Freechild Youth Handbook

Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute

“Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.” — A.S. Neill

The Freechild Institute wants YOU —young people right now—to have the tools and examples you need to get engaged and change the world! This section of our website is The Freechild Project Youth Handbook, and it’s for YOU.

Table of Contents

  1. Inspire: Who inspires you? Read these stories to light the fire inside you »
  2. Knowledge: What do you know? What do you want to know? Click here to learn more »
  3. People: Who are the youth who can change the world? Click here to find details »
  4. Issues: Which issues do youth take action to change? Click here to get ideas »
  5. Places: Where are young people fighting for change? Click here to get ideas »
  6. Actions: What do youth do to change the world? Click here to explore »
  7. Strategies: What are the best ways for action to happen? Click here for examples »
  8. Systems: What are the levers to change organizations, governments and society? Click here to discover them »
  9. Scale: Do you think global and act local? Click here to learn how! »
  10. Planning: Make real change with purpose and create real change. Click here for tools »
  11. Celebrating: Look back, lift up, and make a difference. Click here for ideas »

As you use our online Handbook, keep in mind this is supposed to help you change the world. If it doesn’t work, tell us! If you want to thank us, do that. If you’re inspired, share it with your friends!

The World Needs YOU To Change It Right Now!

Please Don’t Wait Any Longer.

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Stories of Youth Changing the World

Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute

The following stories are about young people who decided there was a need in their community, and then took action to meet that need.  Some projects were one-time, and some are on going.  These stories can inspire, infuriate, and empower youth to change the world, and adults to be partners.

1. Cleanin’ It Up and Changing Our Neighborhoods

Katie, 15, from Kansas City, Missouri, decided that her community’s streets were an eye sore and it was time to do something about it. “Cleaning up the streets is needed in my community because it looks trashy and I thought if we could clean it up, we could make a difference not only in my eyes, but other people’s eyes too.  I would like to see a nice clean community that people care what it looks like.”

2. Takin’ Care of Kids: Teens Helping Kids

Rachel, 13, from Nashville, Tennessee, and her friends are concerned about children who have serious emotional disturbance (SED) so they created a hotline for kids to call, get advice or just talk.  They also created a public service announcement about SED.  “The ‘Kid Counselors’ give information and resources to the callers.  We want to help bring awareness to the issues surrounding mental illness and help kids with SED to be accepted as an important part of our community.”

3. Voices of the Past: Recording the History to Affect the Future

Kristen, 14, from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, records the thoughts and stories of World War II and Korean War veterans.  “I think it will give the youth of my community a better understanding of what happened during the war.  Hopefully, it will also give us a greater respect to the men and women who sacrificed their time, effort, support and sometimes lives so we can be free today.”

4. WE Own Our Communities: Knowledge is Power

Blair, 15, from Moorestown, New Jersey, has joined forces with community leaders to reclaim a neglected community center and continue to transform it into a library with computers for inner city kids.  “Volunteerism opens a myriad of different culture and races, we have a unique opportunity to look at the work through their eyes and ‘walk in their shoes.’”

5. Taking Care of Ourselves: Bringing Youth Towards Economic Independence

Shawneequa, 17, from Norfolk, Virginia, started Youth Empowerment Virginia.  The project is committed to assisting youth in reaching their academic, social and economic potential.  The program fosters independence and responsibility, empowering more youth with their own desires to become active, constructive caring members of the community through better leadership skills, social skills and educational services.

6. Project Unity: Getting Students Voice Heard Through Technology

Project Unity was founded in November of 1999 by a group of students from schools across Washington County, Pennsylvania. Project Unity’s goals are to allow students to discuss school, community, or family problems with each other and to find a solution that will benefit all involved. Using today’s technology, they wish to unite a county and the people within that county to save time, money, and lives. This group feels that they can make a difference by relying on the principles of honesty, hard work, leadership, and perseverance. These students are the leaders of tomorrow, and they’re starting today.

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Elsewhere Online


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

Additional Resources for Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter VI: Next Steps | Introduction to Youth Mainstreaming >>

There are several resources available on Youth Mainstreaming. They include some of the following.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter VI: Next Steps | Introduction to Youth Mainstreaming >>


Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Next Steps for Youth Mainstreaming

Freechild Project youth at a summer camp in Seattle

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter V: Potential Activities | Chapter VII: Additional Resources >>

Taking Action for Youth Mainstreaming is essential. The following suggestions, drawn from The Freechild Project experiences and research, can help leaders get started with this effective and cutting-edge strategy.

