What is youth participation?


Youth participation is actively involving young people in decision-making processes. The concept is related to ideas of citizenship, personal development, and involvement in society.

As a practice, youth participation involves young people in activities, organisations, government and community structures, and engages them on issues that directly affect them, like individual care or learning plans, and wider community-based projects. It is all about meaningful opportunities for young people, valuing their contributions and empowering them to help shape our world. 

Key principles 

  • Empowerment: Young people having greater control over their lives through participation.
  • Purposeful engagement: Young people taking on valued roles, addressing issues that are relevant to them, and influencing real outcomes.
  • Inclusiveness: Ensuring all young people are able to participate, regardless of background, culture, where they live, their gender or sexuality.

Some ways young people participate

  • Consulting about their ideas and opinions
  • Researching issues and taking action on something effecting their lives
  • Planning or leading projects, activities or events
  • Taking part in youth committees or forums
  • Taking part in adult-defined decision-making bodies.

Youth participation is a ‘doing’ word

Think about youth participation as an ongoing approach – it’s not tokenism, or something to be ticked off or done as a once-off. It supports young people to act, to make their own decisions and advocate for themselves, rather than considering them passive ‘clients’ with decisions being made for them.

Why it's important

Young people are experts in their own lives

Young people have the contemporary, real-world knowledge and experience of issues and opportunities impacting them and their communities. Therefore, to resolve these issues or take advantage of the opportunities, it makes sense to speak with young people, not for them, and for them to speak for themselves. However, young people often face limited options to be heard on the many different things they care about and are affected by. 

Young people’s participation in civic and community life is a human right

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly state that young people have the right to participate and contribute in decision making processes that affect them. 

  • Article 12: You have the right to say what you think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect you, and to have your opinions taken into account. 
  • Article 13: You have the right to get, and to share, information as long as the information is not damaging to yourself or others. 
  • Article 15: You have the right to meet with other children and young people and to join groups and organisations, as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights.

Youth participation helps address power imbalances

Young people are largely underrepresented, often misrepresented, and rarely included in government or community decisions which affect them. Similarly, professionals or practitioners working with young people often fail to actively seek their views and opinions or meaningfully involve them in planning, implementing and evaluating the work. Part of youth participation is about challenging traditional methods of decision-making or service delivery and putting power in the hands of those living with or in close connection to the issues they advocate for. It’s also about making sure more underrepresented voices are heard. 

What do the critics say about youth participation?

The term ‘youth participation’ is used frequently in the youth and community sector, with assumptions that it’s always a ‘good thing’.  It’s important to think through the following concerns when it comes to applying the idea in practice. 

  • Some people feel it's actually a way for adults to control young people, by setting the boundaries for how they participate in society. 
  • Others are worried the term has lost meaning because it's become so over-used. 
  • Government focus on youth participation often surrounds young people participating in the economy, which is a limiting definition of citizenship. 

So before you start incorporating youth participation in your work, it’s worth thinking about exactly what you want to achieve, and why you’re doing it. Here’s some further information for weighing up these considerations. 

Youth engagement

‘Youth engagement’ is a term related to youth participation. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, it’s important to define what it is you’re hoping to achieve in your work with young people before settling on either term.

 In youth policy and practice, there are generally three types of youth engagement:

  • Young people engaged ‘in’ – usually in education or training.
  • Young people engaging ‘at’ – such as taking part in an activity.
  • Young people engaging ‘with’ – being connected in some form of partnership or group work.

At YACVic, we view youth engagement as engaging ‘with’ young people, with guiding principles of respect, commitment and exchange.

Our youth participation model

We seek to meaningfully involve young people in all aspects of our work, because we know our organisation and our advocacy is stronger as a result. We do this through formal mechanisms, like our Board of Governance (which always includes at least four young people) and formal and informal opportunities to contribute to, or take part in, our research or advocacy. We also facilitate opportunities for young people to become meaningfully involved in the work of government departments or other organisations.

Our youth participation model resulted from a comprehensive review of the way young people participate in our organisation and other opportunities we offer. YACVic’s strategic plan (2016 - 2019) sets a goal to lead youth participation and engage effectively with our members. Guided by our Commitment to Child Safety, we have embedded youth participation into our organisational practice by attempting to involve (and employ!) young people in everything we do.

We list opportunities on the Are you 12-25? page of our website. We offer these opportunities to our young members via email, and then promote them more widely via our newsletter and social media.

Youth participation in practice

Learn more about some of the many opportunities young people have been involved in.

Young Thinker in Residence (YTiR) program

In 2017, we employed two young people for 16 weeks to ‘think’ on an issue they were passionate about and produce an advocacy project. Learn all about the program, and check out Annika’s video project on the issue of family violence and Brittany’s research report for supporting young Victorians leaving out-of-home care.

Our Help Recruit (HR) team

Every time we interview for new staff at YACVic, a trained young member joins us as an equal member of the interview panel. Hear from two young members about what it’s like being part of our recruitment processes.

Designing a new look for YDAS

When it was time for a brand refresh for the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS), we employed Ali, a talented young designer with lived experience. Learn all about the project.

A seat at Melbourne Metro’s table

YACVic young member Aatif joined the selection panel as part of Metro Melbourne’s railway station naming process. Find out more about Aatif’s experience.

Current opportunities for young people

Check out Are you 12 to 25? for all the ways young people can get involved with YACVic right away.

Further resources

Yerp – our online toolkit for youth participation

Yerp is a comprehensive info package to help you get started with youth participation. We developed the guide in 2013, led by a steering committee of young people and youth sector representatives in partnership with over 200 younger and older people across Victoria.

Are you looking for more information about why it makes sense to involve young people in the work you do? Are you aged 12–25 and looking for ideas on how to step up and make change in your community? Find out more at yerp.org.au.

Training

We run youth participation training regularly at YACVic HQ. Check out our Events page for upcoming dates.

Want us to come to you? Complete our online enquiry form and we’ll be in touch soon.

The interactive training sessions include some introductory theory and guidance for using Yerp. There is heaps of opportunity for discussion and reflective practice as well as strategies for developing youth participation in your role/organisation. 

Topics we cover

  • What is youth participation?
  • Principles of youth participation
  • Hart’s “Ladder of Participation”
  • Why involve young people?
  • Involving young people: First steps
  • Building community support
  • Putting it into practice

Contact us

If you wish to chat with us about training or running your own youth participation initiatives, please contact Sam at pdc@yacvic.org.au.