“Standardization” is a scary word. Community-based youth workers often see it as the bain of the personalized and human effect they have with young people. However, standards can allow programs to aspire to more than the norm, more than intuition. Standards for Youth Voice may allow programs and organizations to:
- Increase the effectiveness of their Youth Voice programs;
- Allow evaluation, assessment and research data from Youth Voice programs to be used across different settings;
- Expand choices for program planners
- Enable organizations with similar programs to align according to stated interests and desired outcomes;
- Encourage information-sharing among similarly-focused programs and organizations that otherwise compete for similar funding or young peoples’ participation;
- Provides a benchmark for program and activity design;
- Allows organizational leaders to identify which skills and what knowledge currently exist and which are in need within an organization in order to meet standards.
There have been few standards proposed for Youth Voice. Past efforts have often glossed over specific issues that affect young people and their communities everyday by being too vague, or too specific. Maybe that is the fault of taking a standarized approach. Working with young people and adults across the country over the last 10 years I have had repeated conversations about what these standards can look like. Following are 14 Standards for Youth Voice I am proposing.
- Youth Voice should be defined as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.
- Engaging Youth Voice requires being aware, acknowledging, and infusing diversity throughout every activity.
- First and foremost, Youth Voice is a tool to build democracy; learning, empowerment, engagement, and other outcomes are consequences of that focus.
- Not engaging Youth Voice is active discrimination against youth and is not always a wrong, bad, or incorrect thing to do.
- Community problems should be addressed by communities, and not foisted on the shoulders of young people working alone.
- It is essential to engage Youth Voice in issues broader than those that only affect young people.
- Youth Voice already addresses a broad range of issues throughout our communities, and it is vital to acknowledge those current contributions.
- Young people have the same rights as adults to make their hopes, fears, dreams, and realities known to society.
- Youth Voice is the one bond that unites all young people throughout our society and around the world.
- The transience of youth is a foundation to be built upon, not a whim to be dismissed.
- Communities have different needs that can and should be addressed by and through Youth Voice.
- Young people and adults must build their personal capacity to engage and sustain Youth Voice.
- Every public institution in society is morally responsible for developing their structural capacity to engage and sustain Youth Voice.
- Youth Voice is an action that requires young people to speak by doing, and adults to speak by listening.
Standards can allow us to create more than a movement for Youth Voice; instead, they give us a foundation for establishing an entire field of practice. What do you think?