1. Engage youth in every aspect of the Youth Mainstreaming planning process.

Youth must be directly, equitably and effectively engaged in each of the next steps and beyond, from crafting a vision to identifying and facilitating action for moving forward. Many cities have found youth partners invaluable in community building. Youth gain practical skills while also generating a wealth of new data from diverse sources.

2. Appoint youth to leadership roles.

Youth Mainstreaming positions young people in leadership roles throughout the organization and community where its happening. It is absolutely essential that young people have at least half of all leadership roles throughout all Youth Mainstreaming activities. Its also essential that all activities are not youth-led, but embody youth/adult partnerships to the fullest.

3. Educate youth and adults.

Both youth and adults will benefit from educational activities that teach them to adjust their working styles for maximum cooperation. Adults will need to overcome their perspectives of youth and learn how to engage youth as equitable partners, while youth may need to overcome their own preconceptions of adults and learn business meeting procedures. Both need to learn about youth voice, youth engagement and of course, Youth Mainstreaming, as well as adultism and youth/adult partnerships.

4. Commit to Youth Mainstreaming.

Youth Mainstreaming takes many forms, but the process for creating effective Youth Mainstreaming plans engages all stakeholders; forges a common vision; develops comprehensive strategies; shares accountability; and coordinates initiatives. Commit to a comprehensive planning process centering on Youth Mainstreaming and ensure collective commitment to it through consensus building, problem solving and strategic partnerships.

5. Effectively Engage Young People.

Engaging a diverse group of youth with different perspectives is as vital as having a broad range of adults participating in the process. Youth can contribute to all of the various aspects of the Youth Mainstreaming planning process, but both young people and the adults with whom they interact will need training and support to ensure that youth are equitable partners who are valued, encouraged, and reflected in throughout all Youth Mainstreaming plans and activities.

6. Envision a plan that can guide future action.

Before you begin, think about what your organization or community’s Youth Mainstreaming plan will look like, including what issues it will cover, what actions will be taken, how the outcomes will be presented, and what re-invention of the process will be like. Developing and documenting clear goals, action steps, and specific timelines heightens the Youth Mainstreaming plan’s impact and prospects for success.

7. Lay the groundwork for sustainability from the beginning.

The long-term success of Youth Mainstreaming hinges on generating support across whole organizations and throughout entire communities to implement and sustain the plan. Implementing a public outreach campaign, celebrating early victories, and making plans to collect data on key outcomes can help build a sense of ownership and commitment among both youth and adults who are involved, and throughout the broader community.

8. Engage as many people as possible throughout organizations and communities.

Ever single young person in every dimension of the program, no matter what their engagement, education, motivation, behavior or attitude, should be affected by your organization’s Youth Mainstreaming strategy. Parents, youth workers, program supervisors, executives, board directors and others are essential partners within organizations committed to Youth Mainstreaming. In every community, a diverse range of adults have a stake in the well-being of young people, too, and the ability to contribute, sustain and expand Youth Mainstreaming.

9. Promote a shared vision for Youth Mainstreaming.

Youth or adults can develop and promote a shared vision for Youth Mainstreaming within your organization or throughout your community. A strong vision statement about Youth Mainstreaming speaks to the urgency of the strategy. It should be linked to a measurable set of indicators and resonate with an organization or community’s broader hopes and concerns. The vision should also focus on inclusiveness and define shared priorities that are central to Youth Mainstreaming.

10. Assess needs and design comprehensive approaches.

The process of moving from a common vision to a cross-cutting approach for Youth Mainstreaming requires an assessment of what is working (i.e., strengths/assets on which to build) and what is not (i.e., biggest problems and challenges). Focus groups, community meetings, surveys, data collection and analysis, and community youth mapping are a few methods of generating an initial needs assessment with youth and adults involved.

11. Create a framework for shared accountability.

Keeping key stakeholders at the table after a Youth Mainstreaming approach has been crafted is vital. Shared accountability will specify the roles and responsibilities of each major partner, resting on the success of setting clear benchmarks and agreeing at the outset on the consequences when those benchmarks are not met. Stressing connections between new activities and each partner’s existing priorities can further strengthen their commitment to collaborative initiatives.

12. Coordinate cross-community efforts.

Identifying organizations and individuals that have the capacity, motivation, and standing in the community to monitor and report on the progress of Youth Mainstreaming is an important element of this work. Coordination of Youth Mainstreaming strategies can also promote better alignment of current programs, policies, and systems.

13. Empower youth and adults to promo together.

One effective way to generate publicity and recruit other participants in the planning process is to enlist youth and adults together as key messengers to local leaders and media outlets. When youth and adults speak from experience about Youth Mainstreaming, they can be powerful advocates. Youth and adults can speak together about Youth Mainstreaming at city council meetings or community events.

14. Make your Youth Mainstreaming plan public, obvious and apparent.

Creating the youth master plan document is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of a community’s comprehensive efforts for children and youth. An important component in a youth master plan is the documentation of next steps, including a delineation of the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders charged with implementation, an outline of the organizational structure(s) that will guide ongoing work, and a method for evaluating the plan. Setting priorities, using timelines with target implementation dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance the plan’s effectiveness

15. Continually build support among community leaders.

As Youth Mainstreaming is implemented and moves beyond your organization throughout your entire community, it is vital that a broad range of city and community leaders lend their support and blend the strategy into the way organizations do business. In addition to youth throughout your organization and the entire community, adult leaders should include nonprofit executives and elected officials, as well as community leaders, faith community representatives, and others.

16. Measure progress over time.

By establishing a process for ongoing data collection, the planning team can assess the status of child and family wellbeing and measure the effectiveness of each strategy delineated in the plan. Planning teams have drawn on numerous sources of community-level data to track progress, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s online Data Center, city, county, and state governments, and local school districts and police departments. There are other measures of the effectiveness of Youth Mainstreaming, too.

17. Celebrate early and ongoing victories.

Demonstrate tangible results of Youth Mainstreaming as soon as possible. Celebrating these early victories will help generate and sustain momentum and maintain support from the youth and adults taking part in activities. Using periodic opportunities to recognize and celebrate success, Youth Mainstreaming organizations and communities can hold a press conference to announce the opening of a new youth positions or action centers, inviting local media to visit an engaged youth program, or honoring team members who worked collaboratively to achieve important milestones.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter V: Potential Activities | Chapter VII: Additional Resources >>


Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Potential Youth Mainstreaming Activities

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project<< Chapter IV: Critical Elements | Chapter VI: Next Steps >>

There are many activities that can be part of your organization or community’s Youth Mainstreaming strategy. They include the following activities.

