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Learning to Listen: Youth Participation in Policy and Advocacy

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Table of contents

  1.  
  2. The Adult Ally Role
  3. How Change Happens: A Social Change Continuum
  4. Case Study
  5. References

Policy and advocacy can be defined as the active involvement in strategies and activities that influence decision makers and drive public policy, laws and systems. The traditional sense of policy and advocacy is often seen as being conducted through litigation, lobbying and public education but can also include capacity building, leadership development, forming networks and relationship building. Adults are frequently seen as the driving force behind policy and advocacy work whereby young people are often the purpose for the creation and implementation of public health policies and programs. These interventions aim to create behavior changes to reduce youth related health problems such as tobacco and/or substance use related issues, obesity and even mental health related concerns. While some of these policies have been proven to be effective in some areas, their effectiveness may be limited in respects to having authentic youth voice in developing relevant structural changes on civic and environmental environments. Involving youth in decision-making processes reaches beyond token participation and superficial acceptance of their contribution.

The goal of youth-led prevention in Ohio is to empower young people to create community change. Youth-led programming supports the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in participating youth while engaging in the planning process of creating community change. Once youth have identified an issue they want to focus, including why it’s occurring, they can then select a prevention strategy to implement. Environmental strategies are one strategy, and policy and advocacy (the focus of this paper) is one activity within this strategy.

Environmental strategies ‘seeks to establish or change standards or policies to reduce the incidence and prevalence of behavioral health problems in a population.’ This change can occur anywhere from the school settings where youth attend or communities they directly live (micro) to involvement in county wide and state level initiatives (macro) and can include activities such as building youth/adult relationships, forming networks, leadership development, youth serving on boards and publicly speaking on topics relevant to them.

When youth are included in decision making and can have their voices heard on ways to address problems they become engaged as change agents. This type of authentic youth engagement is less about token inclusivity of youth in adult affairs, but emphasizes ‘meaning, control and connectedness to thrive in an adult-youth partnership.’ 

Organization, community and youth benefits to be considered from policy and advocacy participation of young people:

  • Engaging youth encourages young people to become active community members who will be more likely to vote and be engaged in the democratic process.
  • Young people are given the opportunity to assume leadership roles and gain skills and practical experience leading to more effective decision-making in the future.
  • Granting youth control over decisions affecting their lives builds capacity in young people to take ownership for their lives and their communities.

 

The Adult Ally Role

The overarching goal of YLP is grounded in the Youth Empowerment Conceptual Framework (YECF). This framework is a valuable tool for youth-led programs and the adults that facilitate these programs identifying, ‘individual, group and community outcomes that can be anticipated by participating in empowering group settings.’ 

The role of adult advisors, or allies, becomes paramount in their approach to preparing young people in addressing policy and advocacy roles and activities which integrally connects and impacts ‘individual, group and community outcomes’.

In preparing young people to engage in public policy, related tasks for adults involve educating and engaging youth in civic participation. Providing youth the opportunity to build skills and experience working around leadership and decision-making processes can help youth capacity and confidence to participate actively. ‘Apprenticeships can help youth learn how to adapt modes or argument to state legislatures, newsrooms, or school boards.’ and further establish an equal adult/youth partnership in leading campaigns where a common agenda is developed. Adults can be at the table with youth and foster their participation.

Another adult ally role involves supporting youth in building relationships with key policymakers. This is where adult youth advisors can utilize their own connections, skills and resources to recruit adult-decision makers and engage them as youth prepare for specific projects. Cultivating these relationships can involve training and support for outside adults in understanding youth culture and engagement.

Adults beyond the guiding role of adult advisor or ally can benefit greatly from youth engagement in decision-making in ways that involve building upon their own knowledge, skills and attitudes:

  • Adults begin to see youth as contributors, and stereotypes are broken down.
  • Adult levels of commitment, attachment and energy for an organization often increase when they gain an opportunity to work with youth.
  • Adults gain a better understanding of young people; a fresh perspective; a bridge to other youth; enthusiasm, creativity, flexibility and pro-activeness.

While youth participation in policy and advocacy can be defined as an environmental strategy, a comprehensive approach is essential on the path of accomplishing desired goals and outcomes. Preparing young people to authentically and purposefully engage in public policy takes education, involvement in networking and community engagement opportunities, data review and identification of a problem of focus and determining which policies to address as well as advocacy practices. 

