Creating Equitable Ecosystems of Belonging and Opportunity for Youth

An Action Guide for Cross-System and Sector Leaders and Practitioners

Posted September 28, 2023
By The Forum for Youth Investment
Dowload This Action Guide:
Download Report
Report ecosystemsofbelonging 2023 cover


This guide, developed with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is designed to help public- and private-sector leaders build ecosystems that are better suited to help young people thrive. It is specifically intended to support coordinated initiatives where multiple youth-serving organizations or agencies are already working together.

Building the Guide

To generate this guide, The Forum convened a wide range of national thought leaders, practitioners and youth. The group fulfilled a two-part charge: 1) explore research-based concepts for supporting learning and development; and 2) create tools to help youth and adults put these concepts to use within their own environments.

Once this work was complete, the Forum engaged more than 50 youth to both create a Youth Journey Map for Belonging and Opportunity and build an action guide for systems leaders on fostering youth well-being and belonging. Youth experiences and perspectives remained front and center throughout this effort.

The fruits of their effort, shared here, introduces readers to the concept of a youth development ecosystem. When working well, a youth development ecosystem positions young people to form positive relationships with adults — like teachers, social workers and others — across a variety of settings and systems.

An Action Tool for Leaders

The guide also includes a tool for helping system leaders recognize and build a youth development ecosystem that promotes positive adult connections, healthy youth transitions and a sense of belonging. Users can use the tool to rate their practices in three areas: 1) cultivating safety and consistency; 2) building community; and 3) being culturally responsive and inclusive.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

Belonging is critical to creating an environment that supports youth development and well-being

As young people move through life, their sense of belonging in these settings impacts their overall ability to thrive. For example: When young people feel as if they belong, they feel secure, valued, affirmed, connected and aligned with others. Belonging is also the absence of fear of judgement, repercussions or the pressure to change.

Opportunities to experience belonging should be equitable. All youth — regardless of their identity or circumstances — should feel as if they belong within and across the systems and settings where they spend their time.