  • Youth Action Councils — Woven into the lifeblood of an organization or community, YACs can build commitment, action and outcomes into Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth as Activists — Focused on specific issues and tangible outcomes, youth activists can move Youth Mainstreaming into a powerful, positive place for everyone.
  • Youth as Activity Leaders — Leading learning, socializing, community building and other activities can empower youth throughout organizations and communities.
  • Youth as Advisors — Providing key wisdom, knowledge and ideas, Youth Mainstreaming can empower youth as advisors through action and outcomes.
  • Youth as Advocates — Standing up for what matters to their families and communities can allow youth as advocates to move Youth Mainstreaming forward.
  • Youth as Artists — Using and developing their art through Youth Mainstreaming can reposition youth from being passive and active members in society.
  • Youth as Board Directors — Youth Mainstreaming requires youth are fully able to transform schools, organizations and government. Being board directors can be key.
  • Youth as Decision Makers — Engaged as personal, organizational and community decision-makers, young people can move the Youth Mainstreaming strategy further.
  • Youth as Designers — Using science, strategy and planning, youth as designers can move Youth Mainstreaming to deeper and more powerful effects.
  • Youth as Evaluators — Assessing and evaluating youth activities, community action and more can move Youth Mainstreaming toward broad social acceptance.
  • Youth as Facilitators — Guiding and directing activities for youth and communities, Youth Mainstreaming actively engages youth facilitators throughout.
  • Youth Forums — Positioning youth voice as more than information, youth forums make Youth Mainstreaming a meaningful opportunity to transform communities.
  • Youth as Grant-Makers — Youth Mainstreaming puts youth-led philanthropy in action, providing powerful opportunities to support what matters to them.
  • Youth as Lobbyists — Standing up for what matters to them among lawmakers and moving agenda through the political process is key for Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth as Media Makers — Rather than being the target of media or passive recipients, in Youth Mainstreaming media is made by youth for communities.
  • Youth as Mediators — As key partners in restorative justice, Youth Mainstreaming can engage youth as mediators in community and interpersonal conflicts.
  • Youth as Mentors — Sharing their their knowledge and ideas with adult allies and vice versa, Youth Mainstreaming can rely on engaging youth as mentors.
  • Youth as Organizers — Creating community organizing campaigns is part of many nonprofits, and engaging youth as organizers can embolden Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth as Planners — Planning activities, developing programs and hiring or firing adult and youth staff can drive Youth Mainstreaming in powerful ways.
  • Youth as Policy-Makers — Young people can become engaged as full and complete partners in policy-making bodies of all kinds, including schools and governments.
  • Youth as Recruiters — Recruiting communities, families, peers and friends, young people can provide powerful influence and inspiration for Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth as Researchers — Youth can study things in ways that adults cannot. Participatory research positions youth as examiners of what affects them most.
  • Youth as Specialists — After examining and studying what matters, establishing the knowledge of youth as specialists can be central to Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth Summits — Conducting conferences and summits to build consensus and create collective action plans can be a powerful outcome of Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Youth as Teachers — Teaching adults, younger people and their peers about what issues that matter to them can be a powerful Youth Mainstreaming strategy.
  • Youth as Trainers — Building the skills and knowledge of participants can be the key to successful Youth Mainstreaming, especially when youth facilitating training.
  • Youth as Volunteers — As equally invested partners, engaging youth as volunteers within organizations and communities can move Youth Mainstreaming forward.
  • Youth as Workers — Staffing the organizations and communities that adopt Youth Mainstreaming strategies can empower and infuse young people in deep  ways.


This list is just a description of some ways that Youth Mainstreaming happens. In order to implement a powerful, effective strategy it can be essential to identify next steps.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project<< Chapter IV: Critical Elements | Chapter VI: Next Steps >>



Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Critical Elements of Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project<< Chapter III: Choosing the Right Approach to Youth Mainstreaming | Chapter V: Potential Youth Mainstreaming Activities >>

The critical elements of youth mainstreaming don’t vary according to the time, place and people involved. Following are some of the most critical things The Freechild Project has learned from their experience and research.


Youth Mainstreaming Should…

  • Always support the organizational mission or community values.
  • Define communitywide roles, responsibilities and expectations for youth and adults through clear systems and structures.
  • Establish firm commitments throughout the organization or community adopting the strategy of Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Reflect the diversity of the community and actively build on those assets.
  • Establish clear, frequent and deliberate communication and value partnerships and teamwork above all else.
  • Develop youth allies and adult allies through equitable youth/adult partnerships within the organization, at home, in schools and throughout communities.
  • Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of young people and adults working together.
  • Commit to continuous improvement throughout organizations and communities.


Keep Youth In The Center

Build an organizational infrastructure that incorporates youth in all aspects of its work and operations.

  • Organizational transformation must seriously engage youth.
  • Policies must be made that support Youth Mainstreaming with strong language, regular budgets and realistic outcomes.
  • Use or create staff positions for youth to become permanent, regular employees.
  • Support adult staff in their well-being in order for them to support youths’ well-being.
  • Talk to youth affiliated with the organization to evaluate how they feel about their work and what they think needs to change.
  • Emphasize the use of activities that infuse the ideals of Youth Mainstreaming, like Participatory Action Research and youth as trainers.
  • Foster critical thinking and integrate regular feedback among youth and adults together focused on the implementation of your organization or community’s Youth Mainstreaming strategy.
  • Shifting plans if feedback leads the organization or community to reevaluate its goals.


Keep It Equitable

Provide youth with meaningful and appropriate support.

  • Organizations need to be aware of the changing needs of youth today, including identifying opportunities for continued, if different, engagement in systems change work as they grow into adulthood.
  • Take time necessary to inform and engage youth so that they can be successful at voicing their opinion and advocating.
  • Acknowledge youth with a stipend or salary, transportation money, and other incentives so they know they are valued and, for some, so they choose Youth Mainstreaming over economies.
  • Provide youth with benefits, make them obvious, and show youth how to use them. Teach them the history of the worker-led movement that resulted in workplace benefits.
  • Help youth identify and plan to achieve educational, economic and all sorts of life goals.


