Nearly 30 percent of the population in the United Kingdom are composed of the youth (i.e., people with ages ranging from 0 to 24 years old), thus, emphasising the importance of youth development. When the public and private sectors work together for the overall development of the youth population particularly those belonging in the 15-17 years old range, the entire nation will benefit for, indeed, the youth is its present constituent and future leaders.
This is the case with the National Citizens Service (NCS), one of the most recent yet most successful youth development programs sponsored by the government. With its local providers across England – The Challenge is its local provider in London, Surrey, The North West, and West Midlands – it is a movement gaining momentum and, in the process, making positive changes in the lives of young people.
What is youth development in the first place? Youth development is defined as a philosophy and an approach – or as many advocates will say, a philosophy in practice. It is a process based on the philosophy that when the youth develops their personal, social and academic competencies as well as their citizenship competencies, they are more able to deal with the challenges of adulthood based on their strengths, capacities and abilities.
Emphasis must be made about the differences between youth development programs and youth service programs. While these two types share a few common traits, their differences are notable in that youth development programs like the NCS The Challenge:
• Engage the youth participants as valuable resources actively involved in their personal development instead of just passive recipients of services; and
• Focus on strengthening the youth’s skills, abilities and capabilities instead of “fixing” them (i.e., make them more compliant with society’s expectations).
The core principles underlying the most effective approach in youth development include focus on the positive outcomes, support for active participation, and balance in services, opportunities and support.
The positive outcomes differ depending on the youth development program but there are two common traits, namely:
• Developmental outcomes where the youth builds their intellectual ability and become more employable; and
• Prevention outcomes where the youth engage in more positive activities, such as continuing with their studies and staying off the streets instead of engaging in violent behaviour or taking up alcohol, cigarette and drug habits.
Indeed, the experiences gained by the youth participants in youth development programs are priceless, said experiences of which include rock climbing, public speaking and community service as well as the conceptualisation and implementation of their choice of advocacy (e.g., community gardening).
Of course, the parents and legal guardians of the youth participants also appreciate the youth development programs because of the positive impact on their children and wards. Think of it: When you child comes home a better person after the summer or autumn program, the fees are well worth it.