The Adolescence Research Digest is a quarterly publication of UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti. It synthesizes the latest research evidence, resources and news related to adolescent well-being in low- and middle-income countries. Adolescence is a critically sensitive period in terms of growth and maturity with many rapid transitions about which too little is currently known. The Digest aims to promote awareness and uptake of new adolescent well-being research findings amongst UNICEF staff, practitioners, policymakers and academics in the development and humanitarian sectors.
The Best of UNICEF Research initiative celebrates its sixth year. Once again, it showcases a collection of the best research undertaken or supported by UNICEF staff and offices around the world. The ‘Best of UNICEF Research’ exercise has become eagerly anticipated throughout the organization. Staff in country offices particularly welcome the spotlight on work that helps to shape practice, programming and policy for children around the world. As evidence of this engagement, the number of submissions which come from all parts of UNICEF, including National Committees continues to rise, as does the diversity of topics and methods. This year, our highlighted research projects were selected from 104 eligible submissions. All regions were represented, as were most major areas of UNICEF programming. While fields such as health, nutrition, education and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have generally been strong areas of evidence generation for UNICEF, it is encouraging to see child protection – a relatively underdeveloped field of research – showing prominently in the submitted projects, as well as an increase in cross-sectoral research.
Of 1.2 billion adolescents in the world today, 90% live in low- and middle-income countries. These adolescents not only face many challenges but also represent a resource to be cultivated through educational opportunities and vocational training to move them toward economic independence, through initiatives to improve reproductive health, and through positive interpersonal relationships to help them avoid risky behaviors and make positive decisions about their futures. This volume tackles the challenges and promise of adolescence by presenting cutting-edge research on adolescent social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and physical development; promising programs from different countries to promote adolescents’ positive development; and policies that can advance adolescents’ rights within the framework of international initiatives, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Sustainable Development Goals, which are guiding the international development agenda through 2030. This volume seeks to provide actionable strategies for policymakers and practitioners working with adolescents. Disconnects between national-level policies and local services, as well as lack of continuity with early childhood responses, present a significant challenge to ensuring a coherent approach for adolescents. Increasingly, adolescent participation and demands for rights-based approaches are seen and often unfortunately conflated with violence. This volume adopts a positive framing of adolescence, representing young people as opportunities rather than threats, and a valued investment both at individual and societal levels, contributing to a positive shift in discourses around young people.
In 2016, UNICEF hosted The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity, a symposium that brought together experts in adolescent neuroscience to discuss this emerging science and how we can apply it to support all adolescents – but especially those already facing risks to their well-being, including poverty, deprivation, conflict and crisis. The articles in this compendium elaborate on some of the ideas shared at the symposium. Together, they provide a broad view of the dynamic interactions among physical, sexual and brain development that take place during adolescence. They highlight some of the risks to optimal development – including toxic stress, which can interfere with the formation of brain connections, and other vulnerabilities unique to the onset of puberty and independence. They also point to the opportunities for developing interventions that can build on earlier investments in child development – consolidating gains and even offsetting the effects of deficits and traumas experienced earlier in childhood.
The objective of this evidence gap map (EGM) is to provide an overview of the existing evidence on the effectiveness of interventions (at the macro, meso and micro levels) aimed at improving adolescent well-being in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Its focus is on the outcome domains of protection, participation and financial and material well-being. Outcomes relating to the enabling environment for adolescents are also included to capture the contextual influences that might affect the well-being of adolescents.
This study protocol outlines the criteria used to consider studies for inclusion in the EGM. Only studies that are explicitly impact evaluations or systematic reviews were included and the target study population were adolescents aged 10 to 19 years. The geographic scope were LMICs as defined by the World Bank and all relevant studies written in English, French and Spanish, and published from the year 2000 onwards were included. The research team employed long-form or short-form search strategies, with search terms formulated around the proposed population, intervention, outcome, geographical focus and research design categories. The interactive EGM is available online at www.unicef-irc.org/evidence-gap-map. The EGM report is available at https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/931/
This evidence gap map (EGM) collates the evidence base for adolescent interventions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with a focus on the outcome domains of protection, participation and financial and material well-being. Outcomes relating to the enabling environment for adolescents are also included to capture the contextual influences that might affect the well-being of adolescents. The EGM contains 74 studies (71 impact evaluations and 3 systematic reviews) of evaluated interventions targeting adolescents in LMICs. Most of the evidence is on financial support to individuals and households, where interventions predominantly include conditional cash transfers, and studies frequently evaluate their impacts on child labour and child marriage outcomes. The second largest evidence cluster relates to the impacts of socio-emotional learning and life skills on adolescent protection, particularly protection-related attitudes, skills and knowledge, while psychosocial support is the third most frequently appearing intervention. At the group and community level, the largest bodies of evidence are on financial literacy and savings schemes, and norm change interventions.
The largest evidence gaps are at the policy and institutional level, the enabling environment for adolescent well-being, and the use of and access to information and communication technology (ICT) by adolescents. While coverage of gender is prominent in the literature, only one intervention specifically targets boys and men to promote attitudes towards gender equity. Recommendations for future primary research and synthesis are made. The interactive EGM is available online at www.unicef-irc.org/evidence-gap-map.