Asset Building is Contagious in Williamson County, Texas

Working with young people from a strength-based approach can have contagious results. That’s what staff members have discovered at Texas-based Williamson County Juvenile Services (WCJS).
Since adopting the Developmental Assets® framework in 2011, Matt Smith, WCJS Assistant Executive Director and Director of Mental Health Services, says he and his colleagues have found common language and means to intentionally build positive relationships with the young people they serve.
"Our kids say this is contagious," says Mr. Smith of the assets. "Our staff began to have higher expectations for our kids and started engaging them differently by putting them on panels and asking their opinions. The kids got very excited about being treated differently."
Connecting youths' strengths to needed services
Mr. Smith estimates that 3,200 young people were served last year by WCJS, with 1,600 young people involved in referral services and 1,600 involved in prevention-related services.
"It doesn't matter what the issues are, the asset framework works for all our kids. We see what their strengths are, and connect those to the services they need," explains Mr. Smith. "The success we've seen has made a drastic impact on how we view the youth we work with."
The Georgetown Project, a local nonprofit, first trained WCJS on the assets. Since then, the asset approach has grown and now informs much of the work that is done at WCJS.

Asset-related activities are evident in many ways at WCJS. For example,

  • Parents of youth in detention are provided with literature on the 40 Developmental Assets.
  • Lobbies contain information about the 40 Developmental Assets.
  • Youth and parents complete the assets checklist before and after they’ve received services so progress can be assessed.
  • Case planning is connected to the Developmental Assets, and specific programs and interventions are set up to build on young people’s strengths.
  • Therapy groups incorporate assets into the curriculum.

Leadership opportunities help young people own program results

Service learning projects are great opportunities to incorporate the principles of positive youth development. "When we create leadership opportunities for youth, they rise to the occasion and begin to feel the sense of accomplishment and positive identity necessary to make critical, lifelong changes. They begin to believe in themselves again," explains Mr. Smith.

Arts-related activities are another great venue for young people to catch the contagious nature of asset building. A four-week art program was developed in collaboration with a nonprofit arts guild for youth residing at the Williamson County Academy. The kids created and exhibited their art, but they also took responsibility for planning and hosting the event that showcased their work. WCJS staff judged the work using criteria used in a professional art show.

One young person noted, "This program helped me learn about some good hobbies to replace my current bad ones."

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

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Developmental Assets and Service-Learning

Kudos to William County, Texas, Juvenile Services. We do service-learning at Harris County Juvenile Probation in Houston, and intend to incorporate Developmental Assets as our framework too. We know how transformational this work can be for kids, as well as adults.