New study on the importance of staff development in afterschool settings

Kuperminc, G. P., Seitz, S., Joseph, H., Khatib, N., Wilson, C., Collins, K., & Guessous, O. (2019). Enhancing Program Quality in a National Sample of After‐school Settings: The Role of Youth–Staff Interactions and Staff/Organizational Functioning. American Journal of Community Psychology. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12329

Summarized by: Vanessa Vang

Notes of Interest: The purpose of this study was to investigate how the structure of after school clubs affect the youths experience. The researchers specifically examined the influence of the structure of programs, the environment of the club, and the youth-staff relationship in Boys and Girls Clubs in the United States. The study revealed that there are no direct association between the youths’ experience and the characteristics of staff and the workplace, the youth-staff relationships impacted the youths’ experience greatly. The study suggest that resources dedicated to staff development are essential to improving youths’ experience and their development.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
Using multilevel data from the national evaluation of Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), this study examined associations among programmatic structures, workplace and workforce characteristics, and relational practices of program staff as they relate to young people’s ratings of their experience attending local clubs. The sample included 57,710 members and 5,231 staff members at 740 BGCA sites throughout the United States. Staff relational practices—including establishing caring relationships, setting high expectations, positive behavior management, encouraging youth input and agency, and cultural sensitivity—explained associations between staffing and organizational functioning and youths’ perceptions of the quality of their clubs. Findings suggest a central role of staff relational practices in establishing conditions that youth experience positively, and that staffing and organizational processes, including community engagement and teamwork and efficiency can be viewed as foundations for establishing a culture of positive adult-youth interaction, which in turn can contribute to the promotion of positive youth development. Further identification with the experiences of youth had a direct association with youths’ perceptions of club quality. These results underscore the importance of staff work force development initiatives as key to improving youth experiences in after-school programs

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

It was hypothesized that staff relational practices would explain the associations between youths’ perceptions of the quality of their clubs and programmatic/workforce development characteristics. Relationships with staff, perhaps the setting-level characteristics most proximal to youth, may directly influence daily youth experiences in after-school clubs. Characteristics of staffing and organizational functioning may not be experienced directly by youth but can be seen as facilitating the potential for positive interactions with adult staff. The hypothesis was partially supported in that the associations of two staffing/organizational factors—teamwork and efficiency as well as community engagement and youths’ perceptions of quality—were mediated by staff relational practices. Unexpectedly, a third staffing/organizational factor—identification with youths’ experiences—had a direct association with youths’ perceptions of quality that was not mediated by staff relational practices.

The current study offers a model for understanding staff relational processes as one central mechanism through which critical features of staffing and organizational functioning contribute to program quality. The relational practices examined, which include establishing caring relationships, positive behavior management, cultural sensitivity, setting high expectations, and fostering youth input and agency, each have been discussed as best practices in youth programming (Little et al., 2007; Mahoney, Warner, & Noam, 2014). Such practices build on skills that can be conveyed to youth workers through training, professional development, and ongoing supervision. Even the best trained workforce is unlikely to be able to effectively enact consistent relational processes in the absence of adequate organizational support. Accordingly, our findings suggest that positive relational practices can be reinforced by a high degree of staff teamwork and efficiency and by organizational engagement with families and schools. These findings suggest that workforce development efforts need to look beyond a focus on staff competencies to ensure a supportive and professional work environment with clearly defined roles and effective monitoring. Results also imply that youth organizations should expand their scope beyond the walls of the youth center to recognize the potential for connections with families and schools to enrich young people’s experiences (Little et al., 2007).

Having an understanding of youths’ experience appears to play an independent role, with a direct path to youth perceptions of quality. Indeed, there is evidence that youth benefit from knowing successful adults who share similar backgrounds because it helps youth envision hopeful possibilities for their own futures (Strobel, Kirshner, O’Donoghue, & McLaughlin, 2008). Staff who do not share the youths’ backgrounds can also gain an understanding of youth experience through training in youth development, and through interaction with coworkers, parents, teachers and other members of the youths’ communities (Thompson & Shockley, 2013). Although we conceptualized this variable as a “resource” that contributes to staff members’ ability to relate positively with youth, an alternative perspective would be to consider staff identification with youth experience as another type of relational practice

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