Youth Voice Tools

Youth participants in a Freechild program.

The Freechild Project Youth Voice

The Freechild Project defines Youth Voice as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.

The Freechild Project has been promoting Youth Voice in nonprofit organizations, schools, foundations and government agencies since it was founded in 2001.

Working with a variety of partners across the country, Freechild has learned about Youth Voice from the 1000s of young people and adult allies in our workshops and critical conversations.

Use the Table of Contents below to find some of the tools, examples and resources we have developed and collected over the years.

Youth Voice Tools
Table Of Contents

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Youth Social Entrepreneurship + Social Change

Freechild Project adult ally teaching youth media making skills

Adults depend on children and youth every day. Whether its giving them a role as parents, teachers or youth workers, or having someone to instruct, invest and empower, adults get their meaning and purpose from young people. However, there are times when that has to be made obvious. Youth social entrepreneurship shows us some of those times. When children and youth see serious social issues they can solve on their own or with adults as allies, they can take action, develop enterprises that meet those challenges, and work to sustain their actions.

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Special thanks to Jim Toole for his contributions to this page!

Youth Equity

Freechild Project youth in New Hampshire

When young people are completely equitable with adults, they experience a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split, or any other split of rights and responsibilities when it’s deemed appropriate by young people and adults, and not either group alone.

Youth equity allows everyone involved- young people and adults- to be recognized for their impact in the activity, program, organization or movement. Each group also has ownership of all the outcomes, including specific topic areas, youth development goals, and outcomes on communities. Youth equity requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming the barriers involved.

Allowing adults and young people to have healthy, whole relationships with each other, youth equity moves everyone forward together through action. These relationships can ultimately lead to creating structures that support differences between and among young people and adults by establishing safe, supportive environments with equity at the center of all activities. In turn, this may lead to recreating the climate and culture of communities, and lead to the greatest efficacy of everyone’s involvement.

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. ― Benjamin Franklin

 

Equality and Equity: The difference matters. The Freechild Project

 

What Is Youth Equality With Adults?

When young people are fully equal with adults, they are fully involved in a given activity. In this activity, they experience a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. Theoretically, they also receive equal education, equal resources and equal positions, too.

One of the realities of youth equality is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs of children, youth, or adults. Given the ability to create an equal bar with young people, adults often set that bar at the adults’ level, covertly insisting that children and youth rise to their level instead of vice versa. Without receiving that acknowledgment of their needs, young people may lose interest and become disengaged quickly. This can then allow adults to say, “We treated them equally and they failed; its their fault, not ours.”

However, youth equality with adults can also allow young people to experience full power and authority in relationship to adults. It can also foster the formation of basic youth/adult partnerships and promote rapid awareness building of youth mainstreaming in organizations or communities.

 

What Is Youth Equity With Adults?

When young people are completely equitable with adults, they may experience full authority with exceptional educational opportunities; phenomenal training with growing activities; or other configurations between children, youth and adults. Youth equity with adults can allow for this to be a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split when it’s deemed appropriate by young people and adults.

Everyone involved — young people and adults — are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. Youth/adult equity requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming the barriers involved. It positions adults and young people in healthy, whole relationships with each other while moving forward in action.

Ultimately, youth/adult equity can lead to creating structures to support differences by establishing safe, supportive environments for equitable involvement. In turn, this may lead to recreating the climate and culture of communities, and lead to the greatest efficacy of young peoples’ participation.

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  • Toronto Youth Equity Strategy – Based on the idea that those youth who are most vulnerable to involvement in serious violence and crime do not have equitable access to the comprehensive supports they need to change their lives for the better. The purpose is to address what the City can do to better serve the needs of this specific population, within its authority to plan, manage, deliver, and advocate.

 

 

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Youth Empowerment + Social Change

Students in the SoundOut Summer Camp in Seattle

Youth empowerment is a way young people can experience the full abilities they are born with in order to live the lives they want to live in a world we all share. It is not a process, a product, or an outcome. Instead, youth empowerment comes from the individual attitudes, shared cultures, and everyday structures that children and youth share with adults throughout society. When youth empowerment happens, young people gain the ability, authority and agency they need to visualize, plan, implement, critique and reimagine the realities around them.

“Only through actions do words take power.” — The Freechild Project motto

Ways Youth are Changing the World through Youth Empowerment

Teaching — Young people are teaching adults, youth, and younger people about youth power, youth capacity, youth voice, youth wisdom and community interdependence. By doing this they are helping enable a generation of action and transformation.

Media Making — Developing apps, movies, websites, newspapers and other media is allowing young people to spread the word about their desire and ability to change the world.

Social Entrepreneurship — Working with adults as allies or taking action on their own, young people are creating nonprofits, businesses and other enterprises focused on sustainable changing the world. Their energy and enthusiasm is creating long-term, deep impacts that are transforming their own lives, the lives of their families and friends, and the world around them.

Tools Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Empowerment

Funding — Foundations, funds and investors can step up and support action led by young people becoming empowered, engaged and meaningful agents of change throughout their own lives and the lives of other people.

Education — Understanding, studying, examining, critically deconstructing and building their own learning about the world around them empowers children and youth to take meaningful, substantive action to make the world a better place. It also allows them to understand themselves as not mere actors in the world, but actually as the builders of knowledge.

Opportunities — Adult allies of young people need to create obvious, accessible and awesome opportunities for children and youth to understand their power, opportunities and abilities to make a difference in their own lives and in the world around them. These opportunities should be woven throughout their regular, daily and normal lives in order to increase the visibility and impact they have.

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Special thanks to Peter Berg for his contributions to this page!

Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Programs

Freechild Project youth and adults working together in Seattle

As young people build their knowledge, skills and abilities to change the world, they should have positive, purposeful opportunities to develop and expand their commitment to positive social change. Youth-led programs are opportunities created by individuals and organizations where youth lead planning, decision-making, facilitation, reflection and evaluation on issues that matter to them, using actions they want to use. Through youth/adult partnerships, adults can act in supportive, engaging ways. However, youth always maintain the lead, direction and authority.

Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today. — Alfie Kohn

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Holistic Youth Development

Holistic Youth Development

Holistic Youth Development is a way to think about the ways children and youth grow, learn, and evolve while they are young. It includes activities, cultures and structures that strengthen the entire young person. Instead of treating children and youth as a specific age number interested in a single topic during one time of the day, week, month or year, holistic youth development sees the entire young person all of the time, from birth to adulthood. More people today understand that child development and youth development does not happen in a straight line. Instead, it is all over for different young people, and is driven by the ecology surrounding children and youth. That ecology includes the adults, other young people, the environment, social and economic realities, culture, and many more parts.

I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. ― Audre Lorde

 

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Youth Mainstreaming

Freechild Project youth in a summer camp session

Youth mainstreaming is deliberately creating places and positioning young people throughout society in order to foster full, regular and normalized youth voice everywhere, all of the time. It can happen at home, in schools, business, government, nonprofit organizations, places of worship, and other places. Elected officials, teachers, youth workers, parents, ministers, and many other people can benefit when the voices of youth, including their knowledge, ideas, wisdom and thoughts are actively embedded in decision-making, research, teaching, evaluation, policymaking, and advocacy. Youth mainstreaming is all of this and more, and all of it can change the world.

 

Ways Youth Mainstreaming Can Change the World

Government Agencies — Local, regional, federal and international policymaking organizations can all facilitate youth mainstreaming throughout their functions, from the broad policymaking actions to everyday, operational activities including program facilitation, research, evaluation, and other actions. Policies, procedures, funding and outcomes should all be part of youth mainstreaming activities in these organizations.

Education Systems — On the federal, regional and district levels, youth mainstreaming can revolutionize learning, teaching and leadership throughout schools. Youth mainstreaming in education takes the form of engaging students in every action throughout the education system. It also means changing the roles of students and educators by fostering youth/adult partnerships for every student in every school at every grade level all of the time.

Local Nonprofit Organizations — Local nonprofits / NGOs work on the village, town, city and county levels to address critical community needs in education, public safety, health, the environment, and countless other areas. Infusing children and youth throughout every single part of their operations can lead these organizations to greater degrees of effectiveness in many ways.

 

Things Needed for Youth Mainstreaming to Change the World

Strategy — Perhaps more than any other strategy for young people to change the world, youth mainstreaming depends on deliberate strategies for success. Identifying where and when youth voice should be engaged; educating others about youth mainstreaming; determining different approaches to fostering youth/adult partnerships within systems; creating policies and procedures for mainstreaming; evaluating outcomes; and identifying next steps are all important. Once these strategic steps have been taken, practical action and reflection should begin as soon as possible.

Education — Youth mainstreaming requires addressing all three pillars of social change: individual attitudes; shared cultures; and specific systems. In order to spread ownership, foster support and sustain commitment, educating people about the types of changes that happen within those pillars is essential. Because youth mainstreaming is a responsive approach, education for each area should be different, as organizations vary in their scope, activities and outcomes.

Opportunities — Creating opportunities for youth mainstreaming requires organizational leadership, a program champion and youth advocates. These opportunities require substantive commitments of resources, including staffing, training, supplies and other tools, including sustained and appropriate funding.

 


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming Guide >>


 

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Service Learning

Freechild Project youth and adults working together in Seattle

Service learning weaves classroom learning with real community needs. Working with adults as partners, students must identify challenges, research the issues, identify and create strategies, facilitate action, and infuse reflection throughout activities. Some service learning programs position students in each strategy to enhance youth/adult partnerships through service. Others tie together youth throughout communities in order to build stronger connections, an ethic of service, and mutually beneficial relationships between youth and adults.

Youth voice is crucial to the overall effectiveness of service-learning programs. Youth voice has a tremendous impact on program participation and program outcomes, both short term and long term. — Education Commission of the States

 

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