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Focusing on Quality in Youth Programs

By Christa Perkins, Director of Girls Inc. at YWCA Minneapolis
July 20, 2017
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Quality Matters in Youth Programs

Quality matters in most aspects of our lives – from the car we drive, to the teachers in our schools, to the food we eat, and youth programs are no different. Young people are in school only 20% of their waking hours during any given year, so it is necessary to have safe and engaging places for them to spend their time after school.

In fact, multiple research studies demonstrate the level of quality in youth programs affects the learning and development of young people. Without high-quality programming, youth programs could even have a negative effect on youth.

Setting Quality Standards for Youth Programs

YWCA Minneapolis joins other Minnesota organizations in setting standards for their youth programs. YWCA staff care deeply about providing the highest quality program possible for youth. We have committed to regular measurement, reflection and improvement of our programming with young people.

One other factor that is critical to quality is staff training and professional development.

Our partners in staff training for youth programs are numerous and include:

1. What Does a High-Quality Youth Program Look Like?

There is consistent agreement in research and practice about the elements of a high-quality program.

The National Research Council & Institute for Medicine identifies this list of high-quality program features:

  • Physical and psychological safety
  • Appropriate structure
  • Supportive relationships
  • Opportunities to belong
  • Positive social norms
  • Support for efficacy and mattering
  • Opportunities for skill-building
  • Integration of family, school and community efforts

2. What We Do to Ensure Quality at YWCA Minneapolis

The best way to understand the quality of a youth program is to observe what is happening during a daily session. How do staff and youth interact? Are there positive relationships forming? What and how are young people learning? Are youth making choices and decisions about most aspects of what they do each day?

To measure and ensure quality, YWCA Minneapolis uses the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) tool from the Weikart Center for Program Quality, a national research and training organization. The YPQA tool is used to measure and improve quality in more than 35 states across the U.S. and is widely used throughout youth programs in Minnesota.

The YPQA tool uses observation, note taking and scoring on what is seen and heard in a program session. There are a total of 63 practices inside this tool that guide how staff work with youth. These 63 practices give you an idea of the true complexity of youth programs.

3. Does Program Quality Data Matter? Only if You Use it to Change…

To address the complex and ongoing nature of improving youth program quality, YWCA Minneapolis Girls and Youth programs are designed to draw attention to the everyday practices of our staff.

By regularly collecting and reflecting on YPQA data with all staff in the program, YWCA Minneapolis creates an environment that sets high standards for staff and the program. It also fosters ongoing learning about the ever-changing environments of youth programs.

4. Youth Program Quality Data

Some highlights from the current data include:

  • YWCA Minneapolis Girls and Youth Program scores higher than the national average on every quality domain in the tool!
  • We are proud of our staff for creating a highly supportive environment for youth. Shown in the chart below, our “supportive environment” score is a full point higher than the national average. This means youth feel welcomed, are actively engaged in the activities and are supported and encouraged to build new skills.