Reaching Out/ Reaching In

Jason Bocarro
January 1, 2002

The youth development movement has long recognized that no
one program is a panacea to serve all children and their needs. Indeed this recognition has
culminated in various programs being offered outside traditional fixed facilities such as
schools and recreation centers. In some cities this has led to the development of
initiatives that specifically target youth not drawn to services or facilities currently
offered. Thus, there is a growing movement to move youth workers into the field to work
directly with youth who may be particularly susceptible to negative influences in their
community and do not appear to be connected to youth serving agencies, rather than
waiting for youth to take the initiative to join a program at a fixed site. A review of the
literature reveals that this movement is far from new. Indeed the notion of detached
youthwork has a history dating back to the 19th and early 20th century where social
workers would build relationships with youth on their territory and in their communities.
This article provides a comprehensive historical analysis of the notion of detached
youthwork aligned with a brief analysis of some benefits in relation to a year long
ethnographic (participatory) study conducted on one such inner city program run by a
park and recreation department. Although this study reiterated many of the positive
benefits found in previous work, the challenges facing such programs often make them an
unattractive endeavor for many agencies in the long term. Often these outreach programs
lack organization, consistent and sustained funding and have a high staff attrition rate.
Many of these programs initially offer promising and exciting options to their clients but
are unable to sustain themselves because of some of the challenges outlined above.
Keywords: Youth development, outreach, youth services, administrative and
organizational challenges, Roving Leader, detached youthwork.
The 1990s were characterized by a resurgence of policy makers? interest in youth
related issues due to increases in problems such as drive-by shootings, teen pregnancies,
drug use, school drop outs and gang membership. In the park and recreation field, many
programs for ?at-risk? youth trace their development to concerns about these issues (Witt
& Crompton, 1996). Increases in programs reversed the downsizing and budget cuts that
had occurred in the previous 15-20 years. During the late 1970s and 1980s, many
departments shifted their emphasis away from addressing direct program leadership to a
profession based on management of facilities and opportunities and a basic philosophy of
providing "recreation for all" (Sessoms, 1993). The oil embargos and taxpayer revolt
during this period expediated this shift, leading to recreation departments being run more
like a business and with greater entrepreneurial emphasis. Reductions in federal grant
programs coupled with increases in competition for funds and rising maintenance costs
forced many departments to focus on more efficient service production (Shultz et al.,
1995). Elected officials were under pressure to cut services that did not generate revenue
and/or relied heavily on government subsidized support. Furthermore the political
climate during this period seemed to suggest resources should be allocated toward public
safety measur es (such as incarceration) to deal with crime increases rather than on public
prevention programs.
Suddenly fewer organized recreation programs existed for youth. Additionally,
park and recreation department (PARD) staff who had previously worked closely with
youth were forced to spend more time dealing with administrative tasks, thus diminishing
time they had to work directly with youth. As Sessoms (1984) pointed out, financial
constraints prevented many youth organizations from serving low income youth as they
moved toward self- sustaining, fee-based programs for the middle-class. Thus, recreation
staff were less able to deal and cope with youth who were facing difficult life issues.
This meant that many youth lost access to the mentorship and guidanc e staff had
previously been able to provide (Bembry, 1998).
When youth problems became both more prevalent and visible in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, city officials in many cities turned to PARDs to help find solutions (Witt
& Crompton, 1996). However, in many cases recreation professionals recognized they
had lost touch with the youth they had previously been serving. There were many youth
who were not attracted to standard recreation programs and services. In addition, youth
attending existing programs often felt that programs were not designed to meet their
needs and leaders were not sufficiently available with whom they could interact. As park
and recreation professionals realized that they were serving a limited number of youth
and a limited portion of the youth population, there was a movement to create better
services that connected youth workers to youth and better approaches for engaging youth
who were not currently participating in programs.
Why Outreach Programs?
Previous research suggests that youth programs can contribute to positive
adolescent development in areas such as enabling identity development (Shaw, Kleiber &
Caldwell, 1995), providing fulfilling experiences (Zill, Nord & Loomis, 1995), increasing
academic achievement (Posner & Vandell, 1994), and empowering youth (Dubas &
Snider, 1993). Furthermore, a number of sources have suggested that recreation plays a
pivotal role in enhancing the lives of youth growing up in high-risk environments (Adler
& Adler, 1994; Andrews, 1986; Carnegie Council for Adolescent Development, 1992;
Larson, 1994; Pizor, 1992; Posner & Vandell, 1994; Witt & Crompton, 1996).