Grow the Smarts

Train administrators and others where youth will be presenting or partnering.

  • Provide deep professional development on Youth Mainstreaming
  • Treat staff as equal partners in Youth Mainstreaming and throughout your organization or community
  • Speak to staff in ways they understand about Youth Mainstreaming.
  • Make sure staff genuinely understand the value of Youth Mainstreaming and how relevant all activities are, including setting practices and policies.
  • Encourage staff to find meeting times and facilitation methods that work for Youth Mainstreaming.


Once you’ve considered each of these elements of Youth Mainstreaming, you should decide the potential activities you will take.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project<< Chapter III: Choosing the Right Approach to Youth Mainstreaming | Chapter V: Potential Youth Mainstreaming Activities >>



Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Choosing the Right Approach to Youth Mainstreaming

Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter II: Understanding the Strategy of Youth Mainstreaming | Chapter IV: Critical Elements of Youth Mainstreaming >>

Before you get started, there are several things to know about Youth Mainstreaming. You don’t have to start by doing many things at once; you can choose a simple pathway leading to complex transformation. Following are some approaches to Youth Mainstreaming.

Each of these approaches relies on scaffolding, which takes activities in the short-term and shows how they apply to the long-term growth of Youth Mainstreaming. These approaches assume that there is a trained champion for Youth Mainstreaming who is capable of leading any of these approaches. It also assumes that rather than simply choosing one approach and following it closely, facilitators can interchange approaches and develop unique ways to meet the needs of their organizations and communities.


The Gradual Acceleration Approach to Youth Mainstreaming

When forming new approaches to Youth Mainstreaming, it can be advisable to create a basic structure ahead of time so youth and adults will have something to start with. Once everyone is in the room, youth and adults can set broad goals and expectations, with the understanding that they will be modified with time. Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive).  A timeline reflecting a gradual process should be created that shows a shortened acceleration of activities.

The gradual acceleration approach to Youth Mainstreaming can look like this:

  1. Present about Youth Mainstreaming to the organization board of directors or community leadership
  2. Develop a Mainstreaming Action Committee, MAC, with nontraditional and traditional youth leaders and adults from your organization and/or community
  3. Train the MAC on the elements of Youth Mainstreaming and develop champion roles
  4. Assess current practices for their applicability, navigability and relevance to Youth Mainstreaming
  5. Develop Youth Mainstreaming SMART goals for the organization and/or community using the data you collected from Step 4
  6. Present to organizational leadership and board with MAC as facilitators and identify leaders who are champions
  7. Adopt polices, guidelines or laws reflecting organizational commitment to Youth Mainstreaming, as led by board of directors or community leadership
  8. Facilitate professional development for all youth-serving adults within an organization or community led by the MAC
  9. Facilitate training and educational activities for youth who are served throughout an organization and community
  10. Engage champions in advocating for Youth Mainstreaming throughout your community or beyond
  11. Develop new programmatic approaches reflecting a commitment to Youth Mainstreaming
  12. Implement and assess new programmatic approaches
  13. Re-develop programmatic approaches and SMART goals as needed led by the organizational staff and participants and the MAC


The Moderate Middle Approach to Youth Mainstreaming

The moderate middle approach to Youth Mainstreaming identifies a continuum of action, alternatives and possibilities for bringing individuals, cultures and structures in line with the ideals of the strategy. In this approach, Youth Mainstreaming takes familiar forms of youth involvement into context to help organizations and communities develop culturally appropriate ways towards positive outcomes.

  1. Conduct an organizational assessment. Determine where elements that lend themselves to Youth Mainstreaming already exist and identify what can be done to further weave youth throughout the operations of your organization or community.
  2. Educate and integrate. Facilitate a series of professional development and youth training workshops focused on Youth Mainstreaming and its various aspects. Share data, activities and tools to ensure policy-making and program planning that reflects key knowledge about Youth Mainstreaming.
  3. Assess and redesign. Using a standard tool, engage youth and adults reflecting and critically analyzing your Youth Mainstreaming approach. Challenge them to think broadly, and then apply their assessments towards renegotiating or redeveloping their related activties.


The Maximum Action Approach to Youth Mainstreaming

Maximizing Youth Mainstreaming means that an organization will have an immediate shift of tone, instantaneous development of culture, and simultaneous establishment of structures and systems. While respecting the delicacy of youth/adult partnerships, Youth maximizing mainstreaming helps remove the barriers that can emerge with gradual acceleration. In new relationships between youth and adults, understanding those obstacles can be important; however, too much rumination can be detrimental too.

The maximum action approach to Youth Mainstreaming can look like this:

  1. Familiarity: The organizational or community leader presents their commitment to Youth Mainstreaming. Proposing laws, rules or guidelines, they establish themselves as the champion. Allocating a budget immediately, action teams are devised for planning and implementation.
  2. Implementation: Planning and implementation teams immediately create programs and activities reflecting the organizational or community approach to Youth Mainstreaming. Incorporating constant reflection and assessment, programs regularly train and educate participants, staff, board leaders and community members and reevaluate their process along the way.
  3. Continuity: On an annual basis, leaders and participants and others engage in critical thinking about their organization and community’s commitment to Youth Mainstreaming.


Choosing the right approach to Youth Mainstreaming is essential for action. Given the room that each approach has, there’s plenty of space to re-strategize as you go along. If you begin in the Gradual Acceleration approach and decide that you need to go Maximum Action, that’s do-able.

The important thing of each approach is that your organization or community has made a thorough commitment to Youth Mainstreaming and moving the agenda with youth that’s been chosen.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter II: Understanding the Strategy of Youth Mainstreaming | Chapter IV: Critical Elements of Youth Mainstreaming >>



Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.


Understanding the Strategy of Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter I: What is Youth Mainstreaming? | Chapter III: Choosing the Right Approach to Youth Mainstreaming >>


Youth Mainstreaming is a comprehensive strategy for integrating youth throughout the operations of an organization or community. Because of the complexity of organizations and communities, it can be essential to spell out exactly what Youth Mainstreaming is and what it can do.

There are three essential points for understanding the strategy of Youth Mainstreaming:

  1. Youth Mainstreaming can be implemented and can benefit all organizations and communities;
  2. Youth Mainstreaming must affect entire organizations, or else its not Youth Mainstreaming;
  3. Youth Mainstreaming requires investment of funds, staff time, physical resources, and professional expertise, as well as the energy, knowledge and commitment of youth.


The Goals of Youth Mainstreaming

The goals of Youth Mainstreaming should vary from organization to organization, community to community, but always keep the following at their core:

  • Deeply engaging youth throughout organizations and communities, positioning them in every facet of operations as leaders, teachers and learners through youth/adult partnerships;
  • Fostering partnerships between adults and young people that deeply integrate their youth voice and priorities as well as collaborate with youth in developing projects, programs, operations and cultures that deeply infuse youth as equitable partners, and;
  • Integrating young people throughout society youth voice and issues throughout the sustained policy and culture of organizations and communities to create spaces and opportunities for empowering youth, giving recognition, visibility and credibility to young people, everywhere, all the time.


Main Components of Youth Mainstreaming

Organizations and communities that commit to Youth Mainstreaming are making a commitment not only towards a strong and sustainable future, but in their programs and operations today. Implementation happens through several measures, including strategic planning; policy transformation; staff development; program implementation; continuous improvement, and; operational reflection.

In order to do those things, organizations have to understand that Youth Mainstreaming requires three components. They follow.


Component 1. Personal Attitudes

Youth Mainstreaming begins by building awareness and understanding. Youth Mainstreaming changes the way every adult in an organization, including decision-makers and practitioners, thinks about youth by…

  • Regularly facilitating trainings and presentations about youth
  • Constantly sharing data and resources related to youth and Youth Mainstreaming
  • Sustainably engaging youth in partnering roles with practitioners and policy-makers
  • Meaningfully communicating with and becoming policy makers


Component 2. Shared Culture

Youth Mainstreaming changes institutional culture and practices. Youth Mainstreaming weaves and infused new values, attitudes and outcomes into organizations by…

  • Having youth train adults throughout organizations and communities
  • Creating an equal number of equitable seats for youth members on staff and boards
  • Ensuring that youth and community issues are addressed from a youth lens


