Youth Development Toolbox

Welcome to the Youth Development Toolbox Toolbox

Use these tools to strengthen your knowledge and practice of youth development for justice-involved young adults.

Welcome! If you are working with young adults who are involved in the criminal justice system, this toolbox offers:

  • guiding documents
  • videos
  • customizable forms
  • and other resources to help you learn a youth development approach!

A youth development approach is the hallmark of the NYC Justice Corps, which serves 18-24 year olds. Strategies to reduce recidivism, promote workforce readiness, and restore young adults’ relationships with their communities are implemented within a youth development framework. We are synthesizing tested methods such as risk-needs assessment and subsidized work experience with a youth development approach. Strategies for conflict management are also implemented in the context of youth development.

Why does the NYC Justice Corps use this approach? Too often, justice-involved young adults have missed out on the positive developmental opportunities that all young people need in order to thrive. We believe that taking a developmental approach—that is, understanding and responding to youth needs, understanding and nurturing youth strengths—offers the most effective way to help young people find their paths to education, employment, and fully engaged citizenship.

Videos and other resources in this toolbox are drawn from the NYC Justice Corps Learning Community held in January 2014. Special thanks to the staff of the NYC Justice Corps for sharing their experience and insights, to the training facilitators from the Youth Development Institute who are so dedicated to teaching the youth development approach, and to our funders at the NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity.

Youth Development Toolbox Index

An introduction to adolescent development and youth needs, including developmental stages (ages 18-24), brain development, universal youth needs, and characteristics of positive youth identity. Staff of the NYC Justice Corps discuss young adult needs and their hopes for the Corps members.

The theory and framework of youth development. How a traditional approach to working with young people is different from a youth development approach. Definitions and core concepts of youth development.

Moving from theory to action: factors that foster resiliency among young adults and staff strategies to promote resiliency. Managing conflict: how to address the inevitable conflicts that arise in work with young adults in a way that restores relationships and keeps young people engaged in the program. Learn about the Conflict Cycle and the I ESCAPE technique through real life scenarios from the NYC Justice Corps.

All resources from the Youth Development Toolbox in one convenient index.

YD - Intro

Use these tools to strengthen your knowledge and practice of youth development for justice-involved young adults.

In This Section:

Stages of development and universal youth needs

The video Strengthening Youth Development: Stages of Adolescent and Young Adult Development is an important foundation for effective work with young adults involved in the criminal justice system. The video introduces developmental phases, brain development from puberty through early adulthood, youth needs, and formation of positive youth identity. This video was filmed at a training in 2014 for the NYC Justice Corps staff that was facilitated by the Youth Development Institute.

Print materials accompany this video:

Awareness of the typical Stages of Adolescent and Young Adult Development gives youth workers the ability to assess whether young people have achieved developmental milestones and to set realistic expectations for youth learning and participation. It’s also important to note the factors that can impact development and lead to differences in development for each individual. Research on Adolescent Brain Development shows that the brain continues maturing through the early 20s in those areas that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future and foresight of consequences. Adolescents and young adults may look physically mature, but their brains are still developing. Use these tools to learn about typical growth through the teen years into early adulthood.

Universal Youth Needs are what all young people need to thrive and grow into healthy adulthood. When these needs are met in positive ways, young adults develop a Positive Identity. Unfortunately, when universal needs are met in negative ways, young adults can experience negative outcomes, including justice system involvement. For example, the universal youth need for belonging and membership can be met in a positive way, through interactions with pro-social peers and involvement in community or faith organizations. It can also be met in a negative way, such as gang involvement. Use these tools to learn about universal youth needs and the development of positive identity.

Who are justice-involved young adults?

In the video Strengthening Youth Development: Who Are Our Young People?, NYC Justice Corps staff talk about working with young adults involved in the criminal justice system. Staff members offer practical insights into how community issues such as multi-generational poverty, drug abuse, and gangs have a strong impact on young adult development.

“Dear Little”: Staff hopes for justice-involved young adults

The “Dear Little” exercise invites adults who work with justice-involved young people to describe their hopes for the children in their personal lives as a first step to exploring their aspirations for the young people they work with. Two tools support this exercise for professionals and others working with young adults. Working independently, each adult in the group should complete the Dear Little Letter on paper. The letter should be addressed to a child they love, such as the baby or child of a family member or friend. The exercise facilitator can then call on members of the group to share their hopes with the rest of the group. The group can also watch the Dear Little video, in which NYC Justice Corps staff complete this exercise.

YD - Theory

Use these tools to strengthen your knowledge and practice of youth development for justice-involved young adults.

In This Section

Framework and Theory

Watch the video Framework and Theory for an introduction to the theory behind the youth development approach.

The companion document, Youth Development for Justice-Involved Young People, offers a theoretical framework for how we want to work with young people involved in the criminal justice system. A traditional approach labels these young people as “at-risk” or “high-need” and predicts negative outcomes. In contrast, a youth development approach puts the focus on young people’s strengths and identifies the protective factors that can lead to positive outcomes. This document includes theoretical and practical definitions of youth development.

