Research around youth program quality has rapidly increased in the last five years. We are seeing more and more researchers, practitioners, stakeholders, and funders developing the knowledge, tools and common language around youth program quality. This better informs us about why quality programs matter, what quality looks like in a youth program, and how to make good things happen for kids. Quality matters because we can link it to developmental effects in young people. High quality afterschool programs provide an important environment for learning and development in young people's lives while low quality programs may cause harm. Components of quality programs include: physical and psychological safety, appropriate structures, supportive relationships, opportunities to belong, positive social norms, support for efficacy, opportunities for skill building, and integration of family, school and community efforts, etc. Researchers are finding that only 1/3 of youth programs in the United States are high quality.
The researchers in the youth development field provided important advances in our understanding of what it takes for programs to effect the development of young people. In all cases, the findings put quality at the center of the equation. Studies found that afterschool programs have a positive effect on:
• School performance (tests, grades, attendance)
• Social Behaviors (social skills, problem behaviors, risk behaviors)
• Beliefs and Attitudes (bonding to school, self esteem)
How youth programs affect developmental outcomes is an emerging topic in research and practice, and tools such as HighScope's Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) Tool were validated as reliable measures of quality. HighScope Educational Research Foundation is an independent nonprofit research, development, training, and public outreach organization. The Youth Work Institute along with HighScope was a part of a national study that was looking at improving quality and how to go about doing that. Quality is being measured by observing youth programs in order to improve the program. It is not the content (art, academic, sports) that defines quality, but the processes used, interaction and time we spend.
The trend in quality shows that researchers know what's important, practitioners are grabbing on and funders & stakeholders aren't quite caught up in understanding the importance of high quality youth programming. Because of this, researchers are concerned about how we can make sure that we give youth programs the support they need to improve their programs at a low cost. The idea is to bring 4-H youth and adult volunteers in to assess quality on a voluntary basis.
There is a solid, statewide action plan underway with various programs throughout the state, which includes the Center for Youth Development. Practitioner demand for learning, assessing and improving quality has dramatically increased.
• 2006 - the YWI filled 6 regional forums, today we fill an average of 45 classes (or 2,200 participants annually) on quality topics
• Since, 2007, 200+ youth programs enrolled in 1-3 years of YWI support to improve quality
• Key Organization's making investments in quality in 2010
Minneapolis Community Ed, YWCA, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Campfire USA, City of St. Paul, 21St Century, Beacons, Campfire, Parks and Rec and some greater MN organization's and networks (4H, Campfire Northern Star, Duluth YWCA, PACT 4)