Community Development and Planning (CDP)

Youth Work Specialization

About the Specialization

Whether leading a youth development organization, managing youth programs, or working at the frontlines, a youth worker puts young people’s wellbeing at the center of her/his efforts.  Youth work is about building trust-filled, mutually respectful relationships with young people and helping them to develop knowledge, skills, and a sense of purpose.  Youth workers create safe environments for young people and guide those harmed by oppressive community conditions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism through a process of healing and building resilience.  Youth workers connect with young people that other individuals and institutions have failed to engage. 

In IDCE’s Community Development and Planning Program, you can specialize in Youth Work to develop the knowledge and skills to advance this important profession.

Teaching and Learning

In CDP’s Youth Work Specialization, learning happens in the context of a Community of Practice consisting of aspiring, novice, and experienced youth workers.  The foundation of the Youth Work specialization involves the knowledge and experience of youth workers.  Their dilemmas, presented in the form of case studies, are among the major texts students grapple with in their course of study.  The use of dilemma stories is not prescriptive or focused on ‘how to do youth work’.  Rather, dilemma stories inspire reflective, deliberate dialogue about youth work.  They allow consideration of how the youth worker’s identity and background, organizational policy, community context, and the situations of youth intersect in complex ways that require careful consideration when attempting to resolve problems in the field. Engaging with actual dilemmas is an excellent way to make the practice of youth work transparent and to develop a critical, reflective stance.     

In the Youth Work specialization, students can select from a wide array of courses offered by IDCE as well as other departments at Clark.  A sample of courses includes: Youth and Community Development, Program Evaluation, Critical Pedagogies, Nonprofit Management, and Grant writing, among others.  Faculty involved in this specialization come from seven departments and centers on campus and are all directly engaged in some form of youth work practice or research:

  • Jeffrey Arnett, Psychology
  • David Bell, International Development and Social Change
  • Katerine Bielaczyc, Hiatt Center for Urban Education
  • Ramon Borges-Mendez, Community Development and Planning
  • Nigel Brissett, International Development and Social Change
  • Eric DeMeulenaere, Education
  • Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland, Strassler Center
  • Sarah Michaels, Education and Communication and Culture
  • Seana Moran, Psychology
  • Ousmane Power-Greene, History
  • Laurie Ross, Community Development and Planning

Several articles have been published or are in development about the program’s approach to youth worker professional development:

Ross, L. (under review-conditional accept) Urban Youth Workers’ Use of ‘Personal Knowledge’ in Resolving Complex Dilemmas of Practice. Child & Youth Services.

Ross, L.(2012). Disrupting Borders: A Case Study in Engaged Pedagogy.  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.19:(1).

Ross, L., Buglione, S., & Safford, J. (2011). Training the ‘Wizards’:  Integrating Formal Teaching with Peer Learning to Develop Knowledge, Skills, and Self-Efficacy in Community-Based Youth Workers.  Child and Youth Services, 32, (200-223).

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Community Engaged Scholarship

Students can get involved in several ongoing research projects associated with the Youth Work specialization.  All of these projects work directly with community partners and are committed to improving conditions for vulnerable youth in the city.

Statewide Research Partner on the Shannon Community Safety Initiative

In January 2013, Laurie Ross, Associate Professor of Community Development and Planning and Ellen Foley, Associate Professor of International Development and Social Change, received a $75,000 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to serve as the Statewide Research Partner on the Shannon Community Safety Initiative.   The Shannon Community Safety Initiative supports regional and multi-disciplinary approaches to combat gang and youth violence through the implementation of the Comprehensive Gang Model, an evidence-based and intentional integration of prevention, intervention, suppression, organizational change, and community mobilization strategies.   This multi-disciplinary approach includes law enforcement initiatives such as ‘hot spot analysis’ and anti-gang task forces; coordinated reentry programs for young adults and juvenile offenders; and education and employment programs for high-risk youth.  Currently 28 cities and towns in Massachusetts are funded.  The communities that have received funding have:

  • High levels of youth violence and gang problems
  • A comprehensive plan to work with multi-disciplinary partners
  • A commitment to coordinated prevention and intervention strategies

As the Statewide Research Partner on this initiative, Ross and Foley’s work has four main objectives:

  • To ensure that the funded partners’ have a comprehensive definition of the gang and youth violence problem in their communities.
  • To ensure that funded partners’ strategies address the defined community problem and are aligned with best practices in the field.
  • To develop a reporting system that can capture the activities and outcomes of each community’s efforts to address youth and gang violence.
  • Ultimately to conclude the impact of a “Shannon Dollar” on reducing youth and gang violence throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Local Action Research Partner (LARP) with Worcester’s Shannon Initiative

In addition to serving as the statewide research partner, Foley and Ross also provide action research and evaluation support to Worcester’s efforts to address youth and gang violence.  As Worcester’s LARP, Ross and Foley with the support of graduate student research assistants, are engaged in qualitative and quantitative data gathering and analysis, as well as in the development of a shared information management system to facilitate the monitoring of activities and outcomes.  Local partners on this project include:  Worcester Police Department Gang Unit, Boys & Girls Club, Worcester Youth Center, Worcester Community Action Council. 

