Creating Safe and Supportive Youth Voice Environments

The Freechild Institute Youth Voice Toolkit

Creating a safe and supportive environment is essential for engaging Youth Voice in a program, organization, or throughout a community. The environment includeseverything around a young person, including the culture, structures, and climate. The vast majority of programs, organizations or communities that seek to engage Youth Voice are adult-driven, which makes it vital for adults to work with young people to create these environments, rather than assume that they must do all the work.

  • Climate is the way people behave, their attitudes and feelings within a program, organization or throughout a community.
  • Structure includes the responsibilities, systems, authority and relations that allow a program, organization or community to perform its functions.
  • Culture includes the attitudes, values, beliefs, and typical patterns of relationships, behavior, and performance that characterize the program, organization, or community.

Each of these elements alone is interesting and important. However, all of them together form the complete environment. Without paying attention to creating and sustaining these elements intentionally, Youth Voice will not be safe and supported.

Elements of Safe and Supportive Youth Voice Environments

Elements to Support Youth Voice by The Freechild Project
Elements to Support Youth Voice include the climate, structure and culture of schools.

The following are essential elements in creating a safe and supportive environment for Youth Voice.

Safe and Supportive Youth Voice Environments Element 1: Climate

  • Adults in believe that engaging Youth Voice in a variety of roles is important and possible.
  • Young people and adults acknowledge their mutual investment, dedication, and benefit, and it is made visible in relationships, practices, policies, and organizational culture.

  • Adults do not talk about youth in the third person or otherwise act as if young people are not present, when in fact they are.
  • Youth Voice is validated and authorized through adults’ regular acknowledgement of their ability to improve programs, organizations and schools.

  • There is a general sentiment among the majority of adults and youth that engaging Youth Voice is a key to success.

Safe and Supportive Youth Voice Environments Element 2: Structure

  • The voices, strengths, talents, actions and achievements of young people are continuously focused on in our program, organization or community, and are infused throughout all components of all activities.
  • Important activities focused on young people are done withyoung people, including research, planning, teaching, evaluation, decision-making and advocacy.
  • Before any activities in which they’re engaged young people have opportunities to learn about the issues, agendas, politics and processes they are going to participate in.
  • Programs and organizations have made Youth Voice part of plans, activities and evaluations, and young people have contributed throughout the process.
  • Youth Voice is incorporated into ongoing, sustainable activities throughout the group, organization or community.

  • Youth are encouraged and supported to invite other young people or adult allies to support them.
  • The voices of young people of all ages are engaged throughout the program, organization or community.

Safe and Supportive Youth Voice Environments Element 3: Culture

  • Young people feel comfortable asking for clarification of acronyms, definitions, concepts, or asking critical questions about assumptions, activities and other components.
  • Young people are never lectured about their behavior, attitudes, input or other perceptions adults may have of them. Instead, adults and young people are treated as equal partners, each with valuable contributions to make to the program, organization or community.
  • Issues addressed by Youth Voice are not limited to so-called “youth issues”; instead, young people are seen and treated as members of the entire community. “Their” issues are the community’s issues, and the communities issues are theirs.



Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can help support youth voice in your community or organization, contact us.

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