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Youth Engagement

Youth Voice
When young people and adults work together to get things done, what makes a good youth/adult partnership?

Being able to understand each other

Lots of energy geared toward strengthening the relationship

Effort on both sides

Shouldn't dismiss ideas

Share 50/50

Eliminate hierarchy


What doesn't work well?



Lack of trust



Lack of follow-through

Thinking you are better than your partner

Having a negative attitude

- New York City members of the
ACT Youth Network

What is Youth Engagement, Really?

Youth engagement is one of the buzzwords in the youth development field. Similar terms are youth voice, youth involvement, youth participation, and youth in governance.

What does youth engagement mean?

Youth engagement is the result when young people are involved in responsible, challenging actions to create positive social change.
  • This means involving youth in planning and in making decisions that affect themselves and others.
  • Youth engagement happens in youth-adult partnerships that are structured so that both groups contribute, teach, and learn from each other.

Why is youth engagement important?

Youth engagement is a central principle of youth development. According to the ecological perspective of human development, young people are agents of their own development. Youth are more than passive recipients of external influences; instead they are actively involved in shaping their development by interacting with the people and opportunities made available within their environments. Through youth engagement, communities can do a better job of creating the services, opportunities, and supports that young people need to develop in healthy ways. Youth engagement offers community leaders the expertise and partnership of young people, helping adults fully understand what it is like to grow up in a rapidly changing world. From a political point of view, youth engagement is important because young people deserve the right to represent their own interests. Youth civic engagement is also critically important to prepare young people to be active citizens in a democracy.

What are the benefits of youth engagement?

Youth engagement is a win-win proposition.
  • Young people benefit by gaining skills, knowledge, self-esteem, and connectedness.
  • Adults benefit by enhancing their own competencies, learning to better understand and value youth, and increasing their commitment and energy to their organizations.
  • Organizations benefit by improving their programs, gaining community recognition, and attracting funders.
  • Communities benefit by improving quality of life, coordinating youth services, and authentically embracing diversity by representing young people.

Resources for Youth Engagement

Strengthening Communities through Youth Participation (PDF): Authored by the Center for Nonprofits at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this study explores how ACT for Youth communities responded to the challenges of youth engagement, presenting lessons learned and identifying strategies and outcomes at the community level.

Youth as Evaluators: Youth participatory evaluation (YPE) is an approach that engages young people in evaluating the programs, organizations, and systems designed to serve them. Learn more about YPE in the evaluation section of the ACT for Youth website.

Washington Youth Voice Handbook (PDF): This handbook by Adam Fletcher includes workshop outlines and provides an orientation to "the what, who, why, where, when, and how youth voice happens."

Youth Involvement and Engagement Assessment Tool (PDF): provides this assessment tool, suggesting that organizations and community-based partnerships complete the assessment every six months as part of continuous quality improvement.

Involving Youth: This online assessment tool from can assist organizations and community partnerships in determining how they involve youth in programs, whether youth are becoming more engaged in the community, and if certain strategies are helping to retain youth.

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