Youth work in its modern guise emerged in the late 19th century as a movement
designed to fill the dangerous void created by unsupervised free time. Although this
period resulted in the development of numerous youth serving organizations during the
early part of the 20th century, people realized that these services were only reaching a
small percentage of working-class youth, with many others still involved in undesirable
Thus, alongside mainstream programs, a tradition of youth work emerged which
sought to find ways of engaging youth who were not attracted to organized services. As a
result innovative programs designed to engage ?dangerous and threatening youth?
materialized, particularly programs that engaged youth on their own territory, on the
street and other places they congregated (Jeff, 1997).
Although, the importance of formal youth serving institutions such as PARDs
cannot be underestimated, there are a number of barriers that preclude youth participation
in programs. Jones (1980) found that even if youth were involved with a youth serving
organization, participation was often sporadic. He offered two reasons for a pattern of
sporadic or non-involvement. First, youth clubs sometimes found it too great a challenge
to deal with testing and disruptive behavior displayed by participants. In other cases nonparticipation
resulted from a lack of confidence on the part of the youth themselves. This
led to youth exhibiting passivity and an unwillingness to enter and try new experiences.
Hendry (1991) argued that non-participation in structured recreation organizations
is often the result of organizations being too tame, over-organized or too much like
school to appeal to some youth. Thus, while ?conforming youth? may continue to be
attracted to these organizations and the adults who run them, other youth may find these
organizations unappealing or out of touch with the issues with which they are dealing.
Indeed Bone (1972) described how academic attainment was related to peer acceptance
and therefore, school drop outs were less likely to become involved in organized
recreation services. Other research (Hendry & Simpson, 1977; Jephcott, 1967) found that
adolescents were not involved in formal recreation activities because they were too
aligned with school organizations and structure. Thus, because the nature of the program
was too reminiscent of school or because programs took place in school, youth were put
off from becoming involved in extra-curricular programs.
Hendry (1991) also argued that there is a possibility that subconsciously adults
outside the family structure, who are often middle class professionals, often attract
children who match their own backgrounds and may unwittingly deter youth whose
backgrounds are different. A Search Institute study (Saito, Benson, Blyth & Sharma,
1995) found that the four main factors that contributed to non-participation were a lack of
interesting programs, transportation problems, lack of knowledge and cost of programs
offered. Thus, despite the presence and availability of valuable resources in
communities, individuals may feel disconnected from them and thus unwilling to
Disconnection from community resources and social isolation usually takes two
forms (Wilson, 1996). The first, deliberate isolation, occurs when individuals
deliberately isolate themselves from institutions and those involved within mainstream
society. The second, unintentional isolation, occurs when individuals lack contact with
institutions and individuals within mainstream society. The consequences for children in
situations where families become isolated is that they are often socialized by adults who
lack the skills, experiences and resources conducive to healthy development (Wilson,
1996a). Further, in their neighborhoods, peer group cultures play a much greater role in
shaping behavior, including detrimental unhealthy behaviors such as sexual encounters,
drug use, gang involvement and alcohol consumption (Wilson, 1996).
Overcoming isolation and non- involvement implies the need to develop outreach
strategies. One such strategy employed in a few cities is a Roving Leader program where
youth workers are not deployed at a fixed site, thus enabling them to reach out to
individuals isolated from community resources and hopefully negate many, if not all of
the listed barriers.
History and Structure of Detached Youth Work
Roving Leader programs can be traced back to the mid-19th century and the
Progressive era when church and charity workers sought out young delinquents and city
gangs in the slum areas of emerging American cities. Trolander (1987) pointed out that
many early social workers adapted their methods for working in low-income
neighborhoods by developing a ?neighborly? as opposed to a professional relationship
with individuals they sought to help. Often this involved workers living in areas in which
they worked, which gave them added insight into the issues residents faced.
