Core CompetenciesIn the Positive Youth Development 101 training, we ask new youth work professionals, "What skills, knowledge, and attributes do youth workers need in order to be effective?"
Participants typically identify internal attributes such as being patient, caring, authentic, open-minded, trusting, flexible, approachable, and having a sense of humor. Occasionally they mention concrete skills such as communication, teaching, and facilitation skills, or knowledge areas such as adolescent development, cultural competency, and program development.
Do we have to assume that good youth workers just have what it takes? Do they simply intuit how to engage with young people? Having great instincts and the ability to create rapport with young people gives some youth work professionals a head start. But we also need to build the skills and knowledge that enable us to manage programming, create inclusive program environments, and nurture young people's development through youth engagement and positive relationships. There are many competencies important to effectiveness that can be fostered over time through training and reflective practice.
The National AfterSchool Association's (NAA) Core Knowledge, Skills, and Competencies for Afterschool and Youth Development Professionals (2021 edition) breaks down core competencies into ten content areas. Competencies in these areas, which are detailed in the NAA publication, can be assessed with staff to create a professional development plan. For useful tools and information, see the ACT for Youth resources below each NAA competency category.
Child/Youth Growth and Development
Understanding and applying the principles of learning and development.
Adolescent Health and Development
Learning Environments and Curriculum
Supporting youth and families through positive, developmental environments and experiences.
Creating Inclusive Program Environments (Manual)
Features of Effective Youth Development Settings
Child/Youth Observation and Assessment
Conducting culturally sensitive child/client assessments in partnership with families and other professionals serving the individual.
Relationships and Interactions with Children and Youth
Building relationships that are informed by an understanding of adolescent development and characterized by positive interactions, high expectations, and support; managing group dynamics and activities equitably and skillfully.
Building Developmental Relationships (webinar recording)
Building Developmental Relationships (webinar slides)
Youth Engagement, Voice, and Choice
Seeking and valuing youth input; supporting and advocating for opportunities and roles that allow youth to build on their strengths, take on responsibilities, and contribute to decisions that affect themselves and others. Note that youth engagement is not the sole responsibility of competent staff -- organizational and policy support is critical.
Engaging Youth, Not Managing Youth! (webinar recording)
Engaging Youth, Not Managing Youth! (webinar slides)
Equity and Inclusion
Disrupting personal biases, engaging in ongoing personal learning and self-reflection, continually building culturally responsive practice, valuing diversity, advocacting for equitable policies and practices. Note that while personal bias against any identity group must be addressed for staff to be effective, competent staff alone cannot create equitable, inclusive, and accessible program environments; organizational support is needed.
Inclusiveness: Building Stronger Connections
Creating Inclusive Program Environments (Manual)
Hidden Biases: Is this a concern for youth work professionals? (webinar recording)
Hidden Biases: Is this a concern for youth work professionals? (webinar slides)
Family, School, and Community Relationships
Understanding the roles of family, school, and community in youth development; creating positive, strength-based connections with the other adults in a young person's life; engaging in joint planning; ensuring that young people's needs are met through community services and resources; advocating for positive youth development approaches.
Youth Development in Communities
Safety and Wellness
Creating environments that are safe and trauma-informed, and that promote wellness.
Using a Trauma-Informed Approach
PYD IV: Youth Development Programming (webinar recording)
PYD IV: Youth Development Programming (webinar slides)
Program Planning and Development
Understanding program/agency philosophy, approach, goals, and ethical standards; meeting regulations and standards; participating in planning and evaluation; using resources; ethical practice.
Toolkit: Youth Program Planning
PYD 101 Online Course: Youth Work Ethics
Given the diverse educational backgrounds of youth workers and the lack of professional development tracks specific to youth work, most youth work professionals have to rely on community-based training and professional development opportunities, if any are available. The Positive Youth Development 101 curriculum and activities can be used to provide training in several of these competency areas.
A Reminder: Organizational Support is EssentialEven if we have the most competent youth work professionals imaginable, our organizations are not designed to be fully inclusive of youth.
If a PYD approach is to be adopted and sustained, new policies, practices, and support at the organizational level -- not just the program level -- are essential.
Supervisors are well placed to advocate for the PYD approach at multiple levels within their organizations. ACT for Youth has gathered tools to support supervisors in this effort: