Meaningful youth engagement

Photo by Roel Dierckens on Unsplash

Youth engagement practices support young people’s participation in shaping their communities and the decisions that affect their lives, as well as foster positive youth development.

Meaningful youth engagement is an important factor in positive youth development that strengthen young people’s civic commitment, extend their social capital, help them create meaningful relationships with adults, and foster strong self-esteem and build a sense of self and collective efficacy [1].

Various studies have found that meaningful youth engagement reduces risk-associated behavior among young people.

Engaged youth are able to build skills that support their transition to productive adulthood, reduce their risk-associated behaviors, increase their civic awareness, and cultivate a sense of belonging. Youth engagement also supports better youth-service delivery [2].

Meaningful youth engagement also helps young people recognize oppressive power structures that prevent individuals from achieving their needs and priorities, and build their leadership capacities to challenge social injustices and inequalities.

WATCH: What is youth engagement?

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Engaging marginalized youth through meaningful youth engagement practices

Engaging youth from marginalized communities poses a significant challenge given the disconnection from, and lack of trust, they often experience in society [3]. Youth from marginalized communities are often at a high risk of homelessness, social exclusion, violence, racism, discrimination, mental health challenges, and stigma.

Paradoxically, marginalized youth are often far removed from accessing community programs and services that are available to them because of various constraints and access barriers. Such exclusion and disengagement, in turn, magnifies the disadvantages they face and contribute to their poor developmental outcomes.

Marginalized youth remain systematically prevented from accessing opportunities and resources that are critical for reaching their full potential and become contributing members of society.

The lack of meaningful youth engagement from service providers and organizations often create barriers for young people to navigate the services available to them as they often lack the necessary relationships and resources [3].

However, there are some useful practices youth organizations and service providers can implement to assist in meaningfully engaging disengaged youth.

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Practical ways to meaningfully engage youth

Youth empowerment is an effective strategy to foster responsibility and power within young people. In doing so, youth can be effectively incorporated into policy-making activities to confront issues in their communities, including education reform, youth employment initiatives, and crime reduction strategies.

Practical strategies for meaningful youth engagement include:

  • Involving youth in the planning process and incorporate their inputs and ideas into the program.
  • Providing young people with meaningful roles.
  • Assessing needs on an ongoing basis as young peoples’ needs change over time, and being aware of their support needs.
  • Cultivating authentic relationships between youth and service providers and/or service allies, and other young people.
  • Creating a safe space to have a dialogue regarding structural barriers, including racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, geographical location and other constraints that affect young people’s lives.
  • Listening, and 
  • Reassessing and challenging  one’s own assumptions about youth from diverse groups.

RESOURCE: Youth Engagement Toolkit


[1] Campbell, David, and Nancy Erbstein. (2012). Engaging youth in community change: Three key implementation principles. Community Development, 43(1): 63-79.

[2] A Guide to Youth Friendly Practices – Youth Engagement

[3] Iwasaki, Yoshitaka, et al. (2014). Youth-guided youth engagement: Participatory Action Research (PAR) with high-risk, marginalized youth. Child & youth services, 35(4): 316-342.

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