In this video, I’m keynoting at the 2018 Teens Care, Too! Youth Summit in Vancouver, Washington. The topic of my talk, “Ownership Is Just What We Do,” reflected the summit’s theme. Centering on my personal story, I touched base on owning our stories, owning our communities and owning the future, together.
The Parent-Youth Connections Seminar, or PYCS, was a project of the King County Superior Court with primary focus on early intervention for low-risk youth involved in the court system. Focused on providing fun, interactive seminars to low-risk youth offenders and a parent or other connected adult, Adam Fletcher facilitated the program throughout 2018 as a principal consultant with The Athena Group.
Together, youth and adults explore youth engagement, community empowerment and social change. They explore the skills, knowledge and actions needed to change their lives and the world around them.
In this project, Adam designed and facilitated a 12-hour research-driven program designed to engage and empower families to change their lives. The Parent Youth Connections Seminar used intensive hands-on, interactive and focused activities, to engage parents and youth as they worked together to learn new knowledge, explore previous practices and grow new possibilities for their families. Over two-days, each session featured four workshops for learners of all ages including adult-only and youth-only groups.
The purpose of the Parent Youth Connections Seminar was to engage youth and caring adults in critical topics that would empower young people to make better decisions, be leaders in the future and change their lives in positive ways.
Workshop topics include:
Establishing and maintaining power, trust and respect
Individual and Family Strengths and Weaknesses
Action planning and problem-solving everyday
Finding real adult support
During each seminar, Adam ensured that participants were actively involved, heard engaging stories, completed challenging activities, participated in powerful reflection, discovered useful resources for the future and more.
The crisis of disengagement facing youth today is shameful. There are so many issues youth can become active in and so many actions they can take our communities have no reason not to engage every youth and every adult everywhere all the time. But somehow, they don’t. Adam Fletcher works with nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to build youth engagement throughout communities.
Following are Adam Fletcher’s tools for youth engagement in communities. Contact him.
Adam Fletcher’s Tools Supporting Youth Engagement in Communities
There is an engagement gap facing every school today, and Adam Fletcher can help you bridge that gap. Based in research and experience, Adam facilitates professional development for educators, training for students, project consultation for education agencies, and much more. He speaks at conferences, writes for journals and periodicals, and has authored several books.
Following are Adam Fletcher’s tools for youth engagement in schools. Contact him.
Adam Fletcher’s Tools Supporting Youth Engagement in Schools
From 2009 to 2013, Adam consulted the American Institutes for Research (AIR) Technical Assistance Program focused on youth involvement in systems of care. Supported by SAMSHA, this project was designed by AIR to provide nationwide support for youth in foster care as they became systems advocates for transforming, sustaining and advocating change in their lives and the lives of those who came after them.
Adam consulted in many roles for AIR, including providing expert guidance for staff and grantees across the country, and co-writing a national guidance manual. He also keynoted several national gatherings, trained local grantees, and assisted in the evaluation and reporting of activities.
“Adam truly cares about people; nowhere is this more evident than in his passion for creating inclusive communities with a space for everyone. His passion for youth engagement is contagious and I appreciate his ability to challenge us be our better selves so that we can live in better communities that support and honor us all.”—Reyhan Reid, Program Coordinator, American Institutes for Research
Our society is filled with systems. A lot of them affect youth. A system is any group of coherent connections resulting in a predictable result.
Whether we’re talking about obvious systems like education, health care and juvenile justice, or less tangible systems like culture and families, it is important to understand how each of these systems affects youth engagement.
Systems are made of many factors, including people, policies, procedures and possibilities. There are eight factors in the graphic below.
While I’ve worked with schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other orgs over the last 17 years, I’ve explored how and these systems operate. I’ve seen “under the hood” in dozens of communities, watched the bad and the good arise in times of crisis and seasons of apparent ease… and every time I’m reminded of the systems at work.
Wherever they’re sustainably connected, youth engagement happens in systems.
Education—Education systems are formal and informal, apparent and subversive. Youth engagement starts in the space where they’re learning.
Sports—The youth athletics system includes rules, teams, scores, morals, codes and more
Culture—The cultural system all youth belong to includes obvious and not-obvious rules, behavior, attitudes and beyond
Economics—The youth employment system exchanges goods and services for money and more
Other systems of youth engagement include school, faith, justice, health, family, civic action, social services, mental health, recreation, or other systems, ALL youth EVERY where can experience the positive, powerful potential of youth engagement. Let’s explore that together!
I’m offering a new series of training and speeches on Systems of Youth Engagement. If you’re interested in learning how I can help you, your organization or your community, call me today at (360)489-9680 or send me an email. Want to learn on your own? See the links below.
There are many resources on juvenile justice in the world, and I’ve spent almost 20 years collecting tools for youth engagement. Following is a collection of resources I’ve identified that address transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice. Do you have resources, tools, examples or more to share? Leave me a comment below!