Component 3. Systems and Structures

Youth Mainstreaming in embedded in new policies. Better serving youth and communities in sustained, effective ways happens through policy development. Youth Mainstreaming does this on the organizational and community levels by…

  • Developing laws and policies requiring a systemic approach to Youth Mainstreaming
  • Increasing and sustaining all types of support for youth throughout your organization and community
  • Protecting the wellbeing of practitioners of all sorts
  • Engaging youth directly in policy implementation, including supporting the rights of children and youth throughout an organization or community through enforcement, conflict resolution and restorative justice
  • Ensuring that youth are acknowledged and receive benefits for their Youth Mainstreaming actions
  • Looking for specific traits in potential new employees that will ensure commitment to Youth Mainstreaming


Outcomes of Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming can lead to many changes throughout organizations and communities. When Youth Mainstreaming is fully operational with youth as equal and equitable partners…

  • Adults involved in policy making can make more effective decisions
  • Professionals who work in the systems affected can make better decisions.
  • Through a variety of strategies, Youth Mainstreaming works to build understanding and awareness among policy makers, practitioners in systems that impact youth; youth themselves, and; the public at large.


Our work has revealed several lessons and reflections along the way. Among them are these recommendations.

Recommendations for Adult Leaders

If you are a youth-serving organizational leader, government agency administrator, or other key adult stakeholder, there are several recommendations for implementing Youth Mainstreaming. Key among these are:

  • Placing Youth Mainstreaming at the center of your work, including your personal and professional work;
  • Forming substantive, sustainable mutual mentoring activities immediately for yourself and your staff;
  • Holding meaningful conversations with youth and adults throughout your organization and community about the potential of Youth Mainstreaming;
  • Actively advocate for Youth Mainstreaming throughout your entire neighborhood, village, town or city; and
  • Continue to read The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming Guide.


Recommendations for Youth

If you are a young person or an adult who works directly with youth, several lessons have become clear to us for successfully engaging in Youth Mainstreaming. Youth Mainstreaming can empower young people and the adults who support them by giving them critically-needed support and demonstrating greater commitment and capacity for youth agendas through Youth Mainstreaming.

Key among these are:

  • Supporting youth in achieving stable lives before they engage powerfully about and organize effectively for Youth Mainstreaming;
  • Building the capacity of youth to change lives and systems by teaching them to advocate for themselves;
  • Helping youth reflect on their experiences and build communication skills so they can articulate issues and recommendations;
  • Channeling the survival skills youth develop to endure traumatic experiences in their lives in order to successfully navigate complex systems and advocate for positive systems change;
  • Investing in individual youth in order to demonstrate that they are valued as individuals and not simply useful for an organization’s own agenda of Youth Mainstreaming, and;
  • Positioning youth on staff who are self-aware, have tools for maintaining stability in their lives, and have a range of professional skills and strengths.



Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter I: What is Youth Mainstreaming? | Chapter III: Choosing the Right Approach to Youth Mainstreaming >>




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What Is Youth Mainstreaming?

Youth at a Freechild Project workshop in Seattle

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Intro to The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming GuideChapter II: Understanding the Strategy >>

SUMMARY: Youth Mainstreaming is a strategy for integrating youth into every aspect of your organization or community, including the individual perspectives, shared cultures, and throughout the systems and structures affecting young people everyday.

Youth Mainstreaming is a strategy that engages youth as partners throughout every part of an organization to promote efficacy, equity and empowerment for everyone involved. It’s the active, visible engagement of youth throughout the entirety of a defined institution.

Melding the best strategies from across the youth-serving sector, Youth Mainstreaming empowers youth voice through youth involvement to infuse youth throughout society. The outcomes of each of these strategies can be maximized through Youth Mainstreaming while streamlining and stopping unnecessary replication. Perhaps most importantly, Youth Mainstreaming moves young people and communities from passive to active by creating space for the ability, knowledge, wisdom and power of everyone to come through all the time.


Why Mainstreaming?

For a long time, in both youth-serving and community-wide organizations, young people have been sidelined. Sure, they may be the target demographics for programs or your organization might host a youth voice activity, but children and youth are not actual partners within nonprofits, government agencies, schools, philanthropies, or local issue-oriented advocacy groups.

