What were youth development staff members’ experiences during COVID-19?

Woodberry-Shaw, D., Akiva, T., & Lewis, S. S. (2022). Youth development staff experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed methods study. Child & Youth Care Forum. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Youth development staff play a key role in providing support for young people.
  • This study examined the experiences of youth development staff members when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S.
    • More specifically, this study assesses a) their compassion satisfaction, b) their worries and stresses, and c) whether staff members’ compassion and stress differed by gender and race/ethnicity.
  • The staff members’ professional quality of life significantly changed during the first two months of the pandemic.
  • They experienced higher levels of stress. Not only did this have a negative impact on their personal wellness, but it also made them concerned about how COVID-19 was affecting the youths and their families.
  • Despite the hardships of adapting to a new work environment, staff members still wanted to support youth – whether it was by making calls, sending texts leaving voicemails, and/or making food deliveries.
  • White women’s average stress levels during COVID-19 were statistically different from the other gender and race/ethnicity pairings**. They also had the lowest average compassion satisfaction score.
  • While men of color had the lowest stress levels and the highest compassion satisfaction score, they experienced the highest spike in average stress levels when the pandemic began.
  • There were more statistically significant differences in compassion satisfaction scores by gender and race/ethnicity than by stress levels.
  • On average, women and men of color had higher compassion satisfaction scores than White women and men.
  • Organizations are recommended to support their staff before a collective trauma event occurs. This can be implemented by making changes to current practices, routines, and policies.
  • Staff members’ compassion satisfaction partially stems from their work environment.

**the other gender and race/ethnicity pairings consisted of 1) women of color, 2) men of color, and 3) White men

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)


Youth-serving organizations in the United States provide programs, activities, and opportunities for young people before school, during school, after school, in summer, and on weekends. At the core of youth-serving organizations are the adults; that is, youth development staff.


In this explanatory sequential mixed methods study we explored youth development staff’s stress and worries, their compassion satisfaction, and whether stress and compassion satisfaction varied by race/ethnicity and gender during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic – a collective trauma event.


We surveyed 283 youth development staff and interviewed a subset of 25.


Results suggest that youth development staff experienced stress and compassion satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.


We recommend organizational leaders provide youth development staff with support before a collective trauma event. They can work to change, add, or remove policies, practices, and routines to help decrease stress and increase compassion satisfaction. In addition, based on our results from this study our primary recommendation specific to collective trauma events, after taking care of their own personal wellness, is for youth development staff to focus on what is in their control and work to do those things for as many young people as they can.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusion)

Interpretation of Results

The results show that the professional quality of life of youth development staff in this study changed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Our hypothesis about stress was confirmed – youth development staff reported higher stress levels during the pandemic than prior to the pandemic. Though many youth development staff in the study stated they were not experiencing the trauma of young people, their experiences mimicked the secondary trauma described in teacher stress literature (SAMHSA, 2014). Youth development staff said they experienced challenges related to their personal wellness (emotional, physical, and social) and they described being stressed about the young people they work with and their families. These results demonstrated how a collective trauma event can impact youth development staff – they did not just think of themselves and how the pandemic affected them but also how it impacted the young people and families.

Many reported feeling ineffective and helpless in their jobs in particular, which also may have led to their higher stress levels (Herman et al., 2018; McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Youth development staff believed a lot of what was going on with young people and families during the pandemic was beyond the scope of what they could help with. Yet, some youth-serving organizations expanded their offerings so youth development staff could address the perceived needs of young people and their families (e.g., tutoring, serving meals, and wellness calls). Some also opened their physical doors to provide spaces for young people to participate in virtual schooling. Additionally, youth development staff were worried about the trauma young people might experience as a result of not having a safe place to be after school – a role they believed their youth-serving organizations fulfilled (Afterschool Alliance, 2020).

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