by Jessica Edwards
Youth Engagement is the act of welcoming youth join in the shaping of a community.
Youth engagement takes place when a primarily adult-run organization invites youth to share, learn and work with them. Being invited to participate is an opportunity to build on strengths and develop skills, and to exercise leadership and advocacy skills that can be used in the community and neighbourhood.
Young people have the right to express our views and interests about everything affecting us, not just youth issues. Working with adults can help strengthen a mutual respect as we search for ways to improve the environment we live in.
In my own experience, I am the Jr. staff here at Voices, while Marie is the head honcho. Together we brainstorm ideas, sharing them on pretty purple sticky notes. I am not in charge, but I’m not left in the cold.
Roger Hart developed the ‘Ladder of Young People’s Participation’. The level of participation I am most comfortable with is up to rung 8, where youth and adults form a partnership. This is where young people initiate or take charge of projects, share decisions with adults as well as have some input. It is equal and gives both youth the opportunity to be empowered with the guidance of an adult. An example of a youth/adult partnership is right here in the office.
I wouldn’t want someone to speak for me and tell ME what I want, which is like the worst rung, at the bottom of the ladder for a reason. At this level, youth are puppets. Youth are given a voice, but say nothing. Youth are being taken FULL advantage of by the adult telling them what to do and say, having words you didn’t want to say put in your mouth, pretending that the young people thought it up. It’s selfish, it doesn’t empower young people, it doesn’t teach us any positive life skills or strengthen mutual respect. To me it is just CRUEL!!!
Roger Hart’s Ladder of Young People’s Participation
Rung 1: Young people are manipulated
Rung 2: Young people are decoration
Rung 3: Young people are tokenized
Rung 4: Young people assigned and informed
Rung 5: Young people consulted and informed
Rung 6: Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people
Rung 7: Young people lead and initiate action
Rung 8: Young people and adults share decision-making
*Adapted from Hart, R (1992). Children’s Participation from Tokenism to Citizenship. Florence:UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre