Sustaining Youth Voice

The Freechild Institute Youth Voice Toolkit

Beginning to walk the road of Youth Voice can be exciting for both young people and their adult allies. The energy, enthusiasm and courage can be contagious for other people, too, and they may become motivated to get involved. However, before the thrill is gone and the good times have become work it is important to develop a plan to sustain Youth Voice. Following are some different strategies programs around the world have successfully used. They are into two areas: Build a Strong Foundation and Take Action.

The percentage of children and youth who are disengaged in their lives is surely increasing steadily throughout our country. The mainstream media, politicians, youth program workers, and other people have exploited statistics, research and other tools to make their points about young people, and it has worked.

Build a Strong Foundation: Strategies 1-4

Programs, organizations and communities can build a strong foundation that will effectively engage and sustain Youth Voice. The first four strategies can help young people and adults work together to develop a customized approach that meets their specific, local needs and interests; earn the support and commitment of young people and adults; use insights gained from scientific research; and emphasize engagement and equity to maximize effectiveness and efficiency.

1. Name

Address adultism and ephebiphobia through active Youth Voice programs, organizations and community programs. Six components that can strongly influence student health and learning are involved in engaging Youth Voice throughout our society. Successful Youth Voice programs engage young people in:

  • Equitable youth/adult partnerships – Meaningful, substantive relationships built on justice and fairness.
  • Social networking – A group of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.
  • Meaningful learning – Understanding learning through by applying learning to life instead of through force, aggression, or threats.
  • Safe and supportive environments – Places, spaces and people surrounding young people that embody the ideals of equity, quality and meaning for all young people and adults.
  • Lifelong service – Seeing oneself as part of the larger world is essential for building Youth Voice.
  • Community-wide engagement – Connecting at home, in places of worship, at school, in community organizations, in government agencies and throughout society.

2. Champion

Designate a Youth Voice coordinator in your program, organization and/or community and maintain an Youth Voice program. Identifying a Youth Voice coordinator who focuses on integrating young people throughout your group, organization or community will encourage support and sustainability. They should be the person who is initially responsible for identifying resources, establishing beginning protocols, and convening young and older decision-makers in Youth Voice programs.

3. Reflect

Assess your program, organization or community’s policies and programs and develop a plan for improvements. Self-assessment and planning provide structure for Youth Voice in the way maps guide drivers. A self-assessment will describe where a program is currently, while a plan will show where the group, organization or community wants to go and how they will get there. A Youth Voice plan can be most effective when it focuses on existing policies, practices and programs. It should be guided by research and developed by a collective of young people and adults working in an equitable fashion.

4. Build

Strengthen your program, organization or community’s policies and programs. Group, organization or community policies can dictate how often and in what ways Youth Voice becomes engaged. Policies directly affect young peoples’ opportunities to become engaged, while they also guide adults in decision-making affecting young people throughout our communities. They can support the implementation of all other strategies listed in this article.

Take Action: Strategies 5-10

The next five strategies can help programs, organizations and communities move forward from simple discussion towards action and transformation. These strategies identify powerful activities that can change the hearts, minds and actions of young people and adults.

5. Act

Implement a high-quality Youth Voice initiative in your program, organization and/or community. Youth Voice programs can provide opportunities for young people and their adult allies to participate as equitable partners throughout society.

6. Learn

Provide high-quality workshops in an ongoing basis that builds the skills and knowledge of young people and adults.Education about Youth Voice can provide formal opportunities for young people and adults to acquire knowledge and learn essential skills that can foster youth/adult partnerships and intergenerational equity.

8. Grow

Increase opportunities for young people to engage throughout the programs, organizations and communities they live in. Youth Voice is a cornerstone of a comprehensive approach to promoting civic engagement around the world. All young people, from ages 4 through 25, should have the opportunity to engage their voices throughout the day every day. Youth Voice not only provides opportunities for young people to be engage in youth programs, but also helps build and support the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors, and confidence our entire communities need to create true democracy.

9. Assess

Implement an ongoing Youth Voice evaluation program. Young people and adults can provide powerful ongoing insight into the successes, challenges and failures of Youth Voice. Evaluators should focus on the effects on the individual participants, effects on local youth in general, adults in contact with young participants, and effects on the local community.

10. Continue

Ensure that young people and adults have continuous, progressive, and constructive opportunities to engage throughout their communities. Many organizations and communities offer activities for young people: recreation, education, and religion are often the topics of these activities.  These offerings may dramatically increase young peoples’ confidence or participation in the short range. However, in order to foster these relationships programs, organizations and communities must do more. That is what these opportunities are for.



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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