The Accordion Effect : Squeezing Quality in New York and Beyond



The Accordion Effect: Is Quality in Afterschool Getting the Squeeze?

This probing analysis of the impact upon youth work in the USA of top-down measures of accountability and predetermined outcomes resonates across the oceans. Written by Dana Fusco, Ann Lawrence, Susan Matloff-Nieves and Esteban Ramos it deserves a wide audience here in the UK. It can be downloaded as the first article in the current issue of the Journal of Youth Development : Bridging Research and Practice

Abstract: Community-based after-school programs remain places
that support youth development. However, in most places quality is
getting the squeeze, making it more difficult to meet the growing
needs of youth and parents. This article describes the impact of
increased external and regulatory pressures that have taken hold at
a time of reduced financial and social capital. In this article, we
name the factors that are creating what we call The Accordion Effect
and describe its ‘squeezing’ impact on quality programming. We
conclude with recommendations for reclaiming quality youth work, a
practice that we believe must remain holistic and emergent.

Just a few quotes to give you a flavour of its challenging content, drawing on case studies and arguing passionately for faith in relational principles.

The youth work of the past was a relational practice that was supported by more humanistic policies and leaders spoke of times when you could expose young people to the vast world around them,broaden their horizons and restore hope. This was done gradually through a variety of experiences that emerged from getting to know the young people, their dreams, wishes, questions, concerns, misconceptions, and ideas were released and then built upon. Youth work was not ‘about’ something predetermined but was an emergent, responsive way of being with young people that dealt with multiple personal and social needs. What was common across the group’s memories was the impact that was observed in a wide array of developmental outcomes from this sort of practice, e.g., the tough girl who finally let her shield down through a meeting without punching someone, the teen who was accepted to college, or a young person for whom English is a second language who found her public voice.

In the name of accountability, youth work is diminished to results that are easily measurable, but not necessarily most important. Children and youth are seen as widgets that can be fixed more efficiently if the right algorithm is applied.

Youth work is a relational practice that is both holistic and emergent.




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