Working with Diverse Youth: Guidelines for Achieving Youth Cultural Competency in Recreation Services


  • Corliss Wilson Outley
  • Peter A. Witt


youth development, cultural competency, diversity, youth programs


There has been a growing interest among recreational services in becoming culturally competent in order to work with diverse communities. Many professionals have knowledge regarding cultural sensitivity or awareness of the importance of cultural differences when providing services. And even more have participated in culture-specific training to acquire skills needed to provide these services. However, there is now a need to view cultural competency as a system or quality of care issue where each recreation service provider is held accountable to providing responsive and culturally competent services.

Given the demographic changes regarding people of color within the United States, much interest has centered on providing culturally appropriate approaches to recreation services. Why? Because we are continually reminded that the traditional “minority” groups will be the “majority” in the very near future. This is especially true when attempting to provide services to children and youth of color, where traditional programs and services developed by and for the European American culture have often failed to engage youth of color. Issues around misinterpretations, lack of knowledge, and racism exist for those with cultures other than European American and can lead many youth of color to appear to be disinterested and/or rebellious regarding recreational programs and services when those determinations may be inaccurate. Recent research also illustrates that youth of color benefit from strong culture-specific programs and from staff who are caring and sensitive regarding racial and cultural differences (Belgrave, Chase-Vaughn, Gray, Addison and Cherry, 2005).

With the rising costs of delivering services and the increased emphasis on providing quality services, professional associations, local government parks and recreation departments, non-profit agencies and program funders are increasingly seeking definitions, assessments and guidelines for addressing cultural competency. Guidelines are important because they provide professionals a systematic source of recommended behaviors to follow. This paper is a starting point for the field by suggesting specific guidelines for becoming culturally competent when working with youth of color. As advocated in this paper, changes must take place not only in the provision of direct services but also in professional-community relations and, ultimately in the way recreational professionals and others are prepared to work with youth of color. The guidelines provided here emphasize a sociocultural framework that considers values, interactional styles, and cultural expectations as well as the influence of the family, cultural, social and environmental contextual factors.