resources, a "crisis'' orientation toward fixing problems rather than promoting healthy development, and a single-issue approach to youth problems rather than a comprehensive one.

Local, state, and federal policies should be coordinated, the report says, and government at those levels should take the lead in increasing financial support for basic youth-development services.

More Grants Planned

To insure the report is "action oriented,'' the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which established the Carnegie adolescent-development council, plans to expand its grant-making in the area of youth development, the report's project director, Jane Quinn, said last week.

The Carnegie council also plans to host a briefing on the report next month for major foundations, including the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Carnegie hopes that such funders may be able to address two major needs of community-based youth-serving organizations: program evaluation and professional development of youth workers.

Copies of the report, "A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours,'' can be obtained for $13 each from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 2400 N St., N.W., 6th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20037-1153; telephone (202) 429-7979.

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