Copyright 2005
Girl's Best Friend Foundation

Girl's Best Friend Foundation (GBF) closed November 2007. 
GBF’s records are archived with Special Collections of the University
of Illinois, Chicago.  In fall 2008, they will be made public:

Learn with Other Youth Workers

Tips on Putting the Good back into ‘Bye and Taking the Hell out of ‘Lo (staff transitions in youth programs)


  • Be aware that youth are often very loyal to former staff.
  • If you’re fortunate, you may inherit some of that loyalty.
  • Be mindful of how your new position and organization are alike and different from your former. Don’t assume you can or should use the same approaches.
  • “As a new staff person, I oppressed my own voice by listening so hard to youth. I needed to learn how to balance that.”


  • “Finish well, finish strong” – don’t get distracted, don’t fizzle out.
  • Document for the next person.
  • Do talk with youth well in advance, if possible.
  • Take a break between jobs if you possibly can.
  • “By concentrating so much on being there for the girls, I wasn’t so transparent with my own process. It affected my authenticity, and I’d do it differently in the future.”


  • Tell youth why you’re leaving. Good reasons make sense to them, even when they also feel sad, angry, or fearful.
  • Telling youth in a group that you’re leaving is important, especially if followed up by one on one conversation.
  • Acknowledge to youth that staff changes – beginnings and leavings – can be hard, that anger, hurt, and anxiety are common responses. This also needs to happen with youth as a group and one on one.
  • Abrupt changes in staffing especially demand that there are ways for youth to talk collectively about how they are feeling, and for acknowledging those feelings.
  • Frame the positives, too. Point out that the current change is part of a long string of changes that have occurred in the program/organization over time, and remind everyone that programs – like people – do continue and often grow through change.
  • If youth know your successor, your transition out can be much easier for them.
  • Hiring former participants can help promote a powerful sense of continuity for youth in the program.
  • Brief overlapping tenures can be great – but there needs to be a good vibe and commitment on both sides to make it work well.
  • As a matter of course, intentionally create opportunities for youth to meet and know other organizational staff. This helps make clear the whole organization supports and cares about them, and can provide a sense of continuity as individual staff come and go.
  • Invite former program participants to come in and talk about how the program has changed over time, to help youth know that change can be constructive, positive, and/or okay.
  • If there are other staff who are known by youth, ask them to help acknowledge youth’s feelings and convey the message that the program will continue to be there for them.


  • Deliberately create and support environments in which staff can grow in their jobs, and move on as that is right for them. Where possible, create opportunities for continuing professional development and increased/different responsibility and pay.
  • Don’t equate departure with disloyalty.
  • Make time and space to talk together about departures.
  • Exit interviews can be used to capture and document useful info for the new staffer.


  • When you say you’re leaving, tell those you work with what you’ve learned from and with them, and talk about how you will carry those ideas and skills forward with you.
  • Document the work you’ve done, so it can easily be passed on to your successor.


  • Document everything – staff meetings, planning, decisions, etc.
  • Evaluate as you go. Is it working? What needs to be tweaked, radically revised, maintained? Document this too.
  • Find someone with whom you can process your work. Document.
  • Help adults and youth anticipate and respect that staff will leave.
  • Make the workings of the nonprofit as transparent as possible, and teach youth what it takes to make it work.
  • As youth are hired, anticipate some concern from other youth that “now you have power over me.” This is not necessarily a huge challenge, but probably is predictable.
  • Training all youth in a set of communication/work skills can build a common language and ability that encourages mutual support, solidarity, and self-expression.
  • Succession that builds toward deeper youth leadership is exciting!


  • Transition of youth to staff roles.
  • Transition of older youth (18-24) to other programs or community roles.
  • Youth as board members.

Thanks to Yas Ahmed,former director of Sisters Empowering Sisters, who lightly facilitated a conversation around staff transitions in youth programs that resulted in the above tips.

Tips on negotiating youth/adult relationships

Healthy relationships are grounded in trust, honesty, and respect.

Youth determine the boundaries for sharing personal information, and adults inform them (meaning that, ultimately, adults have the power to interrupt/stop something).

It's important to acknowledge that as a youth workers, you have power and control as adults.

Be able to articulate why you work with young people. Young people like hearing why others do what they do and think what they think. Your words can help them fit you into their worlds.

Not all relationships with youth in the program are -- or should be -- the same, qualitatively.

To increase trust and safety within a group:

  • Acknowledge and recognize the strength, knowledge, and caretaking spirit of the youth with whom you work.
  • Use tension diffusers when a group conversation seems awkward. Check in; make giggle time if a topic is uncomfortable; create opportunities for anonymous questions, in the group or through a drop-box; instead of asking "What do you want to know?" at the beginning of a group conversation, ask "How's your day been?'"
  • To create and sustain an open space where youth can just be themselves, sometimes it's important to let go of curriculum.

Be intentional about how you share information:

  • Rethink "sharing." It doesn't have to be about divulging information -- it can be sharing energy, talents.
  • Figure out how much to share, by knowing what you want. If you view working with young people as a 9-5 and want boundaries to be clearly demarcated, be selective in how much you open yourself up in ways that are really personal.
  • Share to express who you are, but only share what you have worked through.
  • There are incremental ways to negotiate the personal between youth and adults.

It's important to take care of yourself as a youth worker.

  • This work becomes part of your personal -- thoughtfully consider what that means and what you need to do in response to it.
  • Part of taking care of you is being taken care of. Remember that youth also want to be caretakers and teachers, so giving them the opportunity not only to share in your experiences and energy but also to take care of you in appropriate ways can strengthen your relationship with them.
  • Remember the relationship is two-way. Everyone gets something from everyone else.

Here are four proven ways to care for yourself when girls' painful lives and stories resonate in you:

  • Commit yourself to debrief sessions with your co-facilitator. If you work solo, try to journal immediately after sessions, as a check-in.
  • Have peer exchange sessions with other facilitators/mentors on a regular basis to debrief/decompress
  • Schedule a fun, kick-back kind of session once in a while to let youth and you relax, and maybe reflect after a hard situation.
  • Try writing a letter to the youth you work with, or give an opportunity for everyone to journal at the beginning of a session, after a harder session. This can be a good way to debrief to move ahead.

Thanks to Mariame Kaba of the Young Women's Action Team for facilitating the discussion among youth workers that generated these tips.

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