From tokenism to authentic youth engagement


Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Youth engagement has gained momentum in many fields that work closely with young people, including youth programs and services, youth organizations, schools, and other institutions working to help young people thrive.

Youth-focused organizations thrive to implement youth engagement practices that capture the voice of young people they serve. While it is important to recognize the importance of youth engagement, the issue of youth tokenism remains an important issue in the field of youth work. Continue reading “From tokenism to authentic youth engagement”

What gets measured, gets managed: Program evaluation for youth work

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

A while ago, I was catching up with a good friend of mine, and during our mutual vent-session over the frustration we feel about the youth sector, she mentioned something I found puzzling.

Some key youth organizations in the community were opposed to evaluation practices to assess their youth programs and services, even when the opportunities to do so were available. Not surprisingly, some of these programs were not doing so well, although they have been running for a decade or so.

Often times, it can be easy to assume that if we make services and programs available to support young people, these programs would be effective and impactful. This is not always true.

Other times, it is easy to become attached to the program, or the funding, or our own ego, and we do not want to find out that our program is not as effective as we thought.  

A youth program that is committed to youth wellbeing, however, is reflective, willing to improve, change and grow and diligently ensures that its youth participants are experiencing the outcomes that the program is working towards.

If we value the youth and communities that we serve, we must be open systematically evaluating the outcomes and usefulness of our programs and services. Continue reading “What gets measured, gets managed: Program evaluation for youth work”

Meaningful youth engagement: Multiple contexts, multiple realities, multiple approaches

Meaningful youth engagement
Quote from YouthPower

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?

Continue reading “Meaningful youth engagement: Multiple contexts, multiple realities, multiple approaches”

Defining ‘youth’

imagesOn the surface, defining the term youth appears to be a very straight straightforward endeavor.

A ‘youth’ is a young person, right?

A while back, I had the opportunity to attend a Critical Youth Work course, a professional development certificate offered to Ontario youth workers with the space to engage in critical dialogue and learn about the political, social and economic realities that characterize youth work.

When the topic of defining youth and what age group youth constituted came up, there were varying opinions and some uncertainty amongst the participants. In a room full of about twenty youth workers, we could not come up with, or agree on, a concise definition of ‘youth.’

A term that often appears to be straightforward, and a label we frequently use carelessly, left us puzzled when it was presented to us through a critical lens. Continue reading “Defining ‘youth’”

Critical youth work

41726438_thumbnail-e1440623155661Historically, the primary focus of youth work has been on risk prevention and rehabilitation to keep young people off the streets, an approach known as a person-centered approach [3]. The person-centered approach has led to service providers to regard young people as problems requiring a solution or intervention. 

More recently, however, youth programs and initiatives have shifted their focus towards fostering positive youth development via empowerment strategies. The positive youth development approach views youth as active agents in changing their lives through active community participation.

This shift in youth work has been supported by the recognition that a person-centered approach is only one part of the equation and we must not ignore the intersecting systems of power, privilege, and oppression that influence the daily lives of young people. Continue reading “Critical youth work”