Am J Community Psychol 2019 Apr 19. Epub 2019 Apr 19.
Department of Psychology, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA.
Organized after-school programs can mitigate risk and build resilience for youth in urban communities. Benefits rely on high-quality developmental experiences characterized by a supportive environment, structured youth-adult interactions, and opportunities for reflective engagement. Programs in historically disenfranchised communities are underfunded; staff are transient, underpaid, and undertrained; and youth exhibit significant mental health problems which staff are variably equipped to address. Historically, after-school research has focused on behavior management and social-emotional learning, relying on traditional evidence-based interventions designed for and tested in schools. However, after-school workforce and resource limitations interfere with adoption of empirically supported strategies and youth health promotion. We have engaged in practice-based research with urban after-school programs in economically vulnerable communities for nearly two decades, toward building a resource-efficient, empirically informed multitiered model of workforce support. In this paper, we offer first-person accounts of four academic-community partnerships to illustrate common challenges, variability across programs, and recommendations that prioritize core skills underlying risk and resilience, align with individual program goals, and leverage without overextending natural routines and resources. Reframing obstacles as opportunities has revealed the application of mental health kernels to the after-school program workforce support and inspired lessons regarding sustainability of partnerships and practice.