As more and more organizations seek to involve young people in their community work, a free public talk next week aims to help adult organizers better understand effective youth engagement.
Assistant Professor Heather Ramey in Brock University’s Department of Child and Youth Studies, together with Heather Lawford, a Canada Research Chair in Youth Development from Bishop’s University, will present “Nothing About Us Without Us: Engaging Young People’s Voice.” Hosted by the Lifespan Development Research Institute, the online event on Tuesday, June 7 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
In their research, Ramey and Lawford look for ways to engage youth effectively, and, as part of their work, held monthly meetings with the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement’s ‘Facilitator Roster’ — a diverse group of adolescents and young adults at the Students Commission of Canada with interests in everything from education to accessibility.
Their work suggests that good intentions aren’t enough when it comes to engaging with youth, and they recommend getting specific about goals, roles and needs for each person to help ensure the best outcomes.
Feedback can also be a crucial component, as evidenced by studies where young people and adults working in partnership rated the adults on how much respect they had for youth, and adults rated themselves much higher on respectfulness than the young people did.
“One of the things we hear a lot is that adults ask young people their thoughts about community programs or to participate in research, but then don’t tell them what changes were made or what was found,” says Ramey. “The thing that young people tell us they want, more than anything, is to have an effect, but we’re not good at showing them their impact. We leave them hanging.”
Some other ways organizers may fall shy of the mark when asking young people to serve their community include stopping short of giving them a binding vote in decision-making or neglecting to compensate them for their time and contributions.
“Paying for a young person’s time can make a huge difference, especially if you want to attract a diversity of voices,” Ramey says. “You don’t want finances to be a barrier to somebody getting involved, so if the adults are being paid, so should young people.”
Ramey also cautions against assuming that children and youth are only interested in beefing up their resumés or logging a required number of community service hours.
“Youth do way more community service and often way more hours of volunteering than they are required to do, especially when they’re highly engaged, and they show the same developmental outcomes as young people who weren’t required to do it,” says Ramey. “I think we have to get over our thinking that young people are ‘here for the hours,’ because so many of them are not.”
Ramey and Lawford hope the session will help people discover new strategies and ideas for “pushing forward” what they’re already working on, because they see the potential in effective youth engagement. They are also excited to share the work they have done in partnership with the Facilitator Roster.
“Young people have always demonstrated their ability to create legacy and change for the people around them and the greater world, with example after example of young people fighting for civil rights, for gun control and for the protection of water,” says Lawford. “It is an interesting thing about youth engagement that organizations and practitioners often start small, and it gets bigger and bigger, with learning along the way.”
The event is intended for the public and registration is free but required to gain access to the livestream.