Exploring a community approach to enhance the healthy development of youth

Youth across BC are exposed to a variety of risk factors that can inhibit their ability to develop into healthy adults. Some of these risks include alcohol and drug use, gambling, physical and sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, obesity, and feeling unsafe at school. Most funding agencies support one-time projects to improve health and social outcomes among youth. Although these interventions are intended to target needs identified by the community, many are unable to generate long-term change toward healthy youth development, because of short-term grants, competing goals, a lack of trust in the community and uneven volunteer support. Carol Sparks is studying how an alternative approach—community action projects—creates sustainable change. Community action shifts the focus from one-off projects to a community-centred approach, based on the belief that families provide the primary support for children and youth, and vulnerable youth need community support to meet their health and social needs. Carol is working in collaboration with the communities of Courtenay and Campbell River on Vancouver Island to determine the processes used by local community action projects to address the social and economic determinants of youth health. This research will identify both barriers to sustainability and strategies that support sustainability.