A key implication for practice arising out of the principle of sensitivity to developmental changes is the need for continuous assessment of client capacity. Young people going through adolescence are constantly evolving and can make marked developmental gains in relatively short periods of time.

Health and social care practitioners need to be cognisant of young peoples’ emerging developmental capacity and continually revise their assessment of clients’ ability to cope with stressors in life, and effectively calculate and respond to risks. At the same time practitioners need to take care not assume that older adolescents necessarily have accurate information, knowledge and the skills required for coping and age appropriate participation in community life. It is important to be aware that many young people project an image as an agent who is ‘in-control’, competent and mature even when they and others realise that this is not the case.

Efforts to conscientiously assess young peoples’ capacity to cope with stressors and make appropriate decisions will facilitate awareness of, and assist in managing, several tensions that frequently arises when striving for developmentally appropriate practice. Developmentally appropriate and conducive practice is not straightforward. There are numerous grey areas and tensions that require discerning judgement to negotiate successfully.

One key tension involves striking an appropriate balance between promoting a young person’s autonomy or self-determination against the need to minimise risk. In general, promoting empowerment and self-determination for young people is a key commitment in youth AOD work. However this value needs to be tempered by consideration of the developmental stage of each young person in terms of their ability to estimate risk and make responsible judgements about it. Generally, stronger emphasis on autonomy is appropriate for more mature older adolescents, while stronger emphasis on risk reduction and firm guidance is appropriate for less mature adolescents. 

While young people’s development is continuous and not a uniform process youth AOD services often base service design and care planning processes on developmental stages that are largely determined by age.