By increasing awareness of the Stages of Adolescent and Young Adult Development and understanding the theory and framework of youth development, we can improve policies and programs for support young adults.


The impact of risk factors and protective factors is discussed in “Resilience and Recovery: Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study” FOCAL POiNT Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health Summer 2005, Vol. 19 No. 1, pages 11-14, Regional Research Institute for Human Services, Portland State University.

The theoretical model is further supported by the study, “The Scientific Foundations of Youth Development,” Trends in Youth Development, Peter L. Benson and Rebecca N. Saito, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.

Core Concepts

What do we believe? For professionals working with young adults, the Core Concepts of Youth Development set out the guiding beliefs that should inform our work.  Often, however, in real-life situations it can be difficult for staff to operationalize youth development concepts. In the Core Concepts video, staff of the NYC Justice Corps talk about these challenges.

YD - Action

Use these tools to strengthen your knowledge and practice of youth development for justice-involved young adults.

In This Section:

The tools in this section were presented by the Youth Development Institute at a training for the NYC Justice Corps staff in January 2014. Every section below includes both videos and companion documents to download.

Factors that foster resiliency

Why do some young people get caught up in the justice system while others don’t? Protective factors that foster resiliency help all young people achieve positive outcomes—including young people who’ve been labeled “at-risk” or have come into contact with the justice system. The video Factors that Foster Resiliency introduces the positive supports that help young people overcome challenges and make their way to healthy adulthood.  In the video, staff of the NYC Justice Corps talk about the supports that helped them transition through young adulthood. The companion document, Promoting Factors that Foster Resiliency, details the ways that programs can support young adults in building resiliency.

Strategies to promote resiliency

In a series of videos about promoting resiliency, NYC Justice Corps staff share their strategies for engaging justice system-involved young adults in making positive changes in their lives. Staff talk about how they build healthy rapport with young people in the video Caring Relationships with Staff. In the video Opportunities for Youth Contribution, staff highlight the leadership roles they’ve created for program graduates and the ways young adults participate in program decision-making. The video Promoting Resiliency in the NYC Justice Corps details the many program strategies that are working to nurture young adults—and the challenge to staff to do even better.

Managing conflict in a youth development context

In the video Managing Conflict: The Conflict Cycle, trainers from the Youth Development Institute provide a step-by-step breakdown of how conflict begins with a trigger, escalates to a crisis, and concludes in a recovery period. The video also highlights what staff can do at each point along the cycle to prevent and de-escalate crisis as well as cope with the aftermath.

Print materials accompany this video:

How can we manage conflict in a way that promotes youth development—that makes it possible for young people to stay in the program after a conflict rather than dropping out? The video Managing Conflict: Restoring Relationships focuses on a scenario drawn from real-life conflict between staff and participants in the NYC Justice Corps. Staff learn how to manage the conflict using the principles of prevention and de-escalation, as well as how to restore relationships between staff and young people after a conflict. A print version of the Managing Conflict Scenario is also available. After viewing the video and/or reading the conflict scenario, professionals working with young adults may also use the Four Stages of Conflict Worksheet to analyze this conflict or others they have experienced.  Use this worksheet to identify potential strategies for managing conflicts.

Adolescent brain development can be a significant factor in how young people react to conflict. It’s important to remember that the frontal lobe, which controls impulses and aggression, and engages in longer-term perspective, continues to mature through the 20s. Adolescents think mostly with the back of the brain where emotional processing occurs. A review of the Youth Development Toolbox Intro, especially the tools Stages of Adolescent and Young Adult Development and Adolescent Brain Development, will enhance understanding of how to manage conflict with young adults.

Managing conflict with the I ESCAPE technique

When conflicts arise in the NYC Justice Corps, the staff are called upon to manage these situations in a way that promotes learning and new awareness for the young people in the program—and keeps the young people engaged in services. In the video Managing Conflict: I ESCAPE, Part 1, staff of the NYC Justice Corps perform role plays depicting conflict scenarios during community benefit projects and then use the I ESCAPE steps to debrief the scenarios. This tool is particularly useful for adults who manage conflict situations among young people who are doing community service. In the video Managing Conflict: I ESCAPE, Part 2, staff incorporate the I ESCAPE steps into role plays of various conflict situations that arise with young adults in the NYC Justice Corps.

More about I ESCAPE: This method of interacting with young people involved in conflicts is consistent with youth development principles and offers a way to restore relationships and help the young people stay engaged in the program during and after a conflict. The steps of I ESCAPE are summarized in the document Life Space Interviews: I ESCAPE (adapted from The Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Student Workbook, Martha J. Holden, MS, Sixth Edition, Residential Child Care Project, Cornell University, 2009). Use this interview guide document in conjunction with the I ESCAPE videos in this Toolbox.

It’s also important for staff to be aware of their own triggers, which may lead to or escalate conflicts with young adults. In the video Managing Conflict: Triggers for Staff the NYC Justice Corps staff members talk about some of the “hot button” issues that can lead them into conflict with young people in the program. In conjunction with this video, professionals working with young adults can use the Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself Worksheet to identify their own triggers and consider the impact of those triggers on their relationships with youth.