Youth Involvement Stagnates

The national youth involvement movement has stagnated. For more than 20 years it has promoted almost the exact same approaches to addressing challenges are radically different today than ever before. Something has got to get different, and get that way rapidly.

I first became aware of the national effort to systematically involve youth throughout systems when I was 15. That year I was given a manual by the neighborhood Methodist church focused on youth involvement at church. I don’t remember too much about it, but I know that it highlighted different models of youth involvement and gave examples. That was 1990.

Ten years later I was hired into the national youth voice movement as a youth ambassador by the Points of Light Foundation, or POLF. At that point POLF had a high profile in that movement, sending folks around the country to promote the gospel of involving youth throughout society. That diminished in the years after, but the movement did not. Instead, throughout the 2000s more organizations than ever before sought to involve youth in decision-making, planning, evaluation, training, and advocacy. It was a powerful time. I logged a lot of these groups through my work in building The Freechild Project online database.

One of the feature technical assistance organizations, Youth On Board, contracted with me a few years ago to rewrite their primary manual about youth involvement, now called 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making. It was exciting to expose new action happening across the country focused on diversity in youth involvement, and show how deep the national movement had grown.

A lot of these efforts have been cut lately, and those that are left are generally slugging on the ropes. However, as much as I think this is a failure of politicians and movement builders to understand the necessity of youth involvement, I think it’s a failure of the movement itself to transform with the times.

Instead of adopting radical new approaches to engaging youth throughout society, most organizations promoting youth involvement stagnated through the last decade, and are now stuck precisely where they started.

Here are some examples of youth involvement that might be from 2001 or 2011, reflecting the inability of the movement to change with the times:

Those are all typical youth board member positions. Here are some exceptional ones:

Other places to look for exceptional examples of fully participating youth board members include city governments, and cities like Hampton, Virginia.

We need new approaches that re-envision the roles of young people throughout society. Youth involvement has stagnated.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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