, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 443-464

What They Think: Attributions Made by Youth Workers About Youth Circumstances and the Implications for Service-Delivery in Out-of-School Time Programs

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Abstract

The current study explored attributions made by youth work professionals (“workers”) in out-of-school time (OST) programs about the social circumstances of and perceived need of program youth. It followed prior research examining impacts of worker-level attributions on decision-making in service delivery. Two types of OST programs were selected as positive developmental settings for youth, support and opportunity programs (SO) and civic participation (CP) programs. Uniquely this study combines the decision-making relevance of attribution theory and research on street level workers with the developmental and lifecourse relevance of the positive youth development perspective and developmental systems theories. This study sought to determine potential variability in attributions made by workers about the determinants of youth circumstances and need. To this end, this qualitative study used participant observation and in depth interview methods with 17 workers from four OST programs serving predominantly African American and Latino/a youth in urban Los Angeles. A majority of attributions were about diminished ecological assets that inhibited positive youth development. For workers in both SO and CP programs, mentorship, youth-friendly spaces and opportunities, or Me-Spots, were critical but absent youth assets. All workers described youth as resilient and positive, but nuanced differences existed among workers in their descriptions of specific asset pathways. Implications for professional development, practice and research are discussed.