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 "This volume is a call to action and humility-for adults. It is also a celebration of youth activism, historic and contemporary, and intergenerational commitments to queer, immigrant, environmental and critical racial justice."

Dr. Michelle Fine 

Graduate Center, City University of New York

What role can (or should) adults play in supporting youth voice, learning, and activism?


What approaches and strategies in youth-adult partnerships are effective in promoting positive youth development, individual and collective well-being, and setting-level change?

How do we navigate youth-adult partnerships in the face of societal oppressions such as adultism, racism, and misogyny? 

Through highlighting contemporary cases of authentic youth-adult collaboration in youth programs, this fourth volume in the Current Issues in Out-of-School Time series (published by IAP) aims to introduce, engage, and sharpen educators’ understandings of the power and promise of these relationships.


Together, the authors in this volume suggest that both building youth-adult partnerships and actively reflecting on intergenerational work are foundational practices to achieving transformational change in our OST organizations, schools, neighborhoods, and communities.

"Failed By The System"
Emmylou Nicolle
At Our Best, pages 221-222
Copyright © 2020 by Information Age Publishing
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved


Positive relationships between youth and adults are the heart of thriving community-based out-of-school time programs. Whether these programs are focused on the arts, academics, or community activism, we suggest that a partnership model levels up what relationship building between adults and youth can look like and accomplish, particularly when it comes to collective goals and well-being. In a partnership model, we move toward disrupting the hierarchy of adult-youth interactions and break away from both ageist and racist stereotypes of youth, such as perceptions of youth as being "at risk" or in need of control.


While centering youth voice and leadership are often considered "promising practices" for working with adolescents, research rarely investigates the elements and practices of authentic collaborations between adults and youth. Our authors delve into the complexities and tensions of what it means to commit to a partnership approach.

Educators at the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality describe a set of factors that influence the quality of youth programming including safety, support, positive interactions, and engagement (Smith et al., 2011). Here, we add youth-adult partnerships as a central vertebrae of quality youth programming.

Figure 1.2_Factors influencing the quali


We draw on Roger Hart’s article for UNICEF in 1992, entitled Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship, where he defined authentic child participation in civic activity as “the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the life of the community in which one lives” (Hart, 1992, p.5). In his "ladder of participation," Hart considers the ways in which young people are engaged in activities in relation to adults. 


We additionally build on the research of Shepherd Zeldin, Brian Christens, and Jane Powers, who have defined youth-adult partnership as the practice of, “(a) multiple youth and multiple adults deliberating and acting together; (b) in a collective fashion; (c) over a sustained period of time; (d) through shared work; (e) intended to promote social justice, strengthen an organization and/or affirmatively address a community issue” (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2012, p.388). This definition resonates with our experiences working in and studying OST programs, as well as the perspectives of many contributors to our volume.


In out-of-school time programs, just as in schools, youth-adult partnerships require everyone to push against hierarchical relationships and pervasive, negative constructions of youth as incapable, “at risk,” or “in need of control.” Striving toward partnership necessitates an interrogation of how we conceive of youth development, and relatedly requires us to shift our expectations to community development, collective wellbeing, and societal goals rather than the current preoccupation with individual development and outcomes.



The authors in our edited volume express the importance of the following foundational elements of youth-adult partnerships:

(1) Developing trusting relationships, which requires adults to foster respectful and developmentally appropriate relationships with youth, and also recognizes the role of organizational leadership and structure to ensure consistency of programming and care for all involved

(2) Centering the use of problem-posing methodologies, which means engaging in activities and practices in which both adults and youth are viewed as capable of critical questions and insights

(3) Prioritizing engagement in democratic participation across all levels of an organization or collective, which could look like co-constructing the purpose of a program, equalizing voice, engaging in collective visioning, offering transparency, and distributing leadership roles

(4) Committing to collective action, wellbeing, and outcomes

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