Youth Build Philly

What do you do when your Charter High School students want to become youth workers? That was the problem faced by Dannyelle Austin, Chief Program Officer at YouthBuild Philly. Their inner-city charter school was offering vocational training leading to jobs in early childhood education, but her students wanted more. How could they qualify for jobs in afterschool, employment, juvenile justice, mental health, and recreation programs geared for adolescents and young adults?

After extensive research into available options, Ms. Austin approached the Academy for Competent Youth Work. Their Child and Youth Care: Foundations course is well known and widely used to help youth workers qualify for CYC Entry Level Certification. Students learn about the profession, relationship development, communication and counseling skills, brain-based guidance, developmental practices, and other fundamentals for entry level youth work practice. The course is strengths-based, asset focused, trauma informed, brain-based, diversity inclusive, relational, and evidence-informed. Best of all, it is based on CYC Certification competencies and requirements and has been shown to help graduates do well on the certification exam.

Ms. Austin and her staff conducted a survey of local youth work organizations. She asked them if students who had a CYC Certification would have a greater likelihood of being chosen for employment over others who didn’t have a certification. The overwhelming response was: of course. Why wouldn’t an employer be interested in hiring a person who had completed a skills-based youth work course of study and supervised field placement? Most employers have little opportunity to hire entry level workers who have ANY preparation for the work. This represented a significant improvement in the available workforce.

When Ms. Austin investigated the possibilities for getting YouthBuild students certified by the Child and Youth Care Certification Board, the largest international CYC certification organization, she received a surprise. There were no other high schools in the US offering this type of program because the CYCCB certification didn’t provide a vocational track for high school students into the profession. CYCCB leadership recognized the need for a high school route into the profession but had concerns about the risks involved to other youth who would be in the care of the students during the field placements. It took the Board a month to create a recommended protocol to assure that the charter school students would receive the supervision, coaching, and support to safely enter the field and care for other, younger, students. Attainment of the Entry Level certification will give students a widely recognized, transportable credential useful across North America and in most practice settings. It also provides a career track for advancement and possible connection to higher education.

Over the next three years, YouthBuild Philly, the Academy for Competent Youth Work, and CYCCB will be collaborating to create, evaluate, and revise the new vocational program. At the end of August, three YouthBuild Philly staff completed the CYC: Foundations Training for Trainers while an additional three completed the CYC: Foundations Course. Fifteen high school students entered the program in mid-September 2020, following Covid-19 school opening delays. This cohort will attend vocational classes in-person and virtually for five weeks. Then they move into supervised field placements and another cohort begins the vocational classes. At the same time, the students are taking academic classes to complete their high school diplomas. The last class will be July 23rd. Both cohorts graduate in September 2021 with high school diplomas, and complete CYC Entry Level certifications.

The CYCCB research team composed of Dr. Deborah Getz (faculty at Indiana University) and Dr. Dale Curry (retired faculty from Kent State University and the Independent Investigator who headed up the team that validated the CYC certification program) will be working with the project. They will be working with local colleges, Americorps, and the US Department of Labor to research program outcomes. The results will be used to develop improvements to the program and to document the impact of the program.

Given the need for this type of vocational program, it is expected that this program will be replicated widely, Especially now, there is great need to help youth become competent, well-prepared youth workers who can find local employment where they make a contribution to the overall well-being of the community.