Identity formation and positive youth development are central to working with all children and, not exclusive to, but vital when working with children that have experienced trauma. Research in this area supports Positive Youth Development practices and the metatheoretical perspectives surrounding “relational developmental systems theory."( Lerner, 2012) Considering youth as "resources to be developed", the creative arts curriculum can offer the identity building and developmentally encouraging environment that is central to PYD perspectives.
Central to positive SEL outcomes:
Through this lens, we can look at creative arts curriculum as ways to empower youth, affect positive SEL environments and understand how negative outcomes can arise if the curriculum is not implemented well.
Farrington (2019) looks deeper at the idea of using “art practices” and “art competencies”, as building blocks for their counterparts; “social-emotional practices” and “social-emotional competencies” . The research presented looks at how “art education fosters social-emotional development” and how that can be implemented in all areas of arts education
Seeking a “breadth of opportunity” (Farrington, 2019) to help youth cultivate identity includes developing learning experiences within the arts, music, theater, and dance. identifies art practices such as, “creating, presenting, and responding and establishes positive connections to social-emotional components of self-management, self-discipline, interpersonal and relationship skills, and self-expression and identity.” Keeping in mind the idea that when poorly implemented, these practices can be detrimental to PYD and social-emotional development, emphasizing the fact that using effective strategies is core to the creative arts curriculum's ability to affect positive learning outcomes.
Considering cultural beliefs, arts education often implies a more generous space for creative expressions that live outside of a formalized academic curriculum. Many parents and educators consider creative art spaces as safe places to explore cultural identity, encourage diversity, and social justice. Because of this hidden autonomy and freedom, art educators can form trusting relationships with their students and are positioned well to help students “work through challenging situations.” (Farrington, 2019)
A recent youth study indicated that art therapy increases resilience, and SEL diminishes potential future psychological disorders (Wilson & Tredinnick 2020). Gaining social awareness within educators allows the school to create programs that promote positive outcomes for youth within their behavioral, social, and emotional outcomes. Wilson & Tredinnick's 2020 study concluded that SEL presented through the arts led students to gains in social and emotional competencies, namely social awareness, empathy, and perspective-taking. Maintaining supportive relationships while navigating with material presents the students with opportunities to challenge how their belief sets interact with their social experience.
Due to systemic racism, educators and interpersonal relationships serve as a protective factor to child development. Lerner (2018) describes positive youth development research as a focus on ways of enhancing and promoting good things within someone's life while diminishing the negative regardless of the participant's age. Key features of an effective youth development program are a sustainable relationship between the student and an adult for at least a year, life-building skills and activities, leadership opportunities of value (Lerner 2018). Presenting students with a supportive learning environment promotes a sense of belonging, purpose, and active engagement with their community.