Dilemmas of Practice: Challenges to Program Quality Encountered by Youth Program Leaders

Reed W. Larson, Kathrin C. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


To create and sustain high quality youth development programs it is important to understand the challenging situations and dilemmas that emerge in program leaders' daily work with youth. In this research the experiences of leaders in 12 programs were followed over a 2-9 month period, which led to the identification of 250 dilemma situations. Qualitative analyses identified 5 categories and 12 subcategories of dilemmas that reflected distinct types of considerations (e. g., youth's personalities, relationships with the community). The analyses also found that the experienced leaders in the study typically responded to these dilemmas in ways that were youth-centered and that balanced multiple considerations. It is argued that researchers need to go beyond identifying features of high quality programs, and more fully examine how effective leaders create and sustain high quality in response to the challenging situations of practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-349
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Community Psychology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We would like to thank the program leaders and youth who shared their experiences with us. We also thank the William T. Grant Foundation for its support of this research; Joyce Walker, Andrew Tonachel, and Ted Christians for their input and ideas; and Nickki Pearce, Vikki Rompala, Aimee Rickman, Jane Brown, Patrick Sullivan, and Chidori Harris for valuable contributions to this work.


  • Adolescence
  • Practitioner dilemmas
  • Program quality
  • Youth development
  • Youth practice
  • Youth work


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