Youth engagement is the result when young people are involved in responsible, challenging actions to create positive social change. This means involving youth in planning and in making decisions that affect themselves and others.
Involving youth as partners in making decisions that affect them increases the likelihood that the decisions will be accepted, adopted, and become part of their everyday lives. In addition, empowering youth to identify and respond to community needs helps them become empathetic, reflective individuals, setting them on a course to potentially continue this important work in their future. Meaningful youth engagement views youth as equal partners with adults in the decision-making process. Programs and activities are developed with youth, rather than for youth. In this kind of equal partnership, both adults and young people need to be fully engaged, open to change in how things are done, and share a unified vision for the partnership.
Afterschool Programs Built on Youth Voice
Looking for an honest opinion? As a kid! Children and youth are eager to share their thoughts and feelings, especially with adults. This is a natural stage of child development and Afterschoool time is a perfect time to support that stage.
What is Youth Voice?
Youth voice refers to the strategic inclusion of youth ideas, interests, opinions, knowledge, perspective and experiences into program design. Youth voice is often associated with youth development activities like service learning and youth leadership. However, afterschool programs can benefit from incorporating youth voice into program design as well.
Benefits of Youth Voice
There are a number of benefits to incorporating youth voice in afterschool programming:
- Youth voice helps kids develop critical thinking and long term strategic planning skills
- Youth voice allows afterschool providers to match program activities with youth interests
- Youth voice increases youth participation, engagement and retention
- Youth voice can improve program outcomes
- Youth voice provides a strong support to social emotional learning practices
Here is a resource from the Department of Education on how some schools have been incorporating youth voice to advocate for change in education: https://blog.ed.gov/2018/03/youth-voice-is-key-to-spark-effective-change/
Easy Ways to Incorporate Youth Voice
Youth voice in program can be very simple! Here are some ways to start incorporating youth voice:
- Keep it short. Ask just one or two questions based on issues you can address easily
- Start small. Start incorporating youth voice in a single area of the program in order to fine tune the process
- If you ask, listen and then follow through. Youth like to see an immediate result from their feedback
- Check in regular to progress monitor.
- Create opportunities for youth to lead. Let youth lead focus groups or meetings to get feedback from their peers.
Incorporating youth voice into afterschool can provide a powerful tool for engaging youth long term.
Quick Tips for Incorporating Youth Voice
Youth voice can be incorporated into an out of school time program easily. Below are some simple quick tips to getting started:
- For meetings, plan interactive activities to build relationships between adults and youth. That way, youth will be more comfortable sharing their ideas.
- Conduct simple surveys that are just one to three questions that youth can fill out easily. A long survey can be overwhelming.
- Find fun ways for youth to vote. A marble jar with a question is fun and quick way to get answers about program design.
- How do youth leave the facility at the end of the day? Use that space for quick youth voice check-ins (this is great for parent voice too!)
- Host a focus groups. A quick 15-minute focus group can provide a lot of information about program design.
- Provide program transportation? A bus ride is a great time to conduct a meeting to get youth voice
- Topics to ask youth about: program activities, recruitment/retention, special events, family engagement and field trips are all great topics
Youth Voices: Best Practices
Programs that incorporate youth voice have a higher level of youth engagement and participation. What are some of the best practices for incorporating voice?
- Adult and youth input is equally valued in the process. During the youth voice process, the input and contributions of youth are encouraged.
- Starting a new program? Make sure to include youth voice from the beginning. The start of the school year and the start of summer are both good times to incorporate youth voice.
- Include youth voice at all levels. Don’t just include youth voice in program design. Have youth help with activity planning and implementation, as well as program assessment. Youth can be involved in all aspect of the organization.
- Form a youth advisory council for the organization of board. Youth voice at all levels of an organization is very important.
- The youth voice process may be an organizational culture change. Out of school providers might have to create new policies and procedures to support the incorporation of youth voice.
Youth Engagement Program Examples
from Afterschool Heals Tennessee
- Generating Youth Power – A service-learning guide for people working with youth. By engaging youth in tackling real community problems, youth learn more, care more, and increase their own well-being and positive behaviors.
- Successful Youth Engagement – The U.S. Office of Adolescent Health has developed these 8 Tips for successful youth engagement with links to helpful resources.
- Lights on Afterschool – Involve youth in planning a Lights on Afterschool wellness event. This website offers tips for giving youth a voice no matter the theme.
- Relationships First – Creating Connections that Help Young People Thrive
- Service Learning in Community Based Organizations – a practical guide to starting and sustaining high-quality programs
- Meth Destroys – Service Learning Ideas for Kindergarten through 12th grade to educate about meth and prevent its use