Research of Note for October 2006

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Capturing Promising Practices in Recruitment and Retention of Frontline Youth Workers
Cornerstones for Kids/National Collaboration for Youth
Available free at

The Human Services Workforce Initiative of Cornerstones for Kids seeks to support youth workers in child welfare, juvenile justice, child care, youth development and employment services. The initiative’s most recent report, produced with the National Collaboration for Youth, defines several promising staff recruitment and retention strategies.

The study was based on interviews with the leaders of 20 collaboration member organizations that represent nearly 16,000 youth workers serving approximately 200,000 youth.


“Unless youth service agencies make an intentional effort to bring qualified individuals into the field, efforts aimed at attaining positive outcomes for our nation’s youth will be compromised,” writes lead researcher and study author Joyce Hartje, of the University of Nevada.

The report suggests the following recruitment strategies.

* Provide Incentives – Some organizations provide staff with financial incentives ranging from $25 to $150 to recruit peers with similar backgrounds, work ethics and interests, in the belief that staff compatibility improves productivity and job satisfaction. Others offer financial “return incentives” to encourage staff to “re-enlist.”

* Capitalize on Technology – Web-based job postings provide access to a huge pool of potential applicants, including those beyond the local community. Sites such as can match applicants’ employment goals and desires with job opportunities.

* Create Specific Strategies for College-Age Workers – In light of a recent study that found that the average age of frontline youth workers was 23, internships offered to college and university students can whet the interests of young adults in relevant disciplines.

* Reach Out for Diversity – Staff members who reflect the ethnic makeup of their program’s community convey the program’s commitment to ensuring linguistic and cultural competency. Programs can recruit “indigenous leadership” by placing ads in local bilingual newspapers and on websites and by partnering with ethnic community organizations.

* Prepare Youth to be Youth Workers – Many organizations reported finding a wealth of skills and enthusiasm among high school-aged youth workers, many of whom were products of those very youth programs. (See Press Watch, page 7).


For many agencies, staff retention is as big a struggle as recruitment. “Maintaining a stable work force can only come about when organizations recruit the right people for the right reasons, are clear about their expectations, and train, support and fairly compensate their staff,” Hartje writes.

According to the report, organizations that want to maximize staff retention rates should:

* Select Staff Carefully – Begin with purposeful recruitment and selection. At the Boys & Girls Club/Girls Inc. of Pueblo County & Lower Arkansas Valley, finalists for jobs must lead a hands-on activity with youth, who are then interviewed about the candidates.

* Provide Adequate Compensation – Youth workers cannot live by non-monetary rewards alone, the report notes. Camp Fire USA’s Alaska Council has gradually increased its number of full-time staff positions, in response to requests by part-time staff members for more hours (as opposed to hourly wage increases).

* Offer Flexible Opportunities, Incentives and Support for Advancement – When youth workers have growth opportunities, they are able to “keep … focused on the bigger picture, which is the value of the work being done with youth,” the report says.

* Create Supportive Environments and Climates that Foster Success – Flexibility in scheduling can minimize the stress of the long and irregular hours that youth workers often log and help them balance their jobs with their personal lives.

* Insist on Professional Development and Training – Some organizations require professional training; others offer in-house opportunities or encourage staff to request subsidies for outside education. Certifications, apprenticeships, symposiums, mentoring partnerships and other opportunities not only increase competency, but reinforce youth work as a credible career and instill self-confidence in staff.

* Value and Respect Youth Workers – Acknowledgements such as recognition banquets, staff appreciation dinners, social events and awards programs communicate the value of working with youth and help build relationships among staff members. Enlisting workers as partners in decision-making, planning and evaluation creates a sense of equity in a program, and has been shown to improve retention rates.

* Ensure Opportunities for Networking – Inter- and intra-organizational communications such as newsletters, monthly trainings and peer network meetings give staffers the chance to strategize, decompress and discuss daily challenges.


Negotiating Among Opportunity and Constraint: The Participation of Young People in Out-of-School-Time Activities
Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
Available free at

Although out-of-school-time (OST) activities have been touted by policymakers as a panacea for everything from sagging academic achievement to delinquency, youth participation in the programs depends heavily on how youth perceive them, says this report from Chapin Hall.

Researchers Robert J. Chaskin and Stephen Baker explored teens’ perceptions of out-of-school-time activities and the “influences, barriers, contexts and processes that contribute to their choices and experiences.” Their findings are based on interviews with about 100 sophomores from four Chicago public high schools, who were randomly selected from communities with both high and low socioeconomic status and various levels of access to youth-serving organizations.
Here’s what they discovered:

* Information and Getting Involved – The most effective way to provide information about available activities is through teens’ “valued personal relationships” with peers, adults or siblings. Schools can also provide organized, timely and targeted information to teens about school-based and non-school-based activities. Involvement in activities is based strongly on teens’ earlier experiences with similar programs, providing a reason to expand positive OST activities for younger youth.

* Influence of Key Individuals – The most frequently cited way youth became involved in OST activities was by invitation from a non-family adult such as a coach, program staffer or club sponsor. Peers did not have a direct influence on joining behavior, but did influence if and how long youth remained in a particular activity.

* Role of Neighborhood and School Contexts – While operating OST programs in schools has some advantages (such as convenience, familiarity and availability of facilities), many youth prefer not to remain at school because of limited transportation home, safety concerns, dirty schools and perceptions of school-like expectations in OST programs that are based at schools.

* Assessments of School and Neighborhood Opportunities – Youths in both well- and underserved neighborhoods frequently noted that the programs available to them often do not match their interests. Some expressed concern that they lack the skills needed to participate in certain activities.

* Assessments of Program Quality – Asked to rank the attributes they most wanted in OST activities, young people said they want programs that expose them to new things; make them feel comfortable, welcomed, respected and accepted; and offer opportunities for leadership and responsibility.

* Views of Expected Outcomes of Participation in Structured Activities – While some youth see a connection between the benefits of OST activities and their life goals, others do not. Most youths perceived the benefits to be “broadly maturational,” such as learning to work with other people or becoming “a better person.” Others sought transferable academic or sports skills. But nearly one-third could not identify any such links, while others chose not to tie OST activities to specific goals; they saw programs as primarily providing a place and time to relax and have fun.