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Troubled Children and Youth, Turning problems into Opportunities

Larry Brendtro and Mary Shahazian

The Positive Peer Culture (PPC) program (Vorrath & Brendtro, 1985) enlists youth in helping one another. It uses problem-solving groups in which youth with an adult leader provide support and respectfully challenge hurting behavior. PPC has been shown to be effective in creating safe environments in treatment programs, even for incarcerated youth (Gold & Osgood, 1992). An extension of the PPC model is the EQUIP program (Gibbs, Potter, & Goldstein, 1995), which adds formal training in thinking errors, moral development, and social skills training; this "equips" youth to be more effective peer helpers. Research on EQUIP also shows sustained positive changes with youth in peer-helping groups (Gibbs, Potter, Goldstein, & Brendtro, 1998).A growing body of research shows that well-designed peer treatment programs can have predictable positive effects on participants (Giacobbe, Traynelis-Yurek, & Laursen, 1999). Youth significantly improve on measures of achievement, self-esteem, and prosocial values and behavior. Most encouraging is recent evidence that peer-helping models can create safe, positive environments, even with antisocial youth. Martin Gold (1974) was an early critic of peer group treatment. He changed his view as a result of his extensive research on peer-helping groups in treatment settings for troubled and troubling adolescents (Gold & Osgood, 1992):

The essential question was whether or not programs of this sort were indeed able to establish positive youth cultures. The research evidence is very encouraging. Youth were uniformly found to view their living environments as safe. Moreover, stronger youth groups, with greater perceived autonomy in their settings, were generally regarded by youth and staff as more positive and prosocial. ... This set of findings was an important validation because it meant that the conditions, at least, for effective group treatment were present. (p. 212)

A group of irresponsible youth cannot bootstrap a positive culture alone. They need guidance from committed adults trained in methods for building caring peer cultures. At the core of communities of respect is the powerful, overriding core value that no person – youth or adult – will be permitted to hurt another and that individuals who don’t help are hurting. There are intensive group-oriented interventions specifically designed to transform negative cultures into positive climates (NDK, 2003; Vorrath & Brendtro, 1986; Gibbs, Potter, Goldstein, & Brendtro, 1996).


Brendtro, L. & Shahazian, M. (2004) Troubled Children and Youth, Turning problems into Opportunities. Illinois: Research Press p 212

Giacobbe, G., Traynelis-Yurek, E., & Laursen, E. (1999) Strength based strategies for children & youth: An annotated bibliography. Richmond, VA: G & P

Gibbs, J., Potter, G., & Goldstein, A. P. (1995) The EQUIP program: Teaching youth to think and act responsibly through a peerhelping approach. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Gibbs, J., Potter, G., A. P. , & Brendtro, L. (1998) How EQUIP programs help youth change. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 7(2), pp 117-172

Gibbs, J., Potter, G. Goldstein, A. P. & Brendtro, L. (1996). From harassment to helping with anti-social youth: The EQUIP program. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 5(1), 40-46

Gold , M. & Osgood, D. W. (1992). Personality and peer influence in juvenile correction. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Gold, M. (1974) A time for skepticism. Crime and Delinquency, 20, 20-24

NDK. (2003) Productive peer relationship. A training curriculum form No disposable Kids at Starr Commonwealth. Albion, MI: NDK

Vorrath, H. & Brendtro, L. (1985) Positive Peer Culture (2nd Ed.) New York: Aldine de Gruyter

Brendtro, L. & Shahazian, M. (2004) Troubled Children and Youth, Turning problems into Opportunities. Illinois: Research Press pp. 124-125

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