Some of these efforts have been labeled detached youth work programs. The
detached youth worker, which has also been referred to as area worker, street worker,
corner-worker, extension worker and street gang-worker among others, is basically
defined as an individual who works with youth in non-organized, informal settings,
usually on the street (Thompson, 1999). Freeman (cited in Thompson, 1999, p. 13)
summarized the philosophy behind these types of programs as follows:
Detached work involves intensive contact with a corner-group where the
worker meets the teen-age group in their natural environment. By close
association with them and getting to know their needs as a group and as
individuals, the worker forms a positive relationship and helps them to
engage in socially acceptable activities which they come to choose. The
basic goal is helping them to change undesirable attitudes and patterns of
Bernstein (1964) believed that agencies could only be successful in implementing a
detached youth worker model if three elements existed: (1) financial security; (2) a firm
commitment to imagination, flexibility and integrity; and (3) a readiness to deal with
failures and being prepared for change. Thus, these elements required a long term
commitment toward the program (in terms of program content and design) and
specifically the staff (providing wages that youthworkers could realistically support
In the park and recreation movement, street worker programs took on the Roving
Leader designation. In the 1930s, Chicago initiated a Roving Leader-type program,
followed by similar efforts in New York and other U.S. cities in the 1950s (Bannon,
1969). Bernstein (1964) and Thompson (1999) both provided an excellent overview of
some of the key detached youth work programs that emerged over this period as well as a
summary of their underlying assumptions and programmatic goals. These included
programs that were developed in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San
Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland. Although not specifically run by
PARDs, they incorporated many recreation components within their programs. The basic
premise behind these efforts stemmed from the realization that youth workers who
?roamed? in communities would be knowledgeable about the neighborhood in which
they worked and would therefore be better able to find and interact with youth (Bannon,
Some of the methods used by street workers have involved going to where the
youth are, be it street corner, pool hall, corner store, alley or park (Thompson, 1999).
Austin (1957) listed some essential elements of street workers that made them unique.
First, the program?s philosophy began with a problem not as a specific program activity.
Therefore, services were available to youth who had the greatest need rather than those
who had paid a fee, became members or created an organizational structure. Second,
programs were heavily tied to the relationship between youth and staff, rather than being
based on a set of activities or structured program in a particular type of building.
Third, contact occurred in the community not in an institutional setting. This was
important in that all institutions have formal standards that guide workers in areas such as
selection and service of clientele. As Austin (1957, p. 45) pointed out, ?many formal
controls on membership and time and type of program are used by professional workers
to create the best possible situation for effective work.?
The final element noted by Austin was that the service provided by street workers
was not initially requested by youth and thus it served a ?reaching out? function through
the worker taking the first step in alleviating any fear, suspicion and hostility that might
exist. Overall, these outreach principles stressed the importance of the personal
relationship between staff and youth.
The nature of the activities for outreach workers varied. For example, Spergel
(1962) described how outreach work was multidimensio nal and consisted of three types
of activities: (1) sociocultural activities that attempted to alleviate factors that blocked
opportunities for youth as well as providing opportunities through liaising with official
representatives of specific institutions ; (2) small group activities that enabled the group to
meet the collective status needs of its members; and (3) discrete activities focused on the
individual, such as those that examined how each child reacted to factors such as
acceptance, rejection, frus tration, stress, insecurity and interpersonal relationships.
Taking It to the Streets
Although the 1990s led to a resurgence of funding for PARDs as youth issues
once again became a ?hot political topic,? apathy, lack of resources and poor quality of
services related to the budget cuts during the previous era, resulted in a number of youth
not utilizing available services. This under-utilization of services among certain youth in
urban communities, aligned with a growing prevalence of juvenile crime, concerned
many departments. This concern resulted in San Antonio?s Roving Leader program,
originally developed in 1972 and dropped in the early 1980s, being resurrected in 1992
(Crompton & Witt, 1997). To reach these youth, Roving Leaders went back out into their
communities, looking for children who were particularly susceptible to negative
influences in their home or neighborhood environments and were not connected to youth
serving agencies. In 1998, six years later, the City of Austin?s PARD decided to initiate
their own Roving Leader program.
For seven months during 2000-01, the first author was able to conduct an onsite
study of Austin?s Roving Leader program. During his residence in Austin he used a
variety of methods to collect data that included participant observation and field notes,
informal and formal interviews, case studies and demographic/census data (Bocarro,
2001). Through this process he was able to have in depth contact with the Austin
program, its leaders, the program participants, their parents, and professionals in other
organizations who cooperated with the program. He gained access to information and
insights he would not have had if he had simply done surveys or dropped in for
occasional interviews. ?Living? the program helped him see the everyday issues that
youth experienced, allowed him to directly observe interactions between leaders and
program participants, and gain an understanding of both the strengths of the program and
some of the obstacles faced in carryout the program model.
