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Positive youth justice: investing in California's strengths

There is a shift taking place in the landscape of California's juvenile justice system.  In an effort to move away from a punitive model which has historically framed youth involved in the juvenile justice system as a liability, a new framework has emerged. 

Traditionally, juvenile justice has been rooted in a deficit based approach that focuses on addressing the youth's problem behaviors such as poor decision making or addiction.  By placing emphasis on the acts of delinquency alone, outcomes for youth have not proven to be successful.  The system neglects to address underlying causes for the behavior.  For example, punishing youth for a drug offense without providing effective substance abuse treatment addressing the underlying causes for the addiction does not ameliorate the behavior.

In contrast, positive youth development emphasizes the strengths that youth possess.  While keeping youth away from delinquent risk factors is not enough, positive youth development involves youth in pro-social activities recognizing that all youths have the potential to succeed.  For example, involvement in sports can provide an opportunity for youth to engage and work together as a team, building confidence and promoting pro-social behavior.

Shifting away from a deficits perspective is an integral part of positive youth development.  By focusing on the assets youth have to offer, youth can be empowered to strive for positive individual growth and more likely to develop positive relationships.

So why should California invest in community partnerships and programs that emphasize positive youth development in juvenile justice? 

This new approach to juvenile justice will provide today's youth with better outcomes and the opportunity to maximize their full potential.  In turn, youth are less likely to recidivate when behavioral health is addressed.  Anti-social attitudes can be changed through incorporating alternative behaviors such as anger management and problem-solving skills. 

Developing healthy relationships is also a preventative factor for at-risk youth's involvement in the juvenile justice system.  When disadvantaged youth are positively connected with resources within their community they are less likely to become involved with the justice system in the first place.  

Moving away from a deficit based approach to incorporate positive youth development will improve the outcomes for youth and their communities.  This asset based approach sends a cogent message that even justice involved youth have the ability to increase their opportunity for a safe and meaningful future. 

~ Christa Collins

CJCJ Communications and Policy

Keywords: best practices, positive youth development, youth

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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