For a long time, the only formal position every young person held in society was that of young person. That has changed. Today, young people increasingly have more important positions, including that of decision-makers, planners, researchers, and more. The following Ladder of Youth Voice was created to encourage youth and adults to examine why and how young people participate throughout communities. Think of specific activities youth are involved in, and measure them against the following tool.
It is important to recognize that the Ladder of Youth Voice is not meant to represent the whole community at once. Instead, it represents each specific instance of youth voice. That means that rather than say a whole classroom is rung 4, several youth could be experiencing that they are at that rung while others are experiencing that they’re at rung 6.
For a long time, determining which rung a young person is at was left to perception and position: If an adult believed the youth on their committee were at rung 6, and the youth believed they were at rung 8, they simply agreed to disagree. The following rubric can help provide a clearer explanation of what youth voice looks like.
Today, youth are increasingly engaged as researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates. With this knowledge in mind, the rungs of the Ladder can help youth and adults identify how youth are currently involved in communities, and give them goals to aspire towards.Roger Hart, a sociologist for UNICEF who originally developed the Ladder, intended the first three rungs to represent forms of non-participation. However, while the first rung generally represents the nature of all youth voice in communities with the threat of “attend or fail”, there are more roles for youth than ever before throughout the education system. Rungs 6, 7, and 8 generally represent youth/adult partnerships, or intentional arrangements designed to foster authentic youth engagement in communities.
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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.