Austin?s program began with a similar model to previous outreach programs and
marketed itself as being able to target youth who were particularly hard to reach. Its
philosophy evolved from the recognition that many youth were not taking advantage of
structured and/or drop- in programs available at the city?s recreation centers or those
offered by private, voluntary agencies. In bringing recreation activities to youth and
taking them on a variety of educational and entertaining field trips, roving leaders not
only kept youth off the streets and out of trouble, but they also provided positive role
models to encourage excellence in school and in life. Further, the individualized.
attention that staff were able to provide accentuated the benefits previous ly described.
For the Austin program, staff typically work with children and youth ranging in
age from eight to nineteen, although in some cases younger children are involved as
younger siblings might accompany their older brothers or sisters. The eight communities
that the APARD Roving Leader program served had a high proportion of families that
were either Mexican American or African American. Although diverse, the participants
share many characteristics. Most are poor or lower middle class. Many live in single
parent families headed by a mother or grandmother. In some cases, their father or mother
is in jail, dead, or has never been part of the household. Many of the participants are
exposed to gangs, drugs, and alcohol at home or in their neighborhoods and schools.
Many have witnessed violence, even against members of their own family. Many have
had behavior problems at school, and some have been suspended. A few have been
arrested for offenses such as shoplifting or selling drugs.
The program itself had five unique aspects that allowed it to attain its overall
objective of reaching and keeping these ?hard to reach? youth (see Table 1). First, the
program sought to address issues in a holistic manner. This entailed Roving leaders
building relationships with the youth as well as his or her teachers, parents and other
extended family. Second, staff were given the flexibility to ?roam?. They were rarely tied
to a fixed site. This freedom allowed them to deal with the often spontaneous situations
and issues that emerged with the youth they served.
Third, there was an immediate recognition of a need to take an individualized
approach in order to be able to reach out and work in depth with the target population.
Therefore, roving leaders were initially absolved from the pressures of serving large
numbers of youth so that they would be free to build relationships with youth and their
families who needed more individualized attention.
Fourth, staff were encouraged to learn about and work with a number of different
agencies and resources so they would be able to better serve youth and make their limited
resources go further. Finally, the structure of the program meant that there was less direct
supervision than site based programs which allowed staff greater autonomy. This allowed
them to be more responsive to the ever changing needs and circumstances of the youth
they served.
Table 1: Program Characteristics and Impact on Goal Achievement
Program Characteristic
A holistic ecological approach to the
Able to better understand the issues in that
child?s life.
Flexibility ? not being tied to a specific site
Able to better deal with spontaneous
situations that emerged.
Less concern with quantity (number) of
children served
Better equipped to deal with individual
issues that take time and effort to address
Encouraged to work across departments
and agencies
A full understanding of what is available in
the community and to utilize resources.
Less direct supervision and more autonomy Can deal more directly and quicker with
communities needs.
Administrative and Organizational Challenges
After two years of operating at its initial funding level (approximately $500,000),
the Austin City Council invested additional money (another $500,000) in the program
that enabled them to hire additional staff, move some positions from part-time to fulltime
and move some positions from no to full benefits. Prior to the increase, only the
eight area supervisors had full benefits. The increase funding allowed each area the
ability to hire an assistant on full time benefits. It also allowed each area coordinator to
invest in leasing vans which provided greater programming flexibility.
The Council was pleased with reports it received about the program and the
recognition the program received at state and national conferences. However, three
critical administrative and organizational challenges provided a threat to both the quality
of service being delivered and eventually the long term sustainability of the program
itself. These challenges included funding cuts when the Austin economy took a down
turn, the search for acceptable methods of determining program outcomes, and a large
staff attrition rate.
Funding Cuts. During the 4th year of the program, budget cuts were proposed for
the program, mainly due to overall belt-tightening throughout Austin?s municipal
government due to a down-turn in the area economy. The Roving Leader program was
targeted as one possible area for cuts. Given the nature of the program, funding cuts that
would lead to either decreasing staff hours, reducing staff, and/or hiring fewer people
who would have full benefits were seen as having a potentially negative impact on the
relationships established between program personnel and the youth that they served.
