Investing in Youth Work: Learning from Complexity


  • Kari Denissen Cunnien Ignite Afterschool Minnesota's Afterschool Network



This article proposes key elements for a system of support for youth workers to develop their professional skills and capabilities by using a human development approach.  The article argues that narrowed and bureaucratic approaches to professional development can ignore the complex dynamics of human development that support engaged learning and continuous growth and improvement.  The author suggests a more dynamic system where professional development in grounded by practice; employs reflection, mentorship and coaching; and supports healthy organizational culture to foster high quality youth work.

Author Biography

Kari Denissen Cunnien, Ignite Afterschool Minnesota's Afterschool Network

Kari Denissen Cunnien is the Executive Director of Ignite Afterschool, Minnesota’s Afterschool Network.  In addition to her previous work as the founding director of a city-wide afterschool intermediary, Kari has over 15 years’ experience in the afterschool field where she has been both a frontline youth worker and youth program coordinator. She also has experience in community organizing and coordinating both neighborhood and city-wide collaboratives related to community and youth learning. Kari studied public policy at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.


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