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Youth work

Youth work practitioners have direct contact with youth. Giving young people the best opportunities to thrive and learn means a need for continuing professional development for youth workers.

Comments on this page? Curator: Kate Walker, PhD, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist

Youth Development Insight

Our faculty blog about research, issues and trends in the field. Join the conversation!

  • 1/17

    What does it mean to make a difference?

  • Karyn Santl

    Like me, you probably decided back in college that you wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. I've been fortunate to work in the field of nonformal education for the past 20-plus years (and have three daughters), so I've thought a lot about this mission. And the way to make a difference in the lives of youth is pretty well defined. Search Institute and others have shown that the number and intensity of high-quality relationships in young people’s lives is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes. Read more.


  • 12/16

    For personal sustainability, mind your relationships

  • Nicole Pokorney

    Last week I was reminded of the importance of just sitting down and talking with another person for the sake of honest, open discussion and networking.  I sit on a national committee with staff from all over the country, from Hawaii to Vermont. We come together once a year face to face and while we have two full days of business to tend to, we also take intentional time to go out to dinner and talk without an agenda. It's not an option - it's essential. Read more.


See all youth work blog posts

Reports & journal articles

The Changing Landscape of Youth Work: Theory and Practice for an Evolving Field

Produced by Extension: Edited by Kristen Pozzoboni and Ben Kirshner, includes chapter by Kate Walker and Tamara Weiss
In the past decade there has been an emergence of research and policy arguments about the importance of naming, defining, and attending to the profession of youth work. The purpose of this book is to compile and publicize the best current thinking about training and professional development for youth workers. 2016.

Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices in Social & Emotional Learning

Susan Crown Exchange (SCE) and the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality
This field guide of best practices and case examples sheds new light on how out-of-school programs can equip teens with the valuable social and emotional skills they need to succeed. It is the result of the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge, designed to identify promising practices for building skills in six areas: emotion management, empathy, teamwork, initiative, responsibility, and problem solving. 2016.

Requirements For Healthy Development Of Adolescent Youth

Gisela Konopka, D.S.W.
In the early 1970s Dr. Gisela Konopka was asked by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to write a paper articulating the fundamental requirements for healthy adolescent development. This seminal piece helped set the state and national agenda for promoting the health and well being of young people.

Dilemmas in Youth Work and Youth Development Practice

Produced by Extension: Laurie Ross, Shane Capra, Lindsay Carpenter, Julia Hubbell & Kathrin Walker
Teaching us a great deal about the norms, conventions, continuities, and discontinuities of youth work, this practical book reveals essential dimensions of the profession and contributes to a practice-based theoretical foundation of youth work. 2015.

Understanding youth development from the practitioner’s point of view: A call for research on effective practice

Produced by Extension: Reed Larson, Kathrin Walker, Natalie Rusk & Lisa Diaz
Applied Developmental Science
This article calls for research on the expertise of youth development practitioners. It presents a framework focusing on the challenges practitioners face and the strategies they use to address them, and offers case studies in three areas (designing programs, youth's motivation, and ethical dilemmas). 2015.

Why Trust Matters: How Confidence in Leaders Transforms What Adolescents Gain From Youth Programs

Aisha Griffith, Reed Larson
Journal of Research on Adolescence
Youth's trust in program leaders is considered a key to the positive impact of youth programs. This article seeks to understand how trust influences youth's program experiences from their perspective. 2015.

Youth Work is professionalizing

Produced by Extension: Margo Herman
Afterschool Today
Journal article about noteworthy growth in youth development making youth work a recognized field. (PDF) 2013.

Youth Program Accreditation Issue Brief

Produced by Extension: Kate Walker
Captures and documents multiple perspectives and ideas from the field about accreditation issues and approaches. The primary audience for this issue brief is funders and policy makers. (PDF) 2012.

Youth worker reasoning about dilemmas encountered in practice: Expert-novice differences

Produced by Extension: Reed Larson and Kathrin Walker
Journal of Youth Development
This study examines the ability to appraise and respond to the dilemmas of practice encountered in youth programs. Although preliminary, the findings have implications for how youth workers are trained. (PDF) 2012.

