Yet, there is hope. For many opportunity youth, these trajectories can be disrupted by surrounding them with a cohesive web of positive relational support. Research shows that youth who have stable relationships are more likely to stay in school, experience academic gains, exhibit fewer risk behaviors, demonstrate higher socioemotional competence, and be resilient. The purpose of this study is to understand the transformative role developmental relationships provide in community-based programs to promote thriving and well-being in the lives of opportunity youth.
Methods. Study data comes from focus groups (15; n=76; 80% non-White) and surveys (n=298) gathered from opportunity youth, ages 14-24, who are either homeless, in foster care, involved in the juvenile justice systems, or disconnected from school/work. Participants were: 81% non-White, 40% immigrants, 48% female, 5% transgender. Data were collected in partnership with six organizations with deep community ties and strong reputations as safe spaces for opportunity youth to receive wraparound support services. Participants’ experiences of developmental relationships with their program case manager, other program staff, and program peers were each measured with five items focused on their relational experiences of care, support, challenge, power sharing, and exposure to new possibilities. Each youth was given a summative score to reflect the number of strong developmental relationships they experience in the program ranging from 0 to 3. Logistic regression was used to examine associations between the number of developmental relationships experienced and four concurrent outcomes dichotomized at the median.
Results. Two-thirds of youth reported experiencing developmental relationships in the program: 23% 1 relationship, 17% 2 relationships, 27% 3 relationships. Results consistently show the positive associations between youths’ relational experiences and outcomes: goal orientation (OR=1.3), responsible decision making (OR=1.6), resilience (OR=1.4), positive identity (OR=1.5). Qualitative narratives about the role of developmental relationships with program staff and peers in helping create a path towards thriving will be woven into the presentation (including themes on effective practice and practical considerations for working with opportunity youth).
Conclusions. Findings suggest that, otherwise socially isolated opportunity youth, can form high-quality developmental relationships through community programs that can disrupt risk trajectories and set them on a pathway for well-being.