Like universal prevention programs, youth empowerment programs also aim to reduce disparities in healthy development, but these programs often differ from social emotional programs in regard to target population, setting, and approach. Empowerment programs are implemented primarily in afterschool settings, often target marginalized young people, and strive to build young people's competencies as they work to disrupt traditional power dynamics. When working with students, empowerment programs strive to develop youth voice, encouraging adults to share power with young people as they make decisions about programming and advocate for needs in their communities. While evidence for youth empowerment programs is "younger" than social emotional learning programs in regard to intervention effects, it appears to be a promising way to authentically engage young people, support their skill development, and promote equity.
Although these two approaches support the same underlying goal of serving young people to be successful in schools and reduce disparities in undesirable youth outcomes, they embrace different strategies, philosophies, and methods of working with young people. Both approaches are widely disseminated in the literature; yet they have been implemented almost entirely in isolation. This limits our knowledge of if and how the two approaches might be integrated, thereby improving the potential efficacy of each modality and increasing the ability of the field to achieve the Grand Challenge of Healthy Development for All Youth.
This roundtable invites researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers to engage in a structured discussion around points of overlap and divergence between universal prevention programming and youth empowerment programs. One scholar from each area will discuss their respective approach, including guiding philosophies, supporting evidence, and limitations. Three other presenters will provide analysis of the two approaches, drawing from their own research and practice. The session will close with a moderated discussion between presenters and attendees to think together about how universal prevention and youth empowerment programming could be integrated to respond to the Grand Challenge to Ensure the Healthy Development for All Youth. The results may lead to the development of more effective models aiming to reduce educational disparities and increase school success for all young people.