Young people, ‘adolescence’ and capabilities: key foundations for a programmatic response

Aggleton, Peter; Yankah, Ekua (2016). 'Young people, ‘adolescence’ and capabilities: key foundations for a programmatic response' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

While for some young people, ‘youth’ may be characterised by a degree of risk-taking, and social and emotional difficulty, it is also important to see this stage of life as a time of opportunity and promise, both for the individual and for society at large.
More than two decades worth of work has shown the value of adopting a positive, developmentalapproach to young people’s health. Investing in strengths and ‘assets’ as well as in factors that protect against vulnerability and risk, is more effective than focusing on difficulties alone. Significantly, viewing young people as ‘adolescents’ or as collections of problems can lead to a fragmented and vertical response. Separate initiatives on physical activity, smoking, citizenship, drugs and alcohol, and sexual and reproductive health, for example, fail to engage with the inter-connectedness of many of the health and well-being problems young people face.
Positive outcomes for young people cannot be brought about without understanding the impact of the broader social, cultural and political environment, and the relationships and opportunities available to young people. But how best do we bring together strengths and assets with the notion of societal opportunity and constraint?  And how best can young people be understood within this nexus of possibilities?  Capabilities theory, we argue, holds one way to work through the tensions and contradictions inherent in such work.
Drawing on work supported by a range of UN agencies, this paper articulates a new framework for understanding and promoting young people’s health and well-being. Its starting point work lies in the strengthening of young people’s capabilities, the enlargement of access to opportunities, and the provision of safe and supportive environments.  Five over-arching ‘pillars’, or arenas for action, are identified: health and mental well-being; safety and protection; education and training; citizenship and civic engagement; and livelihoods and economic empowerment. Each of these arenas provides opportunities to expand young people’s capabilities to live a good life, or the life they have reason to value. Such an approach offers a positive and assets-based way of understanding adolescents and young people, their circumstances and needs, their potential to contribute, and key education, security, health and development concerns.
Relevant to each of the above pillars are strategic objectives, which in turn link closely to key results that may be worked towards through joint action.  Our paper points to what some of these may be with respect to each of the pillars identified above.  Implications for the monitoring and evaluation of programmatic responses are identified and discussed.

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