Core competencies are the capabilities that are critical for afterschool staff to deliver high quality programs. They establish agreements across programs and funding streams about what it takes to work with and on behalf of youth. These competencies are intended to set a foundation for professional development, provide opportunities for career advancement, and inform program quality and continuous improvement.

A National Perspective of Core Competencies

Core competencies vary from state to state, but all detail the skills, knowledge, mindsets, and practices that are responsive to youth, families, schools, and communities. According to the 2017 update to the Landscape of Quality, 26 state networks currently have statewide core knowledge and competency frameworks for afterschool staff, and 11 state networks are in the process of developing such frameworks.

Existing competency frameworks are excellent resources for networks that are developing their own frameworks. Networks also can reference two national competency frameworks:

Systematic reviews of core competencies for afterschool staff suggest some consensus regarding the skill areas that appear in various competency frameworks. The topic areas are as follows:

  • Child/youth development (NIOST, 2009; Vance, 2010)
  • Cognitive development
  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Diversity or cultural competence
  • Health/wellness
  • Partnering with families and communities
  • Positive behavior guidance
  • Professionalism
  • Professional development
  • Program environment
  • Program management
  • Safety
  • Social and emotional development

Core Competencies Guide Professional Development

Core competencies are useful for structuring professional development opportunities for staff; hiring and other personnel management activities, including writing job descriptions, interviewing new staff, and conducting performance reviews of current staff; and creating long-term professional development plans. Because competencies are concrete, observable, and achievable, they establish standards of practice that strengthen the profession. They can be used to define staff goals and needs and design evaluation mechanisms for tracking progress toward professional goals. When referenced consistently, competencies empower both established and emerging staff to learn, reflect, and improve their practice.

Core Competencies Support Career Advancement

Core competencies define the expected day-to-day knowledge and mindsets for all staff, including volunteers, in and across programs. Thus, they can be used to set performance standards. When these performance standards are linked to professional growth, they can lead to career advancement for staff. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) self-assessment tool is useful for staff who are interested in developing professional growth plans, which, when completed, can be a first step toward career advancement.

Core Competencies Inform Quality Improvement

Core competencies help programs, policymakers, and afterschool systems develop statewide support for quality afterschool programs. High quality programs can increase student academic achievement; social and emotional development; school attendance; student engagement; study habits; and relationships between youth, families, and school staff. Core competencies set goals and standards for training, education, and professional development to promote program quality.


For more tools and resources related to core competencies, explore our Resources and Tools page.

Further Reading

Core Competencies for the OST Field (Book Chapter): In Chapter 8 of The Growing Out-of-School Time Field: Past, Present, and Future, leaders from the NAA (Gina Hilton Warner and Heidi Ham) and the 4-H Extension Education (Melissa Pearman Fenton) explore how practitioners are using the NAA’s Core Knowledge and Competencies in the field. The authors also recommend steps to further build a shared understanding of competencies for the afterschool workforce.

Youth Work Core Competencies: A Review of Existing Frameworks and Purposes (PDF): The Next Generation Youth Work Coalition elevates the common characteristics of 14 sets of core competencies, including content, structure, and system-level uses.

A Comparative Analysis of Competency Frameworks for Youth Workers in the Out-of-School Time Field (Journal Article): In an article published in Child & Youth Care Forum, AIR expert Femi Vance compares 11 domestic and international competency frameworks for youth workers and identifies a set of 12 common competency areas.

New Foundations for the 4-H Youth Development Profession (PDF): The National Professional Development Task Force for 4-H uses findings from the 4-H Professional Research, Knowledge, and Competencies Study to propose six core knowledge and competency domains.