Many of the program participants already had significant instability in their lives and
losing contact or having diminished contact with their mentors would serve as just
another example of the ?system? letting them down.
The conventional wisdom among those advocating for improved approaches to
youth development programs is that the funding stream must not be based on a short term
perspective (Pittman, Irby, & Ferber, 2000). In fact through short-term, one shot
programs, agencies may even be contributing to programmatic shortcomings by building
up unrealistic expectations among youth and failing to follow through with long-term,
ongoing services. Fisher (cited in Witt & Crompton, 1996, p. 24), has stated that unless a
consistent funding base is available no long-term progress will be made in maintaining
programs, and thus relationships.
To avoid creating false expectations, we will need to make the hard
decisions now about what we can realistically support in the future; we
will need to build political alliances that will provide the advocacy and
support base for programs; we will need to build ownership of programs
among political and consumer constituencies; and we will need to find
long-term corporate support. More importantly, we will need city
government to invest local tax dollars on a continuing basis to support
programs. We can be creative in our financing but it will take long-term
commitments and continuing support if we are to build sustainable
programs (cited in Witt & Crompton, 1996, p. 25).
City Council members need to be convinced of the negative implications of building,
then reducing funding for program initiatives.
Show Me the Evidence. From the beginning of the program, there were
discussions about how to demonstrate the effectiveness of Roving Leader interactions
with the participants. Efforts were made to keep track of the number of participants and
the amount of time spent with each. In any given year the program registered
approximately 800 youth. From the beginning of the program, questions were raised
about whether a staff of 20+ individuals was working in an efficient manner if each was
only involved with 40 youth in a given year. In addition, the program manager was asked
to keep track of contact hours for each roving leader (one contact hour equaling an hour
spent with one participant. If a roving leader worked with three individuals for five
hours, this generated 15 contact hours.) Contact hour numbers were not questio ned until
the program came under increased scrutiny during the budget cut discussions.
The small group and individualized nature of the program meant that in most
cases, roving leaders might generate a limited number of contact hours per day. Being
able to work in depth with a small number of individuals was the best way to accomplish
the program?s overall objectives. While some time was spent in larger group activities,
the key element of the program was its ability to promote intensive efforts as required
with specific individuals.
The contact hour discussions were a classic case of using an efficiency measure as
a basis for determining program effectiveness. Contact hours could be used to determine
the cost per hour of service, which in the case of the Roving Leader program was going
to be high due to the way the program was conceived and designed. In addition, since the
program had difficulty operationalizing program outcomes, efficiency measures
predominated in discussions of program impact. Program managers and city hall
administrators were use to using efficiency measures since they provided a ready basis of
inter-program comparisons.
A day in the life of a Roving Leader: ?The reality?. The following brief case
study demonstrates the impact of using contact hour generation as a primary measure of
program impact.
Armando (pseudonym) was one of the youth enrolled by the program. On one
occasion, Robert, the Roving leader, was called by a local elementary school to
seek assistance in working with Armando, an Hispanic 5th grade student.
Armando had been expelled from several schools, had an attitude problem and
was very adept at intimidating other Youth. He had spent the year in and out of
trouble. When Robert got to the school he visited with Miss Sanchez, his home
room teacher who explained how Armando had started throwing rocks at some
other students and had refused to stop despite the fact that he had just returned
from an alternative school and had been threatened with expulsion. She felt that
Robert had developed a good rapport with Armando in the brief time he had been
in the Roving Leader program and wanted Robert?s advice.
Robert spent the next 45 minutes over lunch talking to Armando and then spent
an hour with the assistant principal and principal who had tried but were unable to
contact Armando?s father. His mother was reluctant to leave work to come to the
school. The principal explained to us that his parents had given up on Armando
and his mother had told Miss Sanchez that she was scared of him.
The principal asked if Robert could attend a meeting with Armando, the assistant
principal, Miss Sanchez and Armando?s parents. About an hour into talking with
Armando, his parents finally showed up along with Miss Sanchez. Armando was
eventually told that he would be sent back to DIL for a week, although all the
parties agreed that Robert could still try and work with him.
After the meeting his parents agreed that Armando could spend the rest of the day
with Robert. Although Robert had planned to spend time with several small
groups of other participants in the afternoon, he cancelled those plans so he could
give Armando one-on-one attention.
If Robert had proceeded with the original day he had planned, he would have
interacted with a number of children and generated approximately 105 contact hours. As
it turned out, the Robert?s day was taken up with Armando?s problems and ended up
generating approximately 25 contact hours, six of these with Armando and the rest
generated when he was eventually able to meet a group of other program participants for
a short period of time. The challenge for Roving Leaders was to balance the need for indepth
contact and problem-solving with a few individuals versus meeting the needs of a
larger number of participants and meeting contact hour expectations.
The above example highlighted the need for management and organizational
goals to be flexible with the realization that some of the successes of the program were
due to the one-on-one time-consuming interactions that had the potential to reach the
hardest core cases. Deciding how to balance the two was a judgment challenge for roving
To counteract some of the concerns about generating contact hours, efforts are
currently being made to generate evidence of program impact, through implementation of
a rating form that will show participant?s progress over time. While this system should be
helpful in demonstrating program impact, there still is an administrative tendency to feel
that more registrants and contact hours that can be generated the better. These measures
are seen as giving a real-time snap shot of how the Roving leaders are spending their
time, while actual changes in attitudes or behavior may take a considerable period of time
to take place.
This situation also highlighted the need for management and organizational goals
to be flexible with the realization that some of the successes of the program were because
of the one-on-one time-consuming interactions that have the potential to reach the hardest
core cases. Deciding how to balance the two was a judgment challenge for Roving
Staff Attrition. The attrition rate of roving leaders was high as staff found it hard
to balance the high level of commitment needed to the program. Staff often worked
beyond an eight hour day and were often on call to deal with difficult situations as they
arose. Extended hours often took time away from family and other responsibilities and
created a situation where the leaders had a hard time being away from the program even
when they were not officially on duty.
To make matters worse, requirements of the job and dedication on the part of the
roving leaders was not rewarded at the appropriate salary level. This problem exists
through the youth development field, but was particularly telling in this case given the
stress and hours associated with the job. While the park and recreation department had
made attempts to raise salaries for the lead staff members in the program, salaries were
still lower than other available jobs the Roving leaders could have pursued. In addition, a
number of the leaders did not receive full benefits as part of their compensation package.
Together these factors led to a high staff attrition rate. In a program that
emphasized building staff-participant relationships over a relative long time period,
attrition threatened to undermine program success. There were 21 Roving leaders in
September, 2000 including eight full-time roving leader supervisors, six full-time
assistant Roving leaders and seven part-time roving leaders. By Spring, 2001, nine
Roving leaders had left the program (a supervisor, a full-time assistant and seven parttime
assistants) with only three of these positions being refilled. This problem was
compounded by the fact that departmental funding was frozen so only part-time roving
leaders were able to be hired. This change further compounded the attrition rate as many
could not afford to work at that pay level without benefits especially if they had a family
to support. As the program supervisor pointed out,
It?s hard to find staff who have a real love for recreation because that?s
what it is all about. And who don?t mind that the hours are going to be
crappy and that they are going to encounter a lot of emotional baggage,
teen pregnancy, shootings and stabbings, some Youth going hungry that
kinda stuff. That they could look beyond that and go I?ve gotta continually
help this child, let me find the resources and that are really unselfish.
Even when quality staff were recruited and they enjoyed the job, keeping them for
an extended period of time was difficult. This resulted in ongoing advertising, hiring,
rehiring, recruiting and training processes which were both expensive and time
consuming. Furthermore, these ongoing processes made it hard to maintain program
momentum and quality.
Although prior studies have shown that outreach programs have much to offer
youth living in high risk environments (e.g., Baker & Witt, 2000; Bannon, 1972;
Crompton & Witt, 1997; Thompson, 1999; Witt, Crompton & Baker, 1999), there are
many challenges to implementing and maintaining these programs. The problem of
program sustainability, even among successful youth programs has been identified as a
debilitating issue by a number of youth development experts (c.f., Dryfoos, 1990; Lerner,
1995; Schorr, 1988). Unfortunately as noted by Little (cited in Lerner, 1995), the issue of
program sustainability is often disregarded.
Too often recreation youth services are funded as a band aid solution, where the
long term nature of issues are only temporarily addressed. Outreach programs, because
they are not facility based, are even more suscepitible to budget cuts because often staff
can be easily reassigned to facility-based programs. Thus, funding is often directed
toward short-term programs without much concern for long-term sustainability. This has
even more drastic consequences for outreach efforts where staff build up trust and
relationships with youth in the community. Short-term funding will result in these
programmtic relationships being curtailed resulting in residents becoming even more
Lerner (1995) described some of the consequences of short-term programs that
parachute in and out of communities. He pointed out that communities often feel less
hopeful and empowered than before the program existed. Thus, although the hopes for
improvement in the lives of children and families in specific communities may have
been realized, the inability to sustain the program may result in residents feeling a sense
of loss, dissapointment or even exploited or angry.
Thus, it is necessary to plan programs with long-term objectives rather than
direct money into short-term funding efforts that get widespread attention but cannot be
sustained. Unfortunately, many of the funding decisions are made by elected
government officials who have short-term, and personally self-sustaining political
agendas to fulfill (Crompton & Lamb, 1986).
Royse?s (1998) study on a mentoring program for high-risk African American
youth suggested that the amount of time youth spent with their mentors was critical.
Programs that lasted for a short period had limited or no impact. Royse (1998)
concluded by stating that although many policy makers like to see mentoring initiatives
as ?a quick fix? they are are probably not.
In a climate of scarce resources there is a need to be careful how money and
personnel are used. If they are invested in program methods that do not reflect primary
program principals then better outcomes for disdavantaged children and families will
not occur. Therefore, too often money is thrown at programs with little thought of
previous successful or unsuccessful practices (Cameron & Vanderwoerd, 1997).
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, directed his followers to,
?Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most? (Milton, 1970). Two
centuries later the same directive applies. Although history serves as a useful guide for
overcoming challenges to implementing and designing new programs, it can sometimes
show that re-emerging trends are not dealt with and lessons have not be learned.
Commentators such as Sessoms (1984; 1993) and Bembry (1998) have pointed out that
recreation youth services often become more mainstream in that they serve the less
needy, easier to handle youth as resources become scarce. Milton (1970) stated that youth
organizations tend to become more interested in their own survival, consolidating their
resources as time progresses rather than worrying about the communities they serve.
Thus, the history of the youth movement is littered with examples of programs that
started as radical and unique but soon became ?respectable,? part of the establishment,
and vulnerable.
Often, youth who are underserved by recreation programs are those who need
these programs the most. In examining this particular outreach program over its first
three years, the issue of programs becoming more mainstream seemed particularly
significant. The Roving Leader program initially targeted youth who were harder to
reach, were not connected to resources in their community and often had more extreme
life issues affecting them. Unfortunately the consequences of serving more youth
resulted in more site-based activities with children who had less severe issues in their
lives and were easier to handle. As one Roving Leader pointed out in justifying why she
had limited her involvement with Natalie, a 12 year old African American girl with
behavioral problems: ?It?s hard to have Natalie around all the time with the amount of
kids we now have.?
Thus, from the outset, the Roving Leader program challenged the conformist idea
of serving as many youth as possible in favor of more one-on-one time with individuals.
However, as the pressure to justify and maintain its existence increased, the need to
satisfy the political establishment emerged that led to a call for increasing contact hours.
Program supervisors felt they needed to justify the program to ext ernal sources by
showing impressive statistics pertaining to the number of children they were serving
rather than doing a quality job serving a smaller number of youth.
These issues are not confined to outreach programs and are endemic among many
park and recreation programs that serve youth. Many site based programs struggle with
the same issues of staff attrition, long term sustainable funding, and finding a balance
between being efficient and being effective. However, while these issues are present
among other programs, they are particularly prevalent among outreach programs. Many
outreach programs demand more of staff in terms of the hours, the situations staff must
deal with on a daily basis and difficulties in supervision. Furthermore, because they do
not have a fixed site, outreach programs are often seen as more expendable and
temporary even though in the eyes of many of their participants they are seen as just as, if
not more valuable and necessary. If a commitment is made to work with communities
and participants through various outreach programs, it is important for city planners and
managers to first ensure that these outreach programs are not temporary, short- term
solutions which too often they end up being.
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