Youth Leadership [YL]

DYCD's Youth Leadership Framework

Youth Leadership builds on PYD principles, with an emphasis on providing: (1) leadership opportunities within the program, organization, and community; (2) skill-building and capacity for making decisions and solving problems; (3) opportunities to deepen understanding of shared experiences and participate in community projects; and (4) strong youth-adult partnerships.

Youth leadership development has the potential to solve community problems, enhance civic participation, and promote direct benefits for adults, organizations, and communities through stronger connections to young people in the community. Since 2007, DYCD has supported youth leadership efforts with its Teen ACTION (Achieving Change Together in Our Neighborhoods) and Youth Councils, funded as part of the Beacon and Cornerstone programs. More recently, youth leadership development was included as a requirement for middle school programs as part of the 2008 OST RFP and the SONYC expansion.

The purpose of the DYCD Youth Leadership Development Framework is to promote a common language for youth leadership development and to help providers map out and design quality youth leadership programming; it was designed to answer the question: “What is youth leadership development?”

The Youth Leadership framework is comprized of three critical components: skills (including SEL competencies, communication, active listening, and collaborative skills); action (stimulated by the desire and opportunity to acquire and master skills and effect change); and reflection (reinforcing what has been learned, feeding confidence, imparting lessons learned, and providing opportunities to identify and respond to new challenges). Both PYD approaches and SEL competencies support and sustain Youth Leadership skills which, in turn, reinforce the developmental gains nurtured by PYD and SEL, creating a continuing cycle of benefits.

Click here to download the Youth Leadership framework.

Supports for Youth Leadership Development

In addition to the core components, programs must also have critical supports in place to ensure youth can engage fully in skill building, action, and reflection. First, programs must provide a supportive environment (safety, positive relationships, sense of belonging). Next, programs should offer intentionally designed program activities and experiences that use sound strategies for utilizing aligned curriculum and instructional strategies.


Young people can become leaders when they feel safe and supported. When the environment is a safe community for all youth, then they are able to take on challenges, risk possible failure, and step into leadership roles that promote learning. In a program where activities and experiences promote a safe and supportive environment, key environmental factors for youth leadership support (e.g., youth voice/choice, welcoming atmosphere, positive youth interactions, and opportunities for growth) are in place and demonstrated most of the time.


Intentional Design. When developing and implementing program activities, program staff first should consider whether and how they are being intentional in the design of those experiences. This planning phase is a critical first step that sets a foundation for other curricular and instructional strategies.


Activities that foster leadership should incorporate practices and processes that result in youth-centered programming that is deliberately focused on developing key leadership skills and creating a systemwide youth leadership culture within its environment. Activities may include (but are not limited to) community volunteerism; debate participation; training to be a peer mediator; participation in a youth advisory committee with the program, school, or community; learning activities about leadership principles and styles; mentoring relationship; resource-mapping activities that allow youth to take the lead in planning and carrying out a search of community resources or service learning; and developing a personal plan with goals, action steps, and deadlines. Throughout the program activities and experiences, there should be consistent and clear evidence of opportunity for youth skill building in self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills, collaboration, and communication. Moreover, youth and adults should work in partnership through a formal system, ensuring youth decision making and leadership with supportive adult input.


The tools and methods that staf f members use to impart information and facilitate an activity will vary from program to program. Some programs may opt to adopt a formal curriculum; others may have a homegrown curriculum specific to their mission and goals.

Ultimately, we suggest that you ensure the curriculum and instructional strategies are designed for your setting, and that you and your colleagues are prepared to deliver the curriculum or modify as needed.

In addition to having a curriculum that provides the tools and resources that staff members need to plan an activity, program staff also need to consider the method of activity delivery. Research has shown that skill development is effective when activities explicitly target specific skills and outcomes.

Because we know that youth learn best when they are engaged in what they are learning and have the opportunity to explore concepts and skills through a variety of formats, we suggest incorporating both explicit and embedded strategies for skill development throughout leadership development activities.