The strategy of Youth Mainstreaming emerged when some of these organizations began recognizing the hypocrisy of the old ways of doing business. Rather than seeing youth as passive recipients of adult decision-making, they wanted to engage youth as active partners. Between 1970 and 2000, countless organizations around the world began teasing the idea of involving youth as partners in programming. New practices emerged about youth action councils, youth forums, youth summits, youth as funders, and youth on boards.

However, with the emergence of new technologies and experience from 30 years work, youth workers recognized they need new approaches too. Working with these field leaders, we have devised a model that moves youth from being active partners towards being recognized and treated like integral, equitable and full members of every organization and community. Because of that commitment, Youth Mainstreaming embodies the deepest, most transformative work happening today.


What Youth Mainstreaming Can Do

Looking at the way your organization or community operates can help you understand exactly what youth mainstreaming is.

  • Top DownIf your organization has a single leader who delegates decisions, sees people as their subordinates and/or treats young people as objects instead of people, Youth Mainstreaming can be a democratizing activity. By positioning children and youth as meaningful contributors throughout the organization, training adults how to make Youth Mainstreaming successful, and providing the right support, your organization will become more democratic.
  • Bottom Up: If the people who drive your organization are the ones who make the decisions, your organization is bottom up. However, if your organization serves young people but your organization is driven by parents or staff or adult volunteers, then it is not bottom up. Youth Mainstreaming can be an effectiveness-building strategy designed to position the real recipients of your services as more than the motivators of action, but actually as the drivers and leaders of your organization, and more. It will be more successful.
  • Equitable Roles: If your organization equitably positions everyone to have a substantive role in every activity throughout your organization, Youth Mainstreaming can help fulfill your mission. It does that by increasing the pool of talent, energy and knowledge the organization can draw on for all purposes.
  • Representative Roles: If a few people are carefully chosen to participate in cautiously selected activities, Youth Mainstreaming can help prepare clients, constituents and others in healthy, appropriate and sustainable ways. Creating meaningful training opportunities; developing fulfilling feedback loops; and fostering youth/adult partnerships can be a few ways this happens.


Making Youth Mainstreaming Successful

While you know what youth voice is, what youth participation can do, and what youth engagement looks like, it might be challenging to see how they are all separate, and yet interdependent, within Youth Mainstreaming.

However, you wonder what to do or where to go next. In order to be successful, Youth Mainstreaming has to infuse with three components of an organization: Individuals; Cultures, and; Systems. In this book, we’ll show you how that happens

You’ve begun the right way by reading The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming Guide. In the next section of this book we’ll uncover what the strategy of Youth Mainstreaming is and the main elements you should understand.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Intro to The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming GuideChapter II: Understanding the Strategy >>



Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth Mainstreaming Guide

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

Chapter I: What is Youth Mainstreaming? >>

Does your organization have a youth voice program? Has it created a youth action council, or have a place for youth on the board of directors? Are you wrestling, because for some reason, it still doesn’t feel right?

Maybe you’ve just heard of the concept of Youth Mainstreaming and want to learn more. This section of our website, an online book, is for you.


The Freechild Project is committed to engaging young people throughout the organizations, agencies, programs and activities that affect them most. In order to be most useful to the people who make decisions in these places, we’re making our popular book, The Freechild Project Youth Mainstreaming Guide, available online free for the first time.

This book is a short introduction to Youth Mainstreaming. Youth Mainstreaming is a strategy that engages youth as partners throughout every part of an organization to promote efficacy, equity and empowerment for everyone involved. It is was developed in Europe and is used internationally today for engaging youth throughout organizational operations. It was designed for youth workers, program directors, nonprofit executives, foundation officers, government employees and others who want to weave young people throughout the various operations of their institutions.

It is essential that before you or your organization begin adopting the term or trying to implement the strategy that you read all of the contents included here.

Throughout the following sections, The Freechild Project has adapted the international practice to reflect our beliefs and work. Our Youth Mainstreaming Guide was written after 15 years of teaching these basics across the United States and Canada. The Freechild Project would love to teach your organization, conference or community about Youth Mainstreaming, too. As you read it and have questions, comments, concerns or considerations, please share them in the comments section of each page. For more information about this book or others, please contact us.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

Chapter I: What is Youth Mainstreaming? >>




Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.