Momentum is gathering across the nation to replace harsh, generic ineffective measures of dealing with juvenile offenders with programs that address the welfare of young people while preserving safe communities. The MacArthur Foundation has committed 100 million dollars to discovering ways to help youth who are in trouble discover better approaches to life rather than merely locking them up and throwing away the keys to their futures.
To me, this sounds like natural territory for the Strengths Movement. Children in the juvenile justice system, as well as ever growing population of drop-outs are people who can best be supported by developing their strengths. If we are to truly embrace a philosophy of strengths, we must assume that every child is born with inherent value and worth and that by discovering their strengths, they will be able to discern a pathway to a healthy future. The ways in which young people are treated in the criminal justice system are often at odds with research findings about how and when humans develop mature moral, psychological, and cognitive capacities. A strengths model can surely serve to make a lasting difference in the lives of this population.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this recently. The Strengths Movement has many places it can move to reach youth: after school programs, the justice system, athletics, to name just a few. A movement gets legs when people are able to stand up and take action, as well as to change on a personal level. Strengths are to be discovered for personal enhancement, and then there are actions we can all get behind. The actions are what will determine whether or not we can change anything.