The table below is one example of how social change through public policy is addressed on a continuum and recognizes policy as part of comprehensive whole approach. Additionally, it shows successful policy requires people operating at different levels. Each step in making social change is important and creates avenues where young people can use their strengths to impact a problem of focus, or issue, they are passionate about. 

How Change Happens: A Social Change Continuum

The case study below outlines multiple comprehensive prevention efforts, of which policy and advocacy are one on the path leading to youth impact on an identified problem of focus.

Case Study

Clearview High School’s Youth 4 Youth Program is an example of how young people can engage in policy and advocacy. Clearview High School is part of the Clearview Local School District located in Lorain County, Ohio. During the 2018-2019 school year, the district provided Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training to all staff. While providing this training to school staff is important and was appreciated, students were concerned they did not have access to similar resources. Students in Youth 4 Youth, a 9-12 grade prevention program at the high school, asserted that young people feel more comfortable talking to their peers around issues of mental health, depression, and suicide than they do talking to adults. Studies have shown that when young people encounter stress during the day, they cope better emotionally when they are with peers than with adults. As well, the GLSEN National School Climate Survey showed that 55.3% of young people didn’t seek out an adult in the building when they experienced bullying, victimization, or harassment, because they didn’t think anything would be done as a result of reporting the incident. Youth 4 Youth decided to advocate for students to be equipped with the knowledge of YMHFA to provide maximum support to their peers.

Students approached their adult advisors to explore available options for training opportunities and how they can get access to an YMHFA course. YMHFA is designed for adults age 18 and older (16 and older in limited situations). The possibility was floated of only having the students ages 16-18 participate in YMHFA, but none of the trainers felt prepared to provide the training to students. Additionally, Youth 4 Youth determined it wasn’t an adequate solution for the school as a whole since it would exclude younger students from participating. Youth 4 Youth continued to explore their available options and through their advisor, the students were able to connect with staff from their county’s Mental Health Board. As a result of the conversation, two clinicians from mental health agencies in Lorain County partnered to put together a one day training program for students. The training utilized materials from QPR Gatekeeper Training, YMHFA, and LifeSkills to ensure students were equipped to support their peers experiencing depression, anxiety, and mental health challenges. As a result of Youth 4 Youth’s efforts, students from nearby districts also advocated for access to the training. Students at Amherst Marion Steel High School, part of the Amherst Exempted Village School District in Lorain County, advocated for and received QPR Gatekeeper training in their school. As a result of student advocacy, Lorain County Mental Health Board has established a new mental health program offering that can be accessible to students throughout the county. This case study highlights how by advocating for increased opportunities and when supported by adult allies, students can ensure youth-centered policies and practices are established.

In a comprehensive prevention strategy approach, with activities involving policy and advocacy and with an adult/youth partnership the young people in this case study were able to directly impact their peers and environment in a way that has relevance to them and can affect outcome goals.

Empowering youth to evaluate and respond to community needs through the engagement of formal and informal decision-making processes places them as the driving force behind policy and advocacy work and directs them toward continued responsive involvement in their future environments.

References

  • Kirshner, Ben (2007). “Supporting Youth Participation in School Reform: Preliminary Notes from a University-Community Partnership.” Children, Youth and Environments 17(2):354-363.
  • Talbert, (2017). Youth-Led Programs. Athens, OH. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University
  • The Youth Friendly Guide to Intergenerational Decision Making by Apathy is Boring and the Youth Environmental Project, 2004. http://www.peernetbc.com/benefits-of-involving-youth-in-decision-making
  • Uink, Bep & Modecki, Kathryn & Barber, Bonnie. (2016). Disadvantaged youth report less negative emotion to minor stressors when with peers: An experience sampling study. International Journal of Behavioral Development.
  • Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Zongrone, A. D., Clark, C. M., & Truong, N. L. (2018). The 2017 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
  • Weaver, D., Jeffers, S., Worthy T. (2019) How Change Happens Continuum. Cincinnati: Youth At The Center.

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Learning To Listen: Youth Participation In Policy And Advocacy. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/learning-to-listen-youth-participation-in-policy-and-advocacy/
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Learning To Listen: Youth Participation In Policy And Advocacy. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/learning-to-listen-youth-participation-in-policy-and-advocacy/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
Learning To Listen: Youth Participation In Policy And Advocacy [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/learning-to-listen-youth-participation-in-policy-and-advocacy/
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