Transformative youth engagement is about building the capacity of individual people to become meaningfully and sustainably connected within themselves and to the world around them. Every person has affective and cognitive scaffolding within them; transformative youth engagement activates those abilities. The simplest way to judge whether you are engaging youth in transformative ways is to see whether diverse youth—youth of color, English language learners, immigrant students—are experiencing positive, purposeful and empowering changes through juvenile justice. If they are not, your approach can become more transformative and engaging.
Ask yourself these questions:
Are there any activities in the juvenile justice system that don’t benefit all youth, their families, or their communities?
What activities seem to engage all youth, connecting them to the world within and around them?
What actions have you noticed that seem to be most engaging to youth within and outside of the juvenile justice system?
Educator Zaretta Hammond suggests three avenues that juvenile justice can adapt for transformative youth engagement: Gamify it; Make it social, and; Storify it. Can you imagine these approaches applied consistently throughout the juvenile justice system? What could gamifying diversion even look like? How can we positively making juvenile justice more social? If youth could storify their experiences as part of their experiences within the justice system, how would that affect their outcomes? Not being able to envision these changes is a barrier to transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice today. I think these are some of the most exciting prospects for transformative youth engagement today.
From my scan of the field, the transformative potential of youth engagement is underexplored, underemployed and underacknowledged within juvenile justice today. By activating youth voice throughout the system; encouraging youth empowerment through diversion and sentencing, and; fostering youth/adult partnerships throughout the entire system, we can change the hearts and minds of young people who’ve been implicated in wrongdoing. We can also change what their hands and feet do in the future. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?
The barriers to transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice occur in three ways: Individual barriers, Cultural barriers, and Structural barriers.
The individual barriers are shown by youth and adults, and may include attitudes, perspectives and mindsets related to youth engagement.
Cultural barriers can include the shared beliefs, common values and group think apparent throughout and around the juvenile justice system.
The structural barriers to transformative youth engagement include the policies and procedures, the decision-making processes, and the control and authority throughout the entire juvenile justice system.
Following are some details on the individual barriers to transformative youth engagement.
Overcoming Individual Barriers
There are several ways that youth and adults can behave like barriers to transformative youth engagement. They include Forcefulness, Silencing, Whitewashing, Showboating, Pedestaling, Heroism, Lowballing, and Sockpuppeting. Here’s what those can look like:
Forcefulness: Individuals—including youth and adults—can be barriers when they try to force youth to be engaged, undermining the best intentions.
Silencing: One of the most insidious ways that people can undermine transformative youth engagement can be very overt and/or very subversive, sometimes at the same times. Silencing happens when the voices of youth are intentionally shut down, denied, neglected or repressed.
Whitewashing: This happens when people pretend that all voices are represented by one voice, particularly if that voice does not and cannot effectively represent their peers. Its the enemy of diversity, pluralism and uniqueness.
Showboating: When individuals are allowed to continuously, selfishly and egotistically highlight their own skills, talents, or abilities, they are showboating. All voices should honor the contributions and abilities of all people everywhere all the time.
Pedestaling: Romanticizing youth voice or making someone always right is putting them on a pedestal and pretending they’re infallible. Transformative youth engagement has disagreement and mistakes, and models consensus and collaboration.
Heroism: In a room with too few representatives, a particularly loud voice standing above all others can sound brave and unique, especially when they represent an under-acknowledged majority. However, just because a young person talks to adults in a way that makes adults listen to them does not make them heroic or a superhero. It makes them well-versed. We have to make room for young people who do not please or appeal to adults so easily.
Lowballing: Some institutions, organizations and individuals are calling for youth to be informants to adult decision-making in juvenile justice. They want youth voice to be heard and a seat at the table for youth. However, there’s a lot more at stake for youth than simply being able to talk or be represented somewhere. In reality, youth are the reason for juvenile justice, and they can be fully integrated into the operations of every single decision affecting them.
Sockpuppeting: Some adults give youth words and ideas and issues, and expect youth to share them accordingly. That’s suckpuppeting. Transformative youth engagement requires safe and supportive environments for authentic youth voice to be engaged.
Once we begin acknowledging how we act as barriers to transformative youth engagement, we can begin addressing these behaviors throughout the juvenile justice system.
Youth voice can address a lot of issues throughout the juvenile justice system using a variety of approaches. Some of the juvenile justice system components that transformative youth engagement is happening through include policy, programming, multi-systems approaches and legal defense. The issues youth voice is addressing include mental health; treatment; education; re-entry issues.
In many places nationwide, this work is neither brand-new or a silver bullet. However, it is essential and the future. The following examples show how transformative youth engagement is happening right now in juvenile justice settings where I live.
“Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.” – Rachel Jackson
FEDERAL WAY: In Federal Way, Washington, there has been a growing amount of violence in the city, including more gun deaths, beatings, and domestic violence. Many youth being implicated in these crimes are brown and black, low-income and frequently, under-educated. A program from the Federal Way Youth Action Team is called Helping Youth Perform Excellence, or HYPE. Believing that community members can make a positive difference in the lives of local youth, HYPE empowers local community members to take action to create a safe and healthy community with young people who are involved. Learning diverse adult living skills, establishing authentic mentorships with local adult allies, and building support for each other within the program and beyond, HYPE is challenging the status quo and working to end youth violence in their city. This program is transforming juvenile justice by making discussions personal, promoting strong community connections, and building a sustainable infrastructure for changing Federal Way today and in the future.
SEATTLE: A program led by the Seattle-based Vera Institute for Justice works in three cities nationwide to build educational success and workforce training for youth who are at risk of juvenile justice system involvement or who are already in the system. Vera’s Center on Youth Justice, or CYJ, has a program called Youth Futures that aims to help build youth stability through employment. Building the skills and support youth need to achieve long-term success, the program focuses on youth living in or returning to high-crime, high-poverty communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Through comprehensive, individualized services linked to workforce development, education, and training programs, the lives of youth are transformed from the beginning of young peoples’ involvement in juvenile justice. Assigned and volunteering to participate in Youth Futures, the lives of these youth are changed forever through their involvement.
WASHINGTON STATE: Reflecting a commitment to address the entire system of youth engagement, officials in the State of Washington’s Department of Social and Human Services have adopted a statewide cultural competence plan that positions youth voice as vital to youth at the family, neighborhood, local, regional, and state levels. Within a standard focused on embedding diversity practices, they seek to expand youth voice in order to, “Infuse culturally and linguistically appropriate goals, policies, and management accountability throughout the organization’s planning and operations.”
The Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation United Youth Council program, or UYC, is a new youth voice mechanism for youth to share their knowledge, ideas, concerns and opinions of youth specifically in regards to improving the juvenile justice system. There is a UYC at the three main juvenile justice facilities in Washington State. Youth who have successfully completed the application process join the UYC at their facility; then, a few of the local UYC participants make up a statewide youth committee to inform state-level decision-making. The UYCs focus on what’s working and what’s not working regarding their juvenile justice experience. They also share input on treatment processes and outcomes from rehabilitation; current and future policies; and process re-design.
SEATTLE: More than a decade ago, the ROYAL (Raising Our Youth As Leaders” Project began fighting to reduce disproportionate minority confinement and recidivism in King County by fostering radically powerful youth/adult partnerships. They hire adults to serve in the traditional role of mentors, youth participants wanted more than friends. The original participants sought critical feedback, substantive insight and meaningful opportunities to connect with adults from the communities they lived in. The Royal Project wanted to fill that desire by positioning adults as life coaches who would instruct youth about life, teach them business principles, and help them set and work toward goals. Ultimately, the positions are powerful youth-adult partnerships that significantly change the lives of many participants.
Many programs fostering transformative youth engagement are explicitly antiracist, and/or led by people of color. They provide community alternatives to juvenile incarceration, often giving Black people, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, and Pacific Islanders direct control over the structures created to address youth misbehavior. Community-led, community-owned responsibility for their own children matters.
KING COUNTY: Other approaches insist on addressing juvenile justice as a public health issue. In King County, Washington, that means that officials are embracing strategies such as rather than spending time incarcerated while awaiting trial, youth can:
Work with counselors to deal with trauma in their lives
Attend workshops with parents to learn new skills
Other paths to avoid ending up in the adult justice system in the future.
It means that officials will look at the entire ecology of a young person when considering their offenses and the results, and because of that they work with the goal of zero detention for youth, also called “Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders” or DSO. This movement to end youth incarceration is inherently anti-adultist because it places youth wellbeing in tandem with adult intentions.
As the stories above show, action for transformative youth engagement should focus on fostering youth/adult partnerships. Focused on engaging young people with their communities, these are intentional relationships emphasizing equity between youth and adults, and building social justice throughout the lives of young people. It should focus on supporting youth voice, which is any expression of any youth anywhere, at any time, for any reason. Creating safe, supportive environments for youth voice within the juvenile justice system is important, as well as fostering the adult support needed to sustain and expand youth voice in appropriate, relevant and meaningful ways. Finally, transformative youth engagement should expand, deepen, criticize and necessitate youth empowerment throughout the system. Youth empowerment “is not a process, a product, or an outcome. Instead, youth empowerment comes from the individual attitudes, shared cultures, and everyday structures that children and youth share with adults throughout society.” Instead, it happens when the capacities of youth are enhanced, including their inner-strength, self-respect, motivation, future-thinking, and abilities to connect with people outside of themselves.
Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t just organically happen or authentically sustain itself. There are real roadblocks standing in the way, and they must be addressed.