August 20, 2014

Discussion: How can we improve opportunities for “at-risk” youth?

Tuesday last week was International Youth Day, and our article by Núria Rodríguez-Planas ignited some interesting debate on LinkedIn.

Rodríguez-Planas’ piece looked at the role of youth mentoring programs in changing perspectives and life opportunities of at-risk youth. The evidence she analyzed suggested that, while most effects are positive, they tend to be modest and fade over time – sometimes even backfiring to generate negative outcomes. 

Greater research needs to be done to fully assess the effectiveness of these programs, though Jamie Johnson of Boy With a Ball did comment that such programs should not simply be dismissed without clear evidence. Further debate on LinkedIn honed in on how we can best engage with young people.

Fred Sempala of the Kisenyi Health Centre posited that “the attitude of young people” needs tuning. He says young people should be encouraged to adopt a positive outlook in order to be “engaged in each and every development plan.” A similar argument was made by Latrice Njee of Midwest Youth Development Services, NFP. She stated that mentoring programs should “empower” at-risk youth, and be tailored to suit each individual case.

Viola Nomveliso Mbanga of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation commented that policy should not just focus on the youths in question, but also on the mentors themselves. Mbanga suggested that some mentors need to reassess how to approach young people to effectively analyze their individual issues and guide them accordingly. She says mentors need to think: “I need to listen to this young person first” instead of “This is a youth at risk, I need to change them.” Founder of A Willing Life Lou Scotti also commented that a mentor should focus on “communication, values, goal setting [and] character development.”

Talking about society at large, Charles William Shaw of the Lincolnshire Youth Association commented that: “The Zero Tolerance Society needs stopping dead in its tracks!” He feels that overall social attitudes need to be addressed in order to improve the position of young people in the long-run.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on LinkedIn or on our Twitter page