YPQA? Because quality is important!

Central Indiana is home to an amazing variety of out-of-school programs for youth, ranging from summer camps and scouting to academic and arts enrichment to mentoring and leadership development opportunities. There are many different ways for youth programs to meet the needs of young people and foster positive youth development, and there is healthy debate among youth development professionals over what and how this should be done. Yet there is research to suggest that quality matters in youth programming; young people who attend high quality programs tend to do better than those who participate in mediocre programs, and it’s even possible for a program to have a negative effect on kids (if things go horribly wrong).

So how can we know whether a program is high quality, and more importantly, how can we start using this information to improve youth programming in our communities? Happily, a scientifically valid and reliable tool to measure youth program quality exists and is already in use in Marion County: the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA), which was developed by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. The YPQA measures various aspects of four key components of quality youth programs: safety, support, interaction, and engagement. It is based on extensive empirical research and works in all settings and scales. Rather than looking at the usual outcome measures that only tell part of the story, the YPQA measures program quality at the point of service—where there may be the greatest impact on young people.

MCCOY has facilitated the YPQA process for several cohorts of local youth-serving organizations, and recently offered its own staff the opportunity to go through the YPQA External Assessor training. Although strictly speaking YQPA external assessors are supposed to have direct program experience (and I have very little, being a career fundraiser), I jumped at the chance to go through the training and learn more about what constitutes a quality youth program. I definitely enjoyed the experience, although it was a lot to process (and two and a half long, exhausting days). I always enjoy meeting program staff; their dedication and wisdom keep me inspired to do what I do. I think their thoughtful questions and analysis of different subtleties in the scenario videos we watched helped me eventually pass the qualification test, since I had quite a learning curve to overcome.

The YPQA assessments for the current cohort will take place over the coming months, and I look forward to playing my part in this important step for the Indianapolis youth development community. I do have an ulterior motive; the YPQA will also help advance the aims of the Early Intervention and Prevent (EIP) initiative, the subject of my work at MCCOY, which will better coordinate nonprofit services so that children and families get the services they need when they need them to reduce the risk of child abuse, neglect, and delinquency. We are currently hard at work preparing a strategic plan for the EIP initiative and I am certain that program quality—and our experience with the YPQA—will have a strong influence on our work.

How Do We Engage Young People?

Engaging young people in the programs youth organizations offer is easier said than done. And the reality is, the fact that youth simply “show up” doesn’t mean they’re invested or engaged in the activities. So how do we create better opportunities for young people to really get engaged in? Better engagement ultimately leads to better results. Here are some ideas to jump start your youth engagement approach:
  • Be youth-centered, not just outcomes-centered. Build relationships, and respect young people’s relationships with their peers and families. While building relationships, help build futures by planning for what happens when they’re not at your center or program.
  • Pay special attention to how your center’s programs coordinate with each other. Tailor your services so they’re accessible and allow young people to pursue their goals across interests.
  • Encourage personal choice and social responsibility in the young people you work with.
  • Get to know what the young person’s support safety-net looks like; who are the key people who make a difference in his or her life?
  • No matter what the program, focus on assisting young people achieve greater self-sufficiency and confidence.
Some of the tips above are adapted from the Transition to Independence Process (TIP), developed in a partnership with the University of South Florida and the Department of Child & Family Studies. Click here for many more resources about the findings.

Assessing Quality in Youth Programs

Around 40 youth development professionals and community leaders gathered recently to learn about the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). This is the strategy we’re employing within the Ready by 21 Quality Counts initiative to improve the quality and reach of youth programs in Central Indiana. Erica Curry, from the Forum for Youth Investment, presented a dynamic workshop designed to get on board early those organizations who want to pilot the project with MCCOY and build overall quality improvement. YPQA sites will be eligible for comprehensive training and custom technical assistance – all completely free.

If you’re interested in learning more about YPQA or becoming a pilot site, please e-mail Kirsten Eamon-Shine.