Youth development is regularly described as an "emerging field." Yet youth development has been at the core of many youth-serving organizations founded in the early years of the 20th century such as 4-H, Scouts, and Camp Fire. In the past 100 years, youth development practice has evolved and advancements in youth development research have been made. What have been key trends, major contributions and core issues during the field of youth development's "coming of age"?
The current issue of the Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice commemorates the 100th anniversary of many national youth-serving organizations. For this special issue, authors were invited to reflect on research trends and contributions that have influenced the field over time as well as to consider issues of practice that continue to evolve and challenge the field.
Collectively, the articles provide an account of youth development over the years, covering such issues as how youth development has been studied, understood and measured to how youth development practice has evolved to support, engage and address the needs of young people. The volume concludes with two commentaries about future directions for research and challenges shaping the field's future.
Clearly, today's world is increasingly complex and diverse. The role youth workers and organizations play in helping prepare young people for that world has evolved. Our understanding of the skills required has grown and we've made advancement in how to measure them.
The special issue authors cite seminal scholarship, policy reports and paradigm shifts that have influenced our field over time. Where would we be without, for example:
- Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological model that emphasizes studying young people in the context of the system of relationships that form their environment.
- The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development's report, A Matter of Time, which raised awareness of the importance of out-of-school time.
- A shift to a strength-based approach (especially the Search Institute's developmental assets) that moved beyond prevention to promotion.
Certainly, not all ideas and issues are covered in the special issue. I wonder, as you reflect on our growing field over time, what are some of the influential research contributions? What are some enduring issues of practice that continue to impact the field?
-- Kate Walker, research associate