Making a case for a national credential for youth workers

By Fan Kong - June 2011


Hall, G. & Gannett, E. (2010). Body and soul: Reflections on two professional development credential pilots in Massachusetts. Afterschool Matters, 10, 15-23.

The authors of this paper conducted an evaluation of two pilot credential programs both starting in Massachusetts in 2007, the School-Age Youth Development Credential (SAYD) and the Professional Youth Worker Credential (PYWC). Their reflections on the need for professional development for out-of-school time (OST) staff and youth workers show that the field of youth development at present is at crossroads. Based on the evaluation of these two pilot programs, the researchers advocate the establishment of a nationally recognized credential to professionalize the youth development field. The need to recognize the professional status of practitioners indicates that OST programs are valuable for stakeholders. Furthermore, if OST practitioners are to have credentials, how would this affect ISE practitioners running related programs in museums, science centers, and other educational institutions? This paper introduces ISE practitioners to the leading organizations in the OST field.

Both the SAYD and PYWC pilot programs were competency-based credentials that included a combination of college coursework, workshops, and field experience. The employers also committed a salary bonus of $1,000 to the participant as evidence of employer buy-in. The evaluators conducted field observations, collected pre- and post-survey data, reviewed meeting notes and agendas, and conducted interviews and focus groups with credential participants, instructors, and program leaders. They used Guskey’s framework (see reference) to measure the impact of professional development based on participants’ learning, their use of knowledge and skill, organizational support and change, and student learning outcomes. Underlying this framework is the belief that professional development can lead to changes in the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and practices, and therefore can lead to quality program experiences for children and youth.

The two pilot programs shared eight core compentencies, such as activities and curriculum; caring relationships with youth; child and youth development; cultural competence; relationships with families and school; professionalism; program management; and building leadership and advocacy. The authors observed that the employers generally supported the credential programs. Supervisors reported seeing the greatest improvements in the areas of activities and curriculum, youth development, and program management. The category of participants’ learning produced some of the more dramatic results; some SAYD and PYWC participants indicated in interviews that the experiences of spending over two years in college-level coursework and of presenting a professional portfolio to their peers were transformative and led to self-reflection and self-discovery of their identity as OST workers.

Based on this evaluation, as well as the authors’ review of studies in professional development credentials for OST workers, they conclude that credentials are most effective when they are embedded in well-designed professional development programs that include these criteria: - clearly defined core competencies - a training system responsive to the diverse nature of the workforce - an approval system that ensures the quality of the content and delivery of training - a professional registry to document members’ training and education - clear careers pathways, with wage increases and incentive programs - a quality rating system that informs stakeholders about afterschool and youth development programs

Readers can get to know the afterschool field’s efforts to establish credentials of OST workers through the work of these organizations: The After-School Corporation, Finance Project, National Institute on Out-of-School Time, Next Generation Youth Work Coalition, Partnership for Afterschool Education, and School’s Out Washington.

To read more about the evaluation framework used, see: 

Guskey, T. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.