Youth participation actively involves young people in decision-making processes on issues that affect them. Young people make invaluable contributions to communities and are empowered themselves when they participate. This article is aimed at those people whose job it is to work with young people.
Essentially, youth participation is related to ideas of citizenship, personal development and active involvement in society.
The principles underpinning youth participation are:
Some examples of youth participation in practice are
It’s important to remember that youth participation is an approach – not a ‘thing’ that you can be ticked off or done as a one-off project (Holdsworth 2001). A youth participation approach supports young people to act, to make their own decisions, and advocate for themselves – rather than seeing them as passive ‘clients’.
There are several different theoretical models of youth participation. The most well-known is probably Roger Hart’s 1992 Ladder of Youth Participation, which placed the idea of youth participation firmly in place in youth practice and policy.
For an overview of youth participation models, read pages 4-5 of Mary Kellet’s paper Engaging with Children and Young People.
A 2012 paper by Rhys Farthing identified four main justifications for youth participation:
Even though youth participation is now almost universally acknowledged as being a ‘good thing’, it’s wrong to assume that it can’t have any bad sides.
In fact, there are a number of critiques of youth participation, with concerns that
So before you start incorporating youth participation your work, it’s worth thinking about exactly what you want to achieve and why you’re doing it. As Farthing points out, “the merit of participation depends upon the type of society we want for young people in the first place” (Farthing 2012).
‘Youth engagement’ is a term related to youth participation that has emerged from North America. It’s now becoming more widely used in the Australian context.
US academics Nenga and Taft made an attempt to conceptualize youth engagement as “activities in which children and youth enact a public-spirited commitment in pursuit of the common good” – a kind of balance between volunteerism and activism (Nenga and Taft 2013).
But they also pointed out that “youth engagement is a multifaceted concept with contested social and political goals” (Nenga and Taft 2013). In other words, there are often different political or social agendas behind the term.
In youth policy and practice, there are generally three types of ‘youth engagement’
As with youth participation, it’s important to reflect on the term ‘youth engagement’ – if it’s to be part of our work, it’s necessary to understand and express exactly what it is we mean by it.
Youth participation and engagement toolkits
In practice, youth participation and engagement aren’t ‘one-size-fits-all’. Different situations and different groups will benefit from slightly different approaches and tools. Fortunately, AYAC have created a fantastic Youth Participation Guide Index that can support you with resources tailored to your own needs.
When involving young people, it’s good to think about your verbal and non-verbal communication with them. It’s important to…