Researching for a presentation in 2013, I identified fewer than 40 youth councils connected with city governments across Washington State. This state has over 280 municipal governments. There were also fewer than 10 counties that had youth councils, and only one state agency reported a youth council, in addition to the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council.
Here is the presentation I made:
Youth are everywhere! According to the United Nations, young people between the ages of 12 and 21 account for more than 25% of the world’s population today.
In the United States, the Census reported in 2011 there are over 73 million people under 18 in the United States. 10 to 19 year olds make up more than 14% of the US population.
At that same point, the Census reported that young people ages 10 to 19 make up 13% of Washington’s population.
There are more than 281 municipalities in Washington State, including incorporated towns and cities. Research conducted by the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council has found that only 35 of those municipalities have Youth Councils.
Youth Councils have vast differences, and many different possibilities. Some of the differences depend on where they are located, who is on the Councils, and what the local municipality needs from them.
However, the missions of many Youth Councils aren’t generally informed by research-driven best practices, national trends or patterns, or other factually-based decisions. Instead, they are determined by well-intentioned adults who want to do the right thing, but are limited by their own imaginations, by their city or town leadership’s vision, or the way that everyday people see young people.
However, and luckily, we’re not limited to negative or challenging perceptions of youth. As one community organizer said, “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.” The way they’re going to do this? Youth Councils.
A youth council is a formal or informal body of young people that is driven by advocacy and decision-making. They address the absence of youth involvement in decision-making for any age of young people, with kids as young as 7 and young adults as old as 24 being involved in Youth Councils across Washington State.
There many different kinds of youth councils, including those sponsored by local governments, including towns, cities, and counties; state government agencies and legislatures; local nonprofit and community organizations; and national organizations.
Communities with Youth Councils in Washington
- Des Moines
- Federal Way
- Liberty Lake
- Mercer Island
- Mill Creek
- Oak Harbor
- University Place
The Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council had:
- 22 students
- Ages 14-18
- All corners of Washington
- All walks of life.
- Two-year term.
- Meet up to four times per year in Olympia.
- Hold monthly conference calls to discuss projects and goals.
- Hold an annual Action Day to meet with legislators and testify on important youth-related bills.
- Advocate for youth-related bills. In 2013, lobbying efforts helped move three bills to be passed into law.
- Partner with youth groups and organizations.
Other types of organizations have youth advisory councils. They include:
- Community Development
- Workforce Development
- School Districts
- Neighborhood Associations
- Faith Communities
- Ethnic and Cultural Groups
- Performing Arts Orgs
- And many others
Alfie Kohn once said, “Youth should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today.” Youth Councils allow young people to experience democracy in realtime.
The context for youth councils comes from many places. I find poetry inspiring, and in particular, Langston Hughes’ poem Freedom’s Plow:
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.
Would you build with young people? Youth councils provide one way to get that done.