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Getting to the Heart of Youth Transformation-Building on the Strengths and Interests of Youth Impacted by Gang and Gun Violence

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A group of young people look over a bridge

Getting to the Heart of Youth Transformation—Building on the Strengths and Interests of Youth Impacted by Gang and Gun Violence

The discussion of youth violence prevention and intervention often hinges on the risks associated with involvement or the immediate needs of the young person and services/strategies to address these. While these two aspects are important to consider when developing a violence reduction strategy, there are other critical pillars for transformational change—the strengths and interests of young people. Building on the strengths of youth and creating positive opportunities in which they want to engage are powerful tools for opening space for them to thrive, which may ultimately prevent their involvement in violence.

With the continued shift away from deficit-based approaches, it is important to recognize the value of positive youth development for all young people, but in particular, those impacted by gang violence and at greater risk for system involvement. For them, “the body of research on resiliency suggests that many youths in high-risk environments manage to do well, even thrive, as a result of protective factors.1

Positive youth development focuses on expanding the positive characteristics and skills of youth while engaging them in meaningful opportunities that improve their well-being and connections within their community—all with the goal of helping them lead successful lives 2. It is justice system-involved youth or youth at risk for gang involvement who are not always afforded the same opportunities to explore those strengths and capabilities within themselves.

A priority of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is funding youth violence reduction initiatives that incorporate strength-based approaches to better meet the needs of youth impacted by gang and gun violence and support them on their pathway to safer, thriving lives. These initiatives seek to build up youth and create positive opportunities and strong community connections that prevent or mitigate their involvement in violence. Many even divert youth from the system or provide specific support for youth who are system-involved and returning to the community. They bridge the gaps in access to these opportunities by providing other wraparound supports. Keys to the success of these efforts are an understanding of young people’s strengths, interests, and potential and the process to help them realize these.

For a detailed look at these initiatives and the strategies they implement to support opportunities provision, view the full article on the National Gang Center’s Field-Informed Resources page. By exploring the approaches that some of these initiatives take, the opportunities with which they can connect youth, and their insights on the process, current and emerging youth violence reduction initiatives can refine or reassess how they support impacted youth, especially those involved in the justice system.


1 Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Protection. Literature Review. A Product of the Model Programs Guide. Positive Youth Development [https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/model-programs-guide/literature-reviews/positive_youth_development.pdf].


2 The Annie E. Casey Foundation. [https://www.aecf.org/topics/positive-youth-development].

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Date Created: March 13, 2024