Several publications have already come out of our work.

Foley, E., Ross, L. and Arista, C. (2013).  Basketball Courts, Street Corners, and Empty Lots:  The Spatial Dimensions of Youth Fear and Vulnerability to Violence.  Children, Youth, and Environments, 23(1).  In press.

Ross, L. and E. Foley (2012). Using Action Research to Support Strategic Thinking and Data-Driven Decision-Making in Gang and Youth Violence Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression in Worcester. In E. Gebo and B. Bond, (Eds). Looking Beyond Suppression: Community Strategies to Reduce Gang Violence.Lexington Books:  Maryland, 37-60.

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What is the Value of Youth Work?

A collective of Clark University faculty, CDP alumni, and local youth workers have initiated an action research project entitled, “What is the Value of Youth Work?”  The primary purpose of this action research inquiry is to understand three dimensions of the value of youth work in Worcester, MA:  1) What is the economic value (i.e. how are youth workers compensated monetarily)?; 2) What is the technical value (i.e. what skills do youth workers possess)?; and 3) What is the substantive value (i.e. what values underlie youth work, what special knowledge do youth workers hold, how does the community benefit from the youth work sector)?   We are exploring these questions through a two-part process in which youth workers in Worcester are being asked to fill out a brief survey that takes roughly 15 minutes to fill out and then members of our research collective conduct semi-structured interviews with roughly 40 youth workers who filled out the survey.  Findings from this research will be shared through a variety of community forums during summer and fall of 2013.  Our hope is to inspire dialogue and greater community understanding of the critical role youth workers play in Worcester and beyond.       

The Compass Project:  Addressing Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in Worcester

The Compass Project is a community-wide initiative committed to the primary and secondary prevention of youth and young adult homelessness in Worcester.  Funded by the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, the initiative includes the development of a “network” of low-barrier access points across Worcester to ensure a coordinated system of care for at-risk youth and their families and intensive case management for young people who are at risk or in the early stages of homelessness.  It also entails the development of a legislative agenda to advocate for systems and policies that decrease the likelihood of youth and young adult homelessness in Worcester.  Providers involved with this project are committed to creating an asset-focused system of care that is informed by principles of Positive Youth Development and community collaboration.  Clark students can get involved in a number of activities related to the monitoring and evaluation of this groundbreaking initiative including the annual Point in Time Survey of Homeless Youth and Young Adults and a social network analysis of partners involved in the Network.

Strengthening Worcester’s Youth Work Professional Education System

Finally, CDP’s specialization in Youth Work Practice is an integral part of Worcester’s youth development system through the Worcester Youth Work Inquiry Network and the Worcester Youth Workers Alliance.

Youth Work Inquiry Network Worcester Youth Worker Alliance

Clark partners with dynamic youth-serving organizations in the Worcester Youth Work Inquiry Network (YWIN). YWIN promotes dialogue and reflection on youth work practice within and between these organizations and opens career opportunities for Clark students and local youth workers.  YWIN sponsors workshops, conferences, and white papers on practice and is a critical component in building the youth work field and profession.

Clark students have access to high quality internships at YWIN agencies.  The internships emphasize experience in front line youth work, program administration and management, and governance of youth-serving organizations.

Examples of organizations in the Network include:

  • Boys & Girls Club
  • Girls Inc.
  • Worcester Youth Center
  • Straight Ahead Ministries
  • Friendly House

Over 100 youth workers from more than 20 agencies from Greater Worcester participate in the Worcester Youth Worker Alliance.   Inspired by a Clark course on youth work and sustained through monthly meetings and a two-day symposium, the Alliance has five main objectives:

  • To increase youth workers’ awareness of community programs and resources in order to better serve the youth of Worcester;
  • To have a space in which to share stories and best practices to improve practice;
  • To organize formal professional development and training opportunities;
  • To raise the community’s awareness of the important role youth workers play in Worcester. 
  • To forge a strong youth worker identity and common vision for youth development and to express this identity and vision through an agenda for youth work in the city of Worcester.

Clark faculty are part of the Alliance and provide action research support to the Alliance’s efforts.


For more information about the Youth Work specialization, please contact Laurie Ross, 508-793-7642,

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[ Spotlight Profile ]

Amar Azucena Cid
(CDP '08)

As a CDP student, Amar Azucena Cid challenged herself to take a wide range of courses, work part-time, and participate in many extra curricular activities. "The courses I took helped to strengthen my ability to look at how community planning needs a holistic approach, bringing housing, transportation, nutrition, and diverse populations to the table."

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