Prepared by Jennifer Gootman, December 2003
with funding from the sponsors of the Ian Axford (New Zealand) Fellowships in Public Policy
Jennifer Appleton Gootman is a Senior Program Officer at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies in Washington, DC. She has been at The National Academies for over 10 years, directing studies on a range of topics related to child and adolescent health and well-being. She was previously at the US Department of Health and Human Services and prior to that directed community youth programs in Los Angeles and New York City. She has a BA in education/ fine arts from the University of Southern California and an MA in public policy from the New School University.
During Jennifer’s Ian Axford Fellowship exchange to New Zealand she was based at the Ministry of Youth Development in Wellington where she examined the design and implementation of New Zealand’s National Youth Development Strategy.
The Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (YDSA or the Strategy) was launched by New Zealand’s Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYA) in early 2002. This Strategy is a unique example of government policy creating a platform for public and community agencies to approach policy and programming for young people aged 12 to 24.
The YDSA offers a framework to provide positive experiences and counter negative trends through youth development policy and programmes. The principles of youth development promote a fundamental shift in focus from youth problems to building on their assets, recognizing that young people are partners and contributors. Youth development theory proposes that many problems of young people, such as substance abuse and offending, are coexisting and mutually reinforcing, and solutions lie in providing more integrated, holistic services. The YDSA encourages investment in broader efforts that support youth to reach their potential in all areas of their lives.
Over the past decade, government agencies, foundations, and the private sector in the United States (US) increasingly began to invest in a range of separate programmes and activities for youth. These programmes are beginning to reflect a youth development approach, however, most continue to be categorical and fragmented, diminishing their effectiveness.
In contrast, New Zealand has made significant progress toward a national vision and strategy for youth development through the YDSA. Its release culminated more than ten years of discussions about public policy for young people in New Zealand, evolving over a long period through shifting political landscapes and leadership.
This project developed lessons from the New Zealand experience related to effective youth development programme functioning and the relevance of the YDSA. Site visits and discussions with young people, youth workers, and service providers, coupled with a review of the Strategy’s development, interviews with Government policymakers, and an examination of youth programmes and planning processes yielded the following observations:
Creation of the Strategy: The Strategy was prepared through a community-based process reflecting the input of a range of stakeholders, including young people, and moves from focusing narrowly on problems to a more holistic youth development approach.
Youth Development Programmes and the Strategy: Important elements of effective youth development programmes include charismatic leaders and the vision and commitment of individual youth workers and community organisations; a focus on helping youth to build relationships as a primary programme goal; and connecting youth development with community, iwi, and hapu development activities.
Impact of the Strategy: The best source of knowledge about youth development practice exists at the community level. The Strategy has reached individuals and groups representing diverse communities, and there are several comprehensive local and regional efforts to implement the Strategy. Examples of creative, successful youth development programmes are in practice at both the local and national levels in New Zealand.
Challenges for the Strategy: The impact of the Strategy appears to be impeded by the lack of a clear national implementation plan or process. A large cross-section of stakeholders involved in youth policy and programming continue to struggle with understanding the concept of youth development and apply it in practice. Tangible links between and among government policies across age ranges are not clear in practice, and while several government principles and initiatives across departments are conceptually aligned, few appear to have operational links.
These observations reveal successes in the design and early influence of the YDSA, as well as significant challenges to its meaningful implementation at scale. They highlight possible future directions for New Zealand policymakers and community leaders where continued work could enhance the reach and the impact of the Strategy:
New Zealand’s experience in designing and implementing the YDSA suggest several themes for programme design and government policy in the US, particularly at the state level. These offer transferable lessons despite the differences between the two countries in scale, culture, and laws.
The identification of a perfect youth development programme that can be replicated across communities is impossible. The diversity of young people, their particular needs, and surrounding environments makes it unrealistic for a single programme to fit all situations. There also is an aspect to working with young people that is an art, not a science, and programme success often is dependent on intangible variables such as the personality of the youth worker or the interpersonal relationships among a particular group of young people.
Yet, the YDSA demonstrates that a consensus document outlining a strategy for youth development can: (1) assure a consistent framework for effective youth programme design; (2) provide a tangible vehicle for political commitment and rationale to generate organisational change; and (3) guide alignment of intergovernmental and interagency resource commitments.
In both its successes and challenges, the development and preliminary implementation of New Zealand’s youth development strategy clearly represents a significant first step toward delivering more appropriate and effective youth supports. These efforts afford both conceptual and operational lessons for youth development programming.
Appendix A: Interviewees and Discussants
Appendix B: Glossary of Terms
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