What is youth engagement?
Youth engagement empowers youth as valuable partners addressing and making decisions about issues that affect them. And one thing is clear: Young people know their mental health is important and they deserve a say in how it’s supported. Youth engagement means embracing young people’s ideas and perspectives at every level of an organization – including governance, service planning and delivery, and evaluation. It’s about giving up a little bit of control, but trusting it’s still in good hands. – The Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health
Youth Engagement Is – Youth-adult partnerships (working relationships)• Shared decision-making• Involvement of youth in the design, planning and implementation of programs• Youth perspectives being valued and regarded as credible• Youth and adults assuming the dual role of teacher and learner
Youth Engagement Is Not – Service provider/client relationship (treatment)• Adults asking youth to offer a vote of approval on decisions that have already been made• Youth attendance in a program that was planned solely by adults• Youth perspectives, knowledge and experience filtered through adult interpretation• Adults mentoring youthTruly, participatory leadership, like youth engagement, is premised on the axiom, nothing about us, without us. Participatory leadership builds community while carrying out the business of the day. Rich experiences with co-creating, co deciding and co-learning builds trust and respect among the people engaged.
Why Youth Engagement?
When surveyed, eighty-six percent (86%) of youth indicated that they would turn to other teens for mental health concerns. Similarly, fewer than five percent said that they would talk to a professional — a startling statistic especially since it’s estimated that approximately one in five children and youth will experience a treatable mental health condition3.The opportunity therefore exists to enlist young people as partners in developing solutions to aid youth in getting the help that they need – when they need it. To improve services, child and youth mental health agencies need to engage the population they seek to serve by providing opportunities for youth to voice their needs and act as key players in the creation of solutions.
Outcomes of Youth Engagement
- Mental health – Services that promote and respond to consumer/youth/parent perspectives achieve better mental health outcomes in terms of compliance, retention and/or meeting client mental health needs. Engaged youth report lowered rates of substance use. Engaged youth also report significantly lower levels of depression than non-engaged youth.
- Employability – Through engagement, youth develop skills that can lead to employment, make connections to resources and people, become empowered, and build self-confidence. Connectedness is linked to a decreased likelihood of suicide attempts, early sexual activity, and drugs.
- Higher academic performance, healthier peer, and adult interactions and improved decision– making abilities are also associated with youth engagement.
- Healthy communities – When youth and adults work collectively, the result is healthier and safer communities.
- Staff morale – Youth engagement creates positive behavioural changes among adults. Most frequently, adults concluded that their level of involvement in the work at hand increased because of their collaborations with youth. Their emotional energy is contagious. The optimism and motivation of youth stretches adult staff. Adults report coming out of youth-adult partnerships with new strategies for interacting with youth and a growing sense of competence in relating to them.
- Organizational performance – Through engagement, organizations learn about the needs and concerns of youth directly and can develop more relevant programming that reflects those needs and concerns.
- Youth engagement in programs often shifts the public image of organizations to be more youth-friendly, which inspires confidence in the organization among youth.
- Better prevention and intervention programs – Youth-adult partnerships lead to enhanced social capital and civic involvement of youth and more inclusive and effective decision-making processes within organizations. This leads to better health outcomes, more responsive communities and better prevention and early intervention programs and policies.
- Youth engagement: is about empowering all youth as valuable partners in addressing and making decisions about issues that affect them personally and/or that they believe to be important.
- Engaged youth: play an active role in program planning and decision-making. They can include clients, former consumers of service, or those who express a genuine interest in the issues.
- Adult Ally: an adult assigned by the organization that supports, advocates for, and works alongside youth.
- Meaningful engagement: youth are meaningfully engaged when they are involved in activities that they believe to have purpose, when they show commitment to what they are doing, and they demonstrate gained knowledge of the activity.
To get involved, contact:
Phone: 705-525-1008, 2510