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The question of youth program accreditation

Kate-Walker.jpgA youth program funder posed this question: Should Minnesota funders require accreditation of out-of-school programs to ensure implementation of high quality learning opportunities? While accreditation systems to endorse after-school programs exist at the state and national levels, there is no widespread consensus for support in Minnesota.

To explore the implications of youth program accreditation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Minnesota Department of Education, and the Extension Center for Youth Development sponsored three invitational forums with a cross-section of field leaders that resulted in an issue brief on the topic.

So why this conversation, and why now?
  • First, accreditation systems exist in early childhood education, school-aged care programs and formal education to guide investments and provide a common framework for improvement. As these systems are being widely implemented in Minnesota, it would seem reasonable that funders, policy-makers and even the public might expect a similar process in the out-of-school time field.
  • Second, youth program accreditation efforts and conversations are underway nationally and a proactive Minnesota-based conversation could inform how that plays out and ensure that any movement toward accreditation in Minnesota strengthens the field.
  • Finally, given the public funds that support many youth programs, could accreditation help funders and policy makers better define high-quality out-of-school-time opportunities and provide additional justification for increased investments
Both the literature review and the forums brought to the surface a range of potential benefits and limitations associated with youth program accreditation as well as different stakeholder perspectives. Often these values and risks represent two sides of the same coin:

I invite you to read the issue brief and weigh in here with your comments. What do you see as potential benefits or arguments against pursuing youth program accreditation in Minnesota?
-- Kate Walker, research associate

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  1. Wow, this is a potentially really hot topic. Speaking from my own experience preparing staff, parents and youth for the NAA accreditation process on U.S. Army bases overseas, I can offer my thoughts on how this requirement of the after-school programs did, usually, lead to better programs and better facilities. I don't think that we would have gotten as far had the process not been required. Staff understood better what quality meant (and thus what to shoot for, and plan for, and train for); parents and youth felt more involved in the decision-making process of and improvements to the program; and military staff who were involved in funding decisions had a better understanding of what expenses were priorities for youth programs.
    I also recognize some of the drawbacks in the table above: there was a lot of paperwork involved, for example, and I can also see where standardization could inhibit innovation. It seems to me that the biggest risk when requiring accreditation is the system becoming a gatekeeper, which is very troubling. Perhaps the next question might be, what would be the consequence for those choosing not to do the process, or not successful in their process?

  2. Thanks for sharing your first-hand experience with youth program accreditation, Heidi! You echo many of the top pros and cons that surfaced in the Minnesota forums. I wonder, in applying NAA’s accreditation process to youth programs on military bases abroad, were there contexts that did not fit well with the model?

  3. Thank you for the information. This is great.

  4. Hey there, Kate. There were adjustments to be made, but, by and large, the NAA model works pretty well for Army Child, Youth & School Services, which is perhaps why it was chosen as the accrediting body (I don't know how this decision was made - just surmising). In its very thoroughness, it a very good way to bring all voices into the process of making the programs better through combination of staff and family education, input and analysis, planning, action improvement, reassessment, and then--only when ready--an endorser visit. It was this whole process that created opportunities for grassroots voice and change that aren't always easy to create in a highly hierarchical organization like the Army.


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