If you’re providing a project, activity, meeting or program for young people, there are a few things to think about so that you can really support their involvement. You’ll need to mix it up, remove barriers and create a comfortable and welcoming space.
Mix it up
If you stop and think about who is involved (or likely to be involved), you’ll realise who isn’t. Why are those young people not a part of what you’re doing? Do they know what’s happening? What could be preventing them getting involved? Young people from different backgrounds might need a bit of extra help to get involved. So how can you remove barriers to their involvement?
All people have different interests and learning styles – how can you vary the opportunities you offer? Not all young people will want to be involved continuously or for a long period of time. How might young people choose their level of involvement?
When choosing a location for a meeting or activity, consider distance and transport. How will young people get there, and get home? Try and pick a venue that’s close to public transport. You might need to provide transport to support some young people getting involved, especially in rural or regional areas. Once they’re at the venue, how will they get in? Think about wheelchair access or signage. If distance or access are problems, can you involve young people over the phone or internet instead? Any venue you use will need to be a safe, comfortable and welcoming space for young people (see below).
“Be clever with space to accommodate different community needs, e.g. “hot” (noisy and lively) and “cold” (quiet and relaxed) zones in shared public spaces like libraries” - Council Manager, Brimbank
Before you set a time for any activity, ask participants what times will be convenient for them and how much spare time they have.Young people lead busy lives, so consider factors like family, education, work and social responsibilities, or their reliance on getting a lift from someone else.
Young people don’t necessarily lead 9-5 lives – they may not be available to come to a consultation at 11am on Thursday. Young people’s cultural or religious practices can affect the days and times they can participate. Are there any religious or cultural festivals on the dates you’re planning?
How much will it cost young people to get involved? What’s cheap for you might be unrealistic for some young people – even public transport might be too expensive. Can you cover the cost of transport and refreshments? You might also need money for promotion and recruitment and promotion, training and evaluation – where will the dollars come from?
Create a safe, comfortable and welcoming space
If you’re planning to work with a specific community group, or work in a particular area, it’s important to establish trust and understanding early on. Go out into the community and introduce yourself – get to know people’s names! It‘s good to speak with community leaders or senior members about what you have planned – be clear with them that the opportunities you’re offering are available for any young people. Just be mindful that some young people might not want adults in their community to be too heavily involved – so speak with young people early on too to figure this out.
Read more about involving young people from diverse backgrounds.
You’ll build trust with young people by being clear and honest about the limits of their involvement – how much difference can they really make? What will they really learn or experience? Communicate with young people in language they can relate to will help them feel more relaxed. And you’ll earn their respect by being transparent in everything you do – don’t hide things from young people and if in doubt, ask!
Wherever you meet, don’t just expect young people to ‘fit in’. Recognise and respect differences. But be aware that some young people may feel uncomfortable if you directly point out their differences in front of everyone else. Think of ways you can celebrate diversity as a group – it could be acknowledging traditional owners at the start of each meeting or eating food from different countries each time you meet, or simply displaying pictures or photos of different groups of people.
Certain signs or symbols in your venue can make a big difference to how safe and welcome people feel – for example, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags show you value Indigenous Australian cultures and histories, or a rainbow shows you welcome same-sex attracted and gender diverse people. Organisations such as Minus 18, ANTaR and the Australian Human Rights Commission can provide posters or plaques to show you respect and celebrate different people and cultures.
What could you put up on your venue’s walls?
There are lots of different ways you can engage and involve young people in organisations and communities. These don’t have to…