How can we develop culturally specific programs to engage youth of color?

Monday, February 01, 2016

by Ivonne Ortiz of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM), a time when we focus our efforts to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships. Dating violence among young people is more common than we might imagine. A 2011 CDC nationwide survey found that 23% of adult females and 14% of adult males who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17. Data from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) revealed reporting rates among high school students of 10% for physical victimization and 10% for sexual victimization perpetrated by a dating partner in the past year. For youth of color these numbers increase. One study found that the prevalence of physical dating violence was greater among Black students (13.9%) than whites (7.0%) and Hispanics (9.3%) (CDC, 2003).

Many teens fail to report the abuse because they are afraid to tell friends and family. For youth of color, reporting and finding help and support can be especially challenging. Growing up with a clear understanding and experience of inequality, discrimination and injustice can leave them with little trust in the systems that were put in place to protect them. For youth of color in the United States, social, cultural, and economic factors can form substantial obstacles to disclosing abuse and accessing services including:

  • Strong loyalty binds to race, culture and family;
  • Distrust of law enforcement, criminal justice system, and social services;
  • Lack of service providers that look like them or share common experiences;
  • Lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services;
  • Lack of trust based on history of racism and classism in the United States;
  • Fear that their experience will reflect on or confirm the stereotypes placed on their ethnicity; and
  • Legal status in the United States.

To learn more about these obstacles, check out our blog on the Domestic Violence Awareness Project website: Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (TDVAM) 2016: Empowered Youth on the Margins.

Culturally Specific Programming

Recent research illustrates that youth of color benefit from strong culturally specific programs and from staff who are caring and sensitive regarding racial and cultural differences (Belgrave, Chase-Vaughn, Gray, Addison and Cherry, 2005). In order for programs to be culturally specific, particular attention needs to put on the way direct services are provided and the type of development training that are offered to the staff providing those services.

Culturally specific programs are those that value diversity, conduct self-assessments, addresses issues that arise when different cultures interact, acquires and institutionalizes cultural knowledge, and adapts to the cultures of the individuals and communities served. (Goode T, Jones W, Mason J. A Guide to Planning and Implementing Cultural Competence: Organizational Self-Assessment. Washington, DC: National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University, Child Development Center, 2002.)

As we all know, no single strategy is going to work for all youth, even within a single community. Programs are most likely to be effective when they listen to the teens they aim to serve. This may mean providing an environment in which youth from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds feel comfortable discussing cultural beliefs and sharing their cultural practices. According to Advocates for Youth, programs targeting youth of color are most likely to be effective when they:

  • are culturally specific and in the language of the target population;
  • involve youth in planning and implementation;
  • focus on the assets of the participants and on their specific needs;
  • consider the social and cultural factors that influence behaviors;
  • provide peer support to change peer norms;
  • aim at building skills; and
  • use multiple pathways to reach and empower youth in the community.

There are many great programs designed specifically for youth of color that already fully integrate their ethnic culture(s) into the activities, language, and materials. These programs create safe spaces to engage young people in a meaningful way by acknowledging and incorporating culturally specific values, attitudes, beliefs, and family relationships. Below are great examples of culturally specific programs that are making a difference in their communities.

Program Examples

nativeloveThe NativeLove Project encourages Native youth to think about what Native Love really is, to create change and restore safety in Natives communities by restoring traditional ways of loving, characterized by respect, honor, kindness, family and compassion. This project includes a youth video/photo challenge, posters, social media campaigns, FAQs, and teen resources and toolkits. These resources are offered to support and inform youth and educators about healthy relationship and to encourage dialogue in Native communities

The Youth Amig@s Initiative engages Latin@ youth ages 12-18 committed to taking action that supports the mission of Casa de Esperanza. This initiative strengthens leadership, public speaking and presentation skills while providing opportunities and creating safe spaces for Latin@ youth to explore Latin@ identity, gender norms, and healthy relationships. Youth participants present workshops, lead community action projects, attend conferences and plan and lead their own annual youth leadership conference.

latin@youth

Developing culturally specific programs is not difficult, but it requires conscientious attention. Organizations working with youth from communities of color should make an effort to listen to those that they aimed to serve and involve youth as full partners in designing, implementing, and evaluating the programs. Organizations that are intentional about valuing youth voices and leadership, hiring a culturally diverse staff, engaging in ongoing work towards cultural understanding and humility with be better equipped to respond to the needs and experiences of youth of color.

If you want to learn more about the importance of developing culturally specific programs and empowering youth on the margins, join the following NRCDV events for TDVAM: