• Youth Worker Perspectives on Building and Maintaining Relationships with Older Adolescents and Emerging Adults in Strongport

      Forrester, Patrice; Frey, Jodi J; 0000-0002-8180-454X; (2021)
      Youth worker relationships with program participants in community-based programs are integral to the promotion of positive youth development. There is a paucity of studies that specifically explore youth worker perspectives of their relationship development with older adolescents and emerging adults in the US. The purpose of this multi-method qualitative study was to examine how youth workers in community-based programs developed and maintained relationships with older adolescents and emerging adults living in a large city in the US. This study also explored what constrained or supported youth workers in developing relationships with older adolescents and emerging adults. The study was grounded in the constructivist paradigm and guided by Bronfrenbrenner’s (Bronfrenbrenner & Ceci, 1994) bioecological framework and anthropological theories of social suffering and embodiment. Twelve youth workers currently working with older adolescents or emerging adults in the same US city, and one key stakeholder, participated in this study. Data was collected through multiple qualitative methods, including interviews, photo-elicitation, document review, member checking, and researcher journal notes to obtain multiple perspectives of youth worker experiences of relationships with older adolescents or emerging adults. Demographic surveys were also used to provide information on youth workers’ self-reported social identities and organizational contexts that may have influenced their perspectives on relationships with older adolescents and emerging adults. This study found that youth workers build relationships with older adolescents or emerging adults in various ways that fit with their embodied social identities or relational style. All youth workers rooted their relationships with program participants on affirmation or trust. Youth workers also embodied authenticity during the relationship process that contributed to deeper relationship development. Facilitation of communication and creation of space that promoted safety or comfort were also used to develop relationships. Aspects of youth workers’ selves (e.g., desire to work with older adolescents) and their environments (e.g., program funding requirements) supported or constrained the development of relationships with older adolescents or emerging adults. Study results can inform key stakeholders in the youth worker field in strategies that support youth workers in building positive relationships with older adolescents and emerging adults for positive youth development.