Beyond Core Competencies: Practitioner Expertise as a Critical Component of Quality

Produced by Extension: Kate Walker and Cece Gran
What does it take from a systems-level perspective to prepare and develop youth development practitioners to create and sustain quality youth programs? This paper argues that current core competency frameworks in youth work are necessary but ultimately insufficient for capturing the practitioner expertise required to achieve quality in practice and programs. (PDF) 2010.

Building Opportunity: Developing City Systems to Expand and Improve After School Programs

Martha Holleman, M. Jane Sundius, Eric Bruns
This paper presents the community context and underlying principles that drove the development of Baltimore’s After-School Strategy; articulates a set of system components derived from this experience and the available literature; and lays out future work to expand high quality after-school opportunities for youth in Baltimore and in other distressed urban environments. 2010.

Dilemmas of Practice: Challenges to Program Quality Encountered by Youth Program Leaders

Produced by Extension: Reed Larson and Kate Walker
To create and sustain high quality youth development programs it is important to understand the challenging situations and dilemmas that emerge in program leaders’ daily work with youth. In this research the experiences of leaders in 12 programs were followed over a 2–9 month period, which led to the identification of 250 dilemma situations. 2010.

Shining a Light on Supervision: Lessons from the Beacons

The Forum for Youth Investment
This commentary takes readers inside the world of the Beacons, to understand their approach to supervision. (PDF) 2010.

Understanding and Improving the Effectiveness of After-School Practice

Robert Granger
This article draws on the work in this volume and related studies to suggest that there is an emerging consensus on the importance of staff-youth interactions as a determinant of program effectiveness. 2010.

Unpacking Youth Work Practice

The Forum for Youth Investment
A growing body of research underscores the importance of caring relationships and is helping to unpack the specific social processes that unfold between young people and youth workers inside of programs. (PDF) 2008.

Shaping the future of after-school, The After School Corporation

Collaborative for Building After-School Systems
A report the Collaborative (CBASS) published to document the critical role intermediaries play in the development of after-school systems in their cities. This report shows how intermediaries have helped increase the quality, sustainability, and availability of after-school and offers a vision for public policy change to support the continued growth of after-school. (PDF) 2007.

Intentional Youth Programs: Taking theory to practice

Produced by Extension: Joyce Walker
The author puts forth a theory of developmental intentionality, proposing that "when there is a good fit between young people and the intentional supports and opportunities they take part in, engagement is high, and the chance of positive outcomes for learning and development are greatly improved." 2006.

Toward a New Paradigm for Youth Development

Produced by Extension: Dale Blyth
A diet-and-exercise analogy is proposed to provide a new way of understanding the complexity of youth development and the increased role of youth in shaping that development during the middle years. 2006.

Minnesota Commission on Out-of-School Time

Produced by Extension: Dale Blyth, Joyce Walker, Ann Lochner
At the request of University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks, several members of our faculty examined Minnesota youth needs and produced a blueprint for ensuring Minnesota’s young people have engaging opportunities to learn and develop during the non-school hours. (PDF) 2005.

Journeys into Community:

Listening to Young People's Perspectives on Out-of-School Time Opportunities

Brief: Moving Beyond the Barriers: Attracting and Sustaining Youth Participation in Out-of-School Time Programs

Brief: Understanding and Measuring Attendance in Out-of-School Time Programs

Community Programs to Promote Youth Development

Our past presentations

Adolescent Brain Development (YD Brown Bag Webinar Series)

Rachelle Vettern and Katie Tyler
This webinar explores what is known about adolescent brain development and how it affects how we work with adolescents and their parents. 2012.

Trends in adolescent brain development: Implications for youth practice and policy

Abigail Baird and Laurence Steinberg
This symposium focuses on the latest findings from research on adolescent brain development, and the implications of this research for our field’s practice and policy work. 2012.

Working in Youth-Serving Organizations: The Sphere of Professional Education

Dana Fusco, Ph.D.
Today there is a clear understanding that ongoing training and education for professionals is not only a smart investment but a professional obligation. Dr. Dana Fusco presents her current research on the sphere of youth work education in the United States. 2012.

Aligning Proactive Policies for Youth

Karen Pittman
A video featuring Karen Pittman about how youth can be ready for college, work and life; how communities can support that effort; and how to evaluate progress. 2008.
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