Understanding Adolescent Brain Development

Posted October 22, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez

Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez

To bet­ter serve youth in fos­ter care, child wel­fare lead­ers must under­stand how the ado­les­cent brain devel­ops, heals and thrives when young peo­ple are giv­en the prop­er sup­port, love and guid­ance. In a Youth Today op-ed piece, San­dra Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez, vice pres­i­dent of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Cen­ter for Sys­tems Inno­va­tion, empha­sizes the impor­tance of then turn­ing this knowl­edge into action.

What if every pro­fes­sion­al work­ing with youth and young adults under­stood that with guid­ance, edu­ca­tion and sup­port, each of these young peo­ple, no mat­ter their race, their cir­cum­stances or where they came from, lit­er­al­ly has the built-in brain pow­er to adapt, learn and thrive?” Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez writes in the op-ed. The sci­ence is clear. The ado­les­cent brain is per­fect­ly designed to do its job of build­ing to adult­hood. Let’s get bet­ter at doing ours.”

In the op-ed, Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez points to the Nation­al Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences, Engi­neer­ing and Medicine’s recent­ly released report, The Promise of Ado­les­cence: Real­iz­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ty for All Youth. The report dis­cuss­es the changes that occur in ado­les­cents’ brain struc­ture and how those changes present oppor­tu­ni­ties for pos­i­tive, life-shap­ing devel­op­ment and recov­ery from trauma.

Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez also empha­sizes the val­ue of using ado­les­cent brain sci­ence to address racial inequities that can hin­der young people’s devel­op­ment and tran­si­tion to adult­hood. The report rec­om­mends pol­i­cy and prac­tice changes that cap­i­tal­ize on the devel­op­men­tal oppor­tu­ni­ties and address inequities that under­mine the well-being of young peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly those of color.

For young peo­ple to thrive, they need sta­ble, ongo­ing sup­port from adults who under­stand them. Ado­les­cent brain sci­ence pro­vides the foun­da­tion for child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als to build their work upon, work­ing with the young peo­ple whose lives they are try­ing to change.

The good news of The Promise of Ado­les­cence’ is that effec­tive poli­cies and prac­tices can make a dif­fer­ence,” Gas­ca-Gon­za­lez writes. The research shows the ado­les­cent brain is primed for recov­ery and resilience. But young peo­ple can’t do this alone.”

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