Changing the Odds for Youth, by Design

April 22, 2016

You know you’ve struck a chord when the diagram hurriedly sketched to summarize the new research on readiness is still up on the client’s conference room wall when you return a month later. You think you’re in heaven when the staff, without prompting, are not only using the language and ideas but have voluntarily downloaded and reviewed the research summaries and tools and are ready to talk about infusion strategies. 

I’m proud of the reports and tools that the Forum has produced over the past decade, and the way they are being used in communities across the country to deepen collaboration, strengthen policies and improve outcomes for young people. I am especially excited about the potential our two newest products – two distinct but complementary guides released recently by the The Readiness Project and the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality – seem destined to have.

The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness is the culmination of a broad, cross-systems, cross-fields synthesis of the research on readiness that has emerged over the past five years. Spearheaded by Readiness Project co-lead Stephanie Krauss, and funded by the Ford Foundation, this paper updates and emboldens the research synthesis Merita Irby, Thaddeus Ferber and I did 15 years ago to support our assertion that problem-free is not fully prepared.  Our understanding of what it means for a young person to be “fully prepared” is light-years beyond what it was then. We can now name and explain, with confidence, the skillsets and mindsets that young people combine to develop 10 key abilities that give them the agency to not only meet life’s challenges, but also take advantage of life’s opportunities wherever they arise – in school, at work, at home, in foster care.

Equally important, we can now confidently describe the essential characteristics of the environments, relationships and experiences young people need to develop these abilities and practice them until they own them. Further, we can assess the extent to which these characteristics are consistently and intentionally present in the places young people spend their time.

The Preparing Youth to Thrive series is the culmination of intensive work with a learning community of eight mature but diverse youth organizations.  With funding and leadership from the Susan Crown Exchange, the papers and assessment guides borne out of this partnership represent the epitome of how to promote “readiness by design” using observation measures and improvement guides developed by and for practitioners. This work deepens the Weikart Center’s commitment to continuous improvement and expands our capacity to not only define and measure program quality but pinpoint practices that are linked to observable improvements in social and emotional skills.

We’ve all come to rely on being inspired by the stories of young people who, because of their strong social-emotional skills and readiness abilities honed in good environments, have been able to beat the odds assigned to their race, class or zip code. It’s time to up our game and push our practice to be even stronger. With these tools, program administrators, staff and policymakers can change the odds for entire zip codes by intentionally improving the readiness practices that can and must be embedded in all of the systems and settings where young people spend their time.

Visit the respective websites to learn more about these powerful new tools and take advantage of a range of upcoming webinars, video chats and other engagement opportunities:

Karen Pittmana sociologist and recognized leader in youth development, is the cofounder, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment. The Readiness Project is an initiative of the Forum.

readiness is a right

This article is part of the Readiness is a Right blog series, posted under The Readiness Project, a joint effort of The Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction. Find more blogs and expert views in The Readiness Project Insights section. 


This article originally appeared on Ready by 21 and is reprinted here with permission. 

Karen Pittman



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