Child & Youth Care Forum

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 443–464 | Cite as

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

Original Paper


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.


Youth development Attributions Assets Out-of-school time (OST) Youth organizing Civic engagement 



This research was supported by grants and administrative support from the National Consortium on Violence Research, the Association of Schools of Public Health, the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and the UCLA/RAND Center for Adolescent Health Promotion. Further appreciation goes to the participating youth development and youth organizing programs and their tireless commitment to positively transforming the lives of southern California youth.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Texas State University—San Marcos, School of Social WorkSan MarcosUSA

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