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Youth leadership programs

Evidence Rating

Expert Opinion

Health Factors

Youth leadership programs provide opportunities for youth to gain skills and understand their strengths and weaknesses while working as active agents of change, often through social activities such as youth councils, advocacy groups, peer education, and local government youth boards. Participating youth are engaged and empowered in decision making regarding program design, implementation, and evaluation with the support of adults. Youth leadership programs are based on a positive youth development framework (YG-Leadership, Curran 2017, Campbell-Morton 2011).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Increased self-efficacy

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved social skills

  • Increased problem solving skills

Evidence of Effectiveness

Youth leadership programs are a suggested strategy to increase self-esteem and self-efficacy among youth and prepare them to transition successfully to adulthood (YG-Leadership). Available evidence suggests that leadership programs may increase interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and critical thinking among participants (YG-Leadership, Curran 2017). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects (Campbell-Morton 2011, Curran 2017).

Experts recommend that youth leadership development programs clearly define youth roles and goals, and establish trust-based, positive relationships between youth and adults (YG-Leadership).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

4-H Citizenship programs engage youth in many communities across the country (4-H citizenship). Youth Health Service Corps (YHSC) and Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) are examples of programs that work to empower middle and high school students to help create healthy communities. MGR Foundation’s Youth Empowerment program is another example of an effort to build leadership and empowerment, specifically among under-resourced youth (MGR-Youth empowerment). 

Implementation Resources

YES!-Toolkits - Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!). Toolkits and resources.

Citations - Evidence

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Campbell-Morton 2011 - Morton M, Montgomery P. Youth empowerment programs for improving self-efficacy and self-esteem of adolescents. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2011:5.

YG-Leadership - Youth.gov (YG). Youth transitioning to adulthood: How holding early leadership positions can make a difference. Youth briefs.

Curran 2017 - Curran T, Wexler L. School-based positive youth development: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of School Health. 2017;87(1):71-80.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

YES! - Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!).

MGR-Youth empowerment - Marilyn G. Rabb Foundation. MGR youth empowerment: Empowering youth, changing communities.

4-H citizenship - National 4-H Council. 4-H citizenship.

YHSC - Health360. Youth Health Service Corps (YHSC).

Date Last Updated

Apr 18, 2017