U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Arts-Based Programs and Arts Therapies for At-Risk, Justice-Involved, and Traumatized Youths

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2021
11 pages

This literature review discusses research on arts-based programs and arts therapies for at-risk youths, justice-involved youths, and traumatized youths.


This updated literature review discusses research on arts-based programs and arts therapies, noting that programs are considered arts-based if at least one of the main components was an arts-related activity or if there was a deliberate use of arts in the program to encourage a change in behavior. The arts-based programs and therapies category includes standalone, arts-based interventions and programs incorporating the arts in combination with other approaches such as mentoring. The review concentrates on three populations: at-risk youths, defined as having risk factors that have been shown to increase their likelihood of engaging in problem behaviors; justice-involved youths, defined as those who are currently involved in the juvenile justice system; and traumatized youths, defined as those who are considered traumatized based on their personal experiences. The literature review excludes resources on arts-based or arts education programs that are aimed at the general youth population. The literature review finds that while available research has identified generally positive relationships between arts participation and social-emotional skills among children and youths, it suffers from methodological limitations including small examples and lack of comparison groups. The document states that research on the impact of the arts-specific components is lacking and, as a result, the effects of those programs on youth outcomes is unknown. The document suggests that future studies should explore what the optimal conditions are for the arts to directly affect the behavior of at-risk, justice-involved, and traumatized youths; and notes that in order to address this methodological gap, future studies should aim to overcome selection effects that plague much arts-based research, and—when possible—conduct longitudinal analyses.

Date Published: May 1, 2021