Six best practices to maximize youth leadership in out-of-school time programs

Wu, J. H.-C., Shereda, A., Stacy, S. T., Weiss, J. K., & Heintschel, M. (2022). Maximizing youth leadership in out-of-school time programs: Six best practices from youth driven spaces. Journal of Youth Development, 17(3).

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Youth-adult partnerships (Y-AP) are becoming a common approach to encouraging people to participate in youth development programs.
  • Although Y-AP is beneficial for youth development organizations, youth, and their communities, they still experience issues (most of them pertain to adult staff members’ capability to share power as they assist youth with establishing leadership skills).
  • Some scholars recommend organizations include support from third parties to foster meaningful Y-AP. However, this option is often unfeasible due to limited resources.
  • This paper provides approaches for youth-serving organizations to utilize to maximize opportunities for youth to gain leadership skills in out-of-school time programs.
  • Six practices for promoting youth leadership:
    • Engage youth in meetings
    • Create opportunities for youth to learn how to be leaders
    • Recognize resistance to youth voice
    • Encourage youth and adults to share constructive feedback
    • Navigate youth-adult boundaries
    • Practice intentional strategies to retain youth and onboard new youth and staff
  • All of these practices can collaborate to a) establish a culture of youth engagement and empowerment, b) address issues in Y-AP, and c) can serve as professional development for staff members.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This paper aims to provide strategies for youth-serving organizations to maximize opportunities for youth to develop leadership skills within the out-of-school time program context. The sample includes 5 youth-serving agencies who participated in the Youth Driven Spaces initiative led by a Midwest program. Data for this project included observations of youth–adult meetings, field notes from youths’ reflections on key model activities, and interviews with adult staff to identify common challenges and supportive solutions. We identified 6 emergent themes for supporting youth leadership: (a) engage youth in meetings, (b) create opportunities for youth to learn how to be leaders, (c) recognize resistance to youth voice, (d) encourage youth and adults to share constructive feedback, (e) navigate youth–adult boundaries, and (f) practice intentional strategies to retain youth and to onboard new youth and staff. Results provide concrete strategies for practitioners and researchers to empower youth with the skills and resources they need to be effective leaders.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)


The five partner agencies involved in this study, with their participating staff and youth, represent a small sample of organizations with an expressed commitment to becoming more youth driven. They are not representative; rather, they serve as examples of what can happen when organizations that want to develop Y-AP receive outside support in the form of training and coaching for both adults and youth.

We collected youth feedback during the opening and closing cohort-wide events but did not collect data from individual youth. We did not want to overburden young people who were, by their own testimony, already overcommitted. This decision means that we heard only from youth who were comfortable expressing themselves publicly. Their insights corresponded with what previous researchers, Neutral Zone coaches, and some adult staff expressed about youths’ needs and desires in Y-AP work. Nevertheless, future work might include interviews with individual youth.

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