Facilitating Positive Youth Development through Residential Camp: Exploring Perceived Characteristics of Effective Camp Counsellors and Strategies for Youth Engagement


  • Tanya Halsall University of Ottawa
  • Kelsey Kendellen University of Ottawa
  • Corliss Bean University of Ottawa
  • Tanya Forneris University of Ottawa




Leadership, positive youth development, program administration. residential camp, staff perceptions, youth engagement, qualitative


Previous research has demonstrated that participation in a residential camp can lead to positive outcomes such as the development of a sense of identity, increased responsibility, enhanced self-esteem, and improved social skills. Despite these promising findings, there is minimal research that examines the specific processes that lead to these positive outcomes. Researchers have identified that leader characteristics and youth engagement play an important role in influencing outcomes within positive youth development programs. The purpose of this study was to explore perceived camp counsellor characteristics and strategies for youth engagement that are believed to facilitate positive youth development within the residential camp setting. This study applied a qualitative exploratory approach to collect data from residential camp counsellors. The research took place at a Canadian residential summer camp that serves children and youth between the ages of 8 and 16 primarily from low-income families. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with camp counsellors and a thematic analysis was used to identify themes. The results outline two main themes: perceived characteristics of an effective camp counsellor and youth engagement strategies. Within the first theme related to characteristics of being an effective counsellor, four subthemes emerged, including (a) being understanding and compassionate, (b) ability to maintain equanimity, (c) having a sense of humour, and (d) being a positive role model. Within the second theme related to strategies for youth engagement, there were four themes, including (a) individualizing the activities, (b) facilitating initial engagement by making it fun, (c) creating an autonomy-supportive environment, and (d) providing leadership opportunities. Findings are discussed in relation to current research and recommendations are provided regarding how to utilize these findings in an applied context. These include recommendations related to (a) the utilization of recruitment and training approaches that aim to identify necessary staff characteristics in new recruits and promote these characteristics with new camp counsellors, (b) the provision of programs and services that support stress management for staff while working in the camp context, and (c) the development of capacity building opportunities for staff that includes evidence-based training on how to engage youth and highlights best practices for initially engaging youth as well as how to maintain engagement over time.

Author Biographies

Tanya Halsall, University of Ottawa

PhD (c); School of Human Kinetics; University of Ottawa

Kelsey Kendellen, University of Ottawa

PhD (c), School of Human Kinetics; University of Ottawa

Corliss Bean, University of Ottawa

PhD (c), School of Human Kinetics; University of Ottawa

Tanya Forneris, University of Ottawa

Associate Professor, School of Human Kinetics; University of Ottawa





Special Issue on Youth Development Part I