The Youth Development Chain:

A model for enhancing strategic thinking on youth development

An overall comprehensive view on youth development initiatives is important because it helps to require insight and understanding in the many connected aspects that are related to youth development, starting with the pregnancy of the mother, via early childhood care, primary education and secondary education, towards the world of work. For an efficient implementation of all youth related activities it is important to have a thorough understanding of all connected aspects.

Therefore a so called “Youth Chain” is presented below[1], covering aspects from pregnancy and early childhood onwards. Although youth is generally defined as being between the ages of twelve and twentyfive years old, it covers all ages between birth and twentyfive, because  many older youth also experience parental issues themselves and/or their behaviour is influenced by experiences at an earlier age. This Youth Chain model could be adapted to local / regional circumstances and conditions. It offers a framework for analysing the initiatives in place, including their cooperation, and for identifying gray spots.

In an ideal context all professional organisations for youth development / youth care work together efficiently: they link their activities, learn from each other, exchange information and methods, organise trainings  for professionals in youth development (pre- and in-service), advocate, etc., both preventive and curative, using a “stepped care” approach[2]. NGO’s / Civil Society, schools (primary, secondary and vocational) and welfare organisations, and the private (business) sector to be included.

The main goal to be the enhancement of a healthy youth development (mental and physical, social, cultural and economical) in a safe context. Methods range from providing information, through psycho-social care, health care, family planning, awareness raising for behavioral change, and job trainings (apprenticeships), to the strengthening of positive social and cultural values. The governmental domains support these activities by providing objectively the necessary financial means. Such an overall comprehensive approach is not the case yet in many countries.

Table: Example of a Youth Development Chain

Age cohort

Pregnancy and 0 – 1 year old

2 – 5 year old

6 – 12 year old

13 – 16 year old

17 – 25 year old

Identified needs

  • pregnancy support / maternity care
  • parental support
  • multi problem family support / mental care
  • crèche / day care
  • day care preschool kindergarten
  • parental support
  • multi problem family support / mental care
  • primary education
  • parental support
  • in school counselling
  • after school activities for boys and girls
  • multi problem family support / mental care
  • education for relevant competences
  • parental support
  • multi problem family support / mental care
  • family planning / health issues
  • in school counselling / drop-out prevention
  • after school  activities
  • further study
  • in school counselling / drop-out prevention
  • behavioural and vocational skills for drop outs
  • youth apprentice ship programmes
  • multi problem family support / mental care
  • family planning / health issues
  • labour market access
  • inmate rehabilitation

A cross cutting issue is the strategic approach towards youth, on all aspects of the Youth Chain: generally and understandable most focus is put on youth problems (curative approach), which is like swimming against the tide, because then the origins of these problems are not getting the necessary attention. This strategy will not achieve results at a satisfactory scale, if the identified problems are not put in a wider context, also recognising mental and cultural obstacles. The most deprived youth in many cases suffer from a low self-esteem and a low level of self-confidence, hindering their development and causing stress: if you cannot believe in yourself you cannot become a successful member of your society. These problems are in fact symptoms of a deeper rooted problem underneath. And if policies and interventions are based on fighting these symptoms (a mere curative approach) it will never come to sustainable solutions. It could be necessary therefore, to dig deeper and to reflect on the question what could possibly be the cause of these widely spread stress causing problems, in order to identify a sustainable preventive strategy or remedy. This deeply rooted cause could be both of an economical and of a behavioural nature. Economical because  poverty causes a strong and stressing competition among deprived groups. Behavioural  because the attitude of authoritarian negative reinforcement [3](in stead of positive affirmation[4]) in child upbringing and teaching could also cause  stress in the respective societies.

