Strengthening Youth Driven Programming in Afterschool: DARE's Youth Driven Programming Initiative

When it comes to quality afterschool programming, listening to youth and being responsive to their needs is critical.  This important element of quality in afterschool is referred to as "youth driven programming."

Youth-driven programming is driven by three concepts: youth have a voice, that voice is heard, and that voice is acted upon. [YDP depends on] staff to know when to step in to support the young people in their program, [and] also when to step out to allow young people to find their own way.  When they strike this balance, staff facilitate the learning, growth, increased independence, and decision-making that together help children and youth have a meaningful say in what happens during their afterschool experiences. When children and youth are listened to, it shows care and it gives kids a safe place to share who they are, feel connected, develop interests, and take risks. Kids learn a lot more when they are included in decision-making.  Youth-driven programming supports problem-solving, decision-making, and leadership skills that are critical to helping children and youth confidently navigate the challenges of growing up.

When the Office of Child Development's Division of Applied Research and Evaluation team met with local afterschool providers, visited local programs, and convened an Advisory Board of local experts, it was clear that providers have a keen desire to make their programming youth-driven; at the same time, however, it was also apparent that being youth-driven takes skill.  In response to a community need to develop skills to strengthen youth-driven programming, OCD developed a workshop series for local providers, bringing to Pittsburgh experts from Washington State, Temple University, and the Innovation Center to teach concrete skills that are needed to transform and strengthen youth driven programming in afterschool and further providers’ knowledge of what youth driven programming can look like in practice. A total of 50 providers attended these three workshops.

In addition to the workshops, the DARE team developed several resource materials that are now housed on the Afterschool Pittsburgh website (<>)  under the Youth Driven Programming section (<>).  These materials were created to be useful, demonstrative and concrete, taking into consideration the time and capacity that most afterschool providers have to be working on skill-development. The workshop resources and the resources on the website are intended to be a lasting and growing support to the afterschool community.

All these resources and support materials were the result of the intensive first year of research, which was spent understanding the unique roles that afterschool plays in children’s learning and development. The team gathered data from both the research literature and on-the-ground efforts involving program observations (utilizing well-established observation tools), interviews with providers and other stakeholders, and focus groups at the Greater Pittsburgh Afterschool Peer Network. These efforts and learning culminated in a model titled Strengthening Quality Afterschool Programming. 

OCD’s work in youth-driven programming has provided an instrumental component to the Allegheny Partnership for Out of School Time's (APOST) Positive Youth Development Committee’s knowledge base and literature resources,, and future APOST-led professional development initiatives will be a great opportunity to extend the learning from the youth-driven training workshops.