Youth participation

This fact sheet offers practical guidance on how to encourage consultation with young people. This can include formal consultation, forums to discuss issues and develop strategies, smaller focus groups, individual consultations such as case planning, or  indirect feedback through surveys or internet forums.

What is youth participation?

Youth participation is when young people (12–24 years old) have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to decision-making about issues that affect their lives. Young people need to know that their views have been listened to and are considered and acted upon.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that ‘State Parties shall assure, to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.’

Many public sector agencies are required to follow this principle through legislation and standards such as  the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 as well as the standards for Out of Home Care services.

Why involve young people?

The Commission for Children & Young People conducted a literature review of published material between 1998 and 2002 on participation of children and young people.

Most research in the area of participation points out that we live in a society where adults do not generally listen seriously to what children and young people say, do not consult them about  their views and do not encourage them to take part in decision-making. Children also say quite clearly that adults don’t listen to them. This is a key area of concern for any organisation working with kids. Participation has to be part of the organisation’s culture.

An organisation’s service delivery can be greatly improved by involving consumers in decision-making and policy development and this includes young consumers. Benefits of having young people involved in these processes include:

  • receiving different views and ideas during decision-making that may not have otherwise been identified
  • developing more accurate and relevant policies for young consumers
  • young people having a say in decisions that involve them
  • a greater likeliness of gaining support from young people for your processes and initiatives
  • young people feeling empowered through better understanding of public systems and the way government delivers services to the community and thereby gaining skills for future participation in decision-making
  • producing a catalyst for other age groups to become involved.

If young people are not involved in decision-making they may become resentful towards the decisions organisations have made on their behalf. This will make it hard for them to want to follow policies and rules ‘set upon them’. It is very important when you involve young people that you take their views seriously so it is not seen as just a tokenistic effort.

How to involve young people

Many agencies support the principles of youth participation but when it comes to actually doing it they may find it a challenge. Here are some tips.

When to involve young people

Young people can get involved in decision-making on different levels at different times. You may encourage young people to initiate and implement consultation with or without adults being involved and let them report their opinions to you or, more conventionally, you can meet with young people to take their views into account before informing them of the results. The more involvement young people have the more they will take ownership of the outcomes.

Planning the participation

Ensure that you carefully plan any consultation that involves young people. For example:

  • in any written information being prepared about the consultation, try to use a language and style that young people can relate to
  • prepare the young people beforehand, and afterwards provide feedback on the outcomes and any future opportunity to be involved
  • ensure you don’t direct questions to get answers you want to hear instead of answers young people want to give. Include young people in the formulation of the agenda
  • engage a range of young people. Use contacts through local youth services and schools to get young people involved

Environment for initiating participation

Think about where and when you will hold the meeting or consultation. Choose a youth friendly space, close to transport, at a convenient time and supply refreshments.

Think about the way meetings are run and make sure there are specific opportunities for young people to speak. The chairperson needs to ensure that young people are not overshadowed by the adults. You could even have a young person as chair.

Think about where you can connect with young people. For example you could link in with other youth projects or events or you could put a forum on the Internet where young people could discuss an issue.

Developing skills for participation

Both adults and young people need training to help develop their skills for participation. Adults can benefit from training, which offers tools to communicate with young people. If the adults are confident then young people will feel more at ease to participate.

Young people can also benefit from training to learn skills for participating confidently in consultations. Training can involve facilitation skills so young people can lead consultations for their peers, minute taking, chairing meetings, and public speaking.

Young people’s rights

Often organisations will ensure young people know their responsibilities to the organisation but not their rights. Organisations have a responsibility to inform young people of their rights when accessing services, including their right to:

  • be treated with respect, courtesy and honesty
  • be taken seriously
  • be provided with clear accessible information
  • have the opportunity to participate in decision making around issues that affect them
  • be informed of how to make a complaint.

Young people and complaints

Complaints are an important type of feedback, which if managed properly, will lead to improvement of your services. Young people in particular will often find it hard to complain. Organisations need to consider what the barriers are to young people so systems can be developed to overcome these.

Some barriers for young people may be that they:

  • experience that older people don’t listen to them
  • feel that older people hold the power
  • don’t believe that anything will change
  • are rarely asked for their concerns
  • feel that no action will be taken so why bother
  • feel they will not be believed over the agency or a staff member
  • may not know who to complain to or how, aren’t confident to put the complaint into writing and are scared of repercussions from making a complaint.

Empowering young people

By giving young people the opportunity to participate in decision-making an organisation is taking proactive steps to decrease the reasons for complaints. When young people want to complain, there are simple ways to empower them:

  • develop and promote guidelines within the organisation for receiving and responding to youth complaints, and include young people in these processes. Promote these.
  • support young people through the complaints process and continue to keep them informed.
  • be transparent, impartial, timely, and confidential.
  • link with people in direct contact with  young people, eg. teachers, youth workers, to ensure young people feel supported.
  • accept oral complaints about your agency.
  • see participation and complaints as an opportunity to grow and improve the services provided to your consumers.

If young people are involved in decision-making they will usually support the decisions and processes of  the agency. When young people feel listened to they become empowered to contribute to improvements within your organisation and the community.

Resources

NSW Commission for Children and Young People, 2001 Taking Participation Seriously  
www.kids.nsw.gov.au

Youth on Board, Sure Shot Intro Session:  
an introduction to youth in decision making.
14 Points: Successfully Involving Youth  
in Decision Making.  
www.youthonboard.org

Contact us for more information

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580 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Toll free (outside Sydney metro) 1800 451 524
Email nswombo@ombo.nsw.gov.au
Web www.ombo.nsw.gov.au


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©  State of New South Wales, January 2011, brand refresh May 2019.
This publication is released under a Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.

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