A low self-esteem and a low self-confidence are caused by negative reinforcement (authoritarian top-down commanding, rote learning, giving orders, offensive behaviour) from early childhood onwards, by parents and other adults (in schools for instance), on the longer run even causing very negative effects[5]: internalised effects (depression, self mutilation, anorexia, drugs and alcohol abuse, etc.) or externalised effects (aggressive, violent and criminal behaviour, and  sex related abuses) [6]. Scientific evidence shows that an attitude of negative reinforcement ultimately boils down to the development of a very low self esteem and a very low level of self confidence, causing deviant negative behaviour like either withdrawn, or very defensive and sometimes extravagant (“macho”) behaviour:  negative emotionality and internalising and externalising behaviour of a child is mediated by an authoritative parenting style[7]. Unfortunately many popular child upbringing TV-series further enhance this contraproductive authoritarian approach.

Therefore a mainstreamed complementary preventive approach is highly necessary: to raise awareness on the importance of effective child upbringing approaches, and to invest in parental advice, in assistance to multi problem families (jobless families with huge debts, drop out children, poor and fat meals, suffering from abuses of many kinds and from serious mental health problems, including poverty related trauma), and foremost in the development of a culture of positive affirmation (child / learner centred and participatory, challenging, guiding and counselling) in families, and not the least in schools as well. But also in professional maternity support, good day care, useful after school activities, and in behavioral / attitudal change programmes before providing other inputs, like for instance skills oriented job trainings.


This preventive approach should supplement the curative approach. On the longer run it could create a safer social and cultural environment, which will have significant positive effects on peoples’ self esteem and self-confidence, necessary aspects for achieving empowerment or agency (see box below), and thus for being able to excercise their citizenship successfully.


Empowerment / Agency


Empowerment is the capacity of people to direct and control their own lives and resources[8]. This is, with regards to young people, sometimes also called “agency”:  the ability of young people to define their goals and act on them[9]. The concept of empowerment also coincides with today’s modern approaches towards child upbringing: promoting a child or learner centred approach within the context of positive affirmation, thus also creating a positive self-image and self-confidence. Within this context the use of the concept of ‘transformation’ is crucial: empowerment entails more than just adequate adjustment. It entails the transformation of those involved and their society.


Logically a general indicator for empowerment or agency is the competence of effective self organisation for solving problems/facing challenges (these are issues causing stress). Empowerment or agency implies, next to necessary knowledge and skills, a well developed self-confidence, self-esteem and a capacity for self reflection and accountability. Then people are able to organise themselves for becoming an esteemed member of their society / being able to exercise their citizenship successfully[10].


Today it can be concluded that the most effective way of achieving agency or empowerment is by using participatory/learner centred approaches, which enhance a culture of positive affirmation.


This model of a Youth Chain and the cross cutting strategic preventive issue of positive affirmation for achieving empowerment / agency  will be leading in reviewing existing youth policies in the chapters hereafter.


[1] Rood, Rogier van ‘t: Evaluation of the EC-funded SNAYDP project on the Netherlands Antilles: EPRD, October 2009 (also: Tabeisa evaluation report for the ECD in South Africa, same author: November 2009).

[2] Stepped care: intervene at the most desired level; sometimes providing information is suitable enough, in other cases therapy or a more robust and/or multi-disciplinary intervention could be necessary.

[3] Negative reinforcement: authoritarian top-down commanding, rote learning, giving orders, offensive behaviour.

[4] Positive affirmation: child / learner centred and participatory, challenging, guiding and counselling.

[5] Among many others, see for instance Herman, L.J. (1992): Trauma and Recovery, the aftermath of violence: from domestic abuse to political terror, Harper Collins Publishers, USA.

[6] See the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) by Aschenbach (1992).

[7] M.C. Paulussen-Hoogeboom, G.J.M. Stams, J.M.A. Hermanns, T.T.D. Peetsma, and G.L.H. Wittenboer, Parenting style as a mediator between children’s negative emotionality and problematic behaviour in early childhood, in: The Journal of Genetic Psychology, University of Amsterdam: 2008.

[8] Schrijver, Joke (1985: 234-5); Rood, Rogier van ’t (1997: 48).

[9] World Development Report 2007.

[10] Rood, Rogier van ’t (1997: 55-56).