Children Just Need Right Options

Article excerpt

Byline: BUILDING YOUTH ASSETS By Jerry C. Yu For The Register-Guard

Before coming to the Science Factory, I worked at a foundation that supported organizations helping men, women and children facing a variety of conditions like mental illness, homelessness, chronic diseases, unemployment, substance abuse and violence.

On one occasion, we asked leaders from some of the nation's most venerable groups serving children and youth - the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Boys & Girls Clubs - to help us develop a delinquency prevention program. We posed two fundamental questions: 1) What factors lead to delinquency? 2) What programs impact those factors?

The group agreed on the simple yet obvious leading `cause' of delinquency: boredom. The power of boredom can push a young person to delinquency, or to isolation and depression.

The second question evolved into a deeper discussion about effectiveness. Though the agencies all served youths, they had surprisingly little evidence that their programs actually helped kids succeed! Other than basic statistics and anecdotes, none could produce any scientific data.

I was astonished. After a hundred years of operating `character building' programs, no `hard evidence' had been collected to show the worthiness of their programs? (To be fair, conducting controlled experiments to obtain such data is nearly impossible.)

Our hunt for innovative program models led us to the Search Institute in Minnesota. We invited representatives to speak to us. As we learned about the developmental assets model, we recognized its genius.

The model hypothesized that certain things (assets) children possessed internally or had in their environment were associated with healthy growth and development. The Search Institute discovered a statistically valid correlation between the number of such assets and the degree of relative `success.' The more assets, the better the chances a child would succeed.

The Institute's researchers refined 20 `internal' assets, such as achievement, honesty and self-esteem, and 20 external assets like family support, safety and constructive use of time. (See for details.)

We now had the answers: Our program would address boredom and facilitate the acquisition of developmental assets. With the foundation's support, a five-agency collaborative instituted programs serving more than 10,000 children at 16 schools. Programs were offered during times when children were prone to boredom (after school, on weekends and during school vacations) and included homework assistance, computer lab, recreation, arts and crafts, music and dance, community service, camping, physical fitness and sports. …