Skip to main content

Where are all the youth work studies?

Joyce Walker, Youth Development Insight blogIt's old news that youth workers have trouble finding accessible, relevant journal articles that speak to their practice issues. It's no surprise that youth workers pursuing scholarship on youth development practice have trouble identifying outlets for their publications. Now, somebody has quantified the dearth.

A new integrative review of literature on youth development research in the Journal of Youth Development (see page 20) found that between 2001 and 2010, only 13% of the articles in five top-tier journals on youth and adolescence could be categorized as positive youth development research. If we include the online Journal of Youth Development itself, which focuses on bridging research and practice, the figure jumps (not too high) to 19%.
The analysis included these six journals: lady-and-typewriter.jpg

Robert Barcelona and William Quinn from Clemson University's Youth Development Leadership Program learned a lot from their analysis of the 285 relevant articles (out of a possible 2236). Consider these findings:
  • The vast majority of research published in the major, top-tier journals did not utilize a strengths-based approach or provide an examination of the processes that foster positive youth well-being.
  • Less than 10% of manuscripts included the perspectives of parents and the key adults who have an influence on youth.
  • A majority of the studies used a quantitative approach in answering the research questions posed.

In addition to the Journal of Youth Development, Afterschool Matters and New Directions in Youth Development incorporate an applied practice focus. All three include qualitative and mixed-method studies based on approaches like interviews, observations, focus groups and case studies.

Of course, there are other professional journals that speak to defined constituencies such as the Journal of School Health and the Journal of Adolescent Health, as well as journals aimed at youth workers specifically interested in recreation, camping, sports, experiential education and such. But these more focused journals are less apt to address an aggregated body of knowledge that speaks consistently to the research and practice needs of youth workers in out-of-school time, community-based programs.

So, now you know that you're not alone in wondering what to read and where to publish. Can you share a story here about challenges, frustrations and occasional rewards you have found when seeking an article that speaks to your interests and issues? Where do you go to find the good stuff about youth work? Do you think we need more new and varied avenues to share studies of youth development practice?

-- Joyce Walker, professor and youth development educator

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Hi Joyce,
    Thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront. I can speak to my personal experience of trying to get positive youth development articles published in journals. After I got my graduate degree (and two publications from my master's research) I assumed that Extension programs would be excellent additions to journals that I was reading. Like you noted, I was getting sick of reading about deficit-focused, prevention programs. Little did I know, publishing about youth development programs would become increasingly difficult because the way that we structure research in applied settings often doesn't lend itself to the "rigor" that journals call for. I would like to put a protest in for journal editors to see the unique perspective that youth development articles add to their journals. How do we make room for our discipline in professional writing venues?

  2. In my experience, even fewer publications are a good fit for articles about youth development practice. The Journal of Adolescent Research rejected one manuscript because “it is really more about the youth workers than about adolescent development per se. As such, I think it would be more appropriate for a different journal.” But where? Then to Sam’s point, I confess I've had manuscripts rejected by Applied Developmental Science, Youth & Society and Child & Youth Care Forum for methodological concerns. I have had some luck with journals from allied fields like Community Psychology, Prevention and Evaluation. While New Directions for Youth Development, Afterschool Matters and the Journal for Youth Development are all good bets for applied and practice-based scholarship, I agree that we need more (and more accessible) publishing alternatives for applied research on youth development programs and practice.

  3. Kate -- Your experiences reveal a lot about the persistence it takes to publish in our field today! Your first example of "it's about the youth workers rather than the adolescents" speaks to the heart of what we mean by youth devleopment.
    In the first chapter of the JYD Special Issue we wrote about the different implications of using the word/concept "youth" versus "adolescent." One term is increasingly used to describe young people in the context of their daily lives and their experiences with people and events in their worlds. The other term is pretty much a scientific term used to differentiate certain age/developmental individuals and groups from others. "Youth" speaks to what's going on with young people. "Adolescent" speaks to how one is different from others (ie. a child or a young adult).
    And in youth development work, we mostly want to speak to the world of youth rather than the experience of an adolescent! May be too simple, but I'm working on it. Thanks for your insights and stories.

  4. Sam -- Thanks for that story! You are not alone (as you well know). I've been thinking a lot about how to make more room for our youth development work and field in the publishing world. These aren't answers, but some ideas to work on:
    One, we've got to support the journals that DO publish around youth development practice. JYD is one of them, and we have to let the folks who work on this know how important it is to us. And when we have a chance, let big publishers know this is the kind of thing we want and need.
    Two, I'm thinking encourage special issues and jounrals that organize an issue around a theme or big idea. New Directions is a good example. Their volumes become almost "handbooks" for many practitioners precisely because they contain research and practice articles around a common theme. Because our work is at the intersection of reserach and practice, it makes sense not to publish ideas in siloed journals.
    Third, self publishing has to be an option. Remember our journal called The Center? It would be much cheaper to do if it was on line instead of in print. Between Extension and the After School Matters fellowship, we have some wonderful manuscripts that we could put together ina volume and publish. Want to be an editor?

  5. Joyce,
    Sign me up! I really appreciate the concrete ideas that you presented. I think this measured approach and some patience can go a long way.

  6. As I was reading the entries, I was thinking, we should do our own publication!! Then, I get to the end and see that idea was posed! What a great idea! We can shift the publication world and showcase a new paradigm of presenting youth studies!

  7. Joyce, all,
    Thanks for highlighting such a critical challenge for our field. I too have had a difficult time finding the "right fit" for articles. I have published in top journals that really are not "youth development" simply for the fact that we do not have a good venue for scholarly articles that "count" in higher education. For those of us on the tenure and promotion track in universities, the pressure is on to publish in top tier journals. Yet these journals are not a great fit for us given the pathological focus on youth that often permeates. I have tended towards Afterschool Matters and JYD as well. Unfortunately these don't get good weight at least in my university, which is based on "impact." If you look at how impact is measured, you see that it is based on readership and distribution. I like Nicole's idea! Let's build our own!