A youth council is an advisory group of youth that provide counsel and advice to local governing bodies and/or community organizations. The council gives youth the opportunity to supply meaningful input into the decision-making process and act as a resource for any agency or organization that is interested in receiving feedback from youth. These councils can also take on their own youth-driven projects and initiatives as well.
The goal of the youth council is to further meet the needs of youth and give young people a direct say in their community.
Young people understand what it is like to be a youth in the community more than adults do and they have just as much stake in their community’s future. Therefore, the youth should be an integral part in the consultation and decision-making process of any policy, law, project, or system being created in the community.
Benefits to Youth Councils
Youth councils empower young people and cultivate important life skills; such as leadership, teamwork, conflict resolution, time-management, communication, problem-solving, and more! Plus, they can better your community or organization. Young people bring a new, fresh perspective to the table. Nobody knows what youth in the community need or want more than the young people who live, play, work, and study there! The council can help raise awareness and take on projects that help serve the community and meet the needs of youth.
How to Start a Youth Council
1. Develop a Vision
First, it is important to have a clear understanding of what your youth council’s vision and goals are. What decisions do youth need to be part of making in your community and what does your council want to achieve? A youth council can be as broad or as specific as needed as there are all different types of youth councils. Some will aim to address youth needs and bring in youth perspectives to all decisions being made in your community. Others will take on a specific issue within the community or organization. For example, the youth council may be set up to address sustainability and environmental issues within a community. Or, it could provide youth perspective and solutions to a variety of issues that affect youth. Youth perspectives and solutions can be helpful in addressing all sorts of issues. Youth have unique experiences and are affected by the consequences of decision-making just like adults, so it is important to allow space for their views and solutions in problems, projects, and policies in the community as well.
2. Create Partnerships
If you are a youth trying to start this council, consider reaching out to the local government or youth-serving organizations for support. They may have resources that can help establish the youth council, spread the word, and give the council more leverage in the community. Of course, you and other young people can gather and advocate independently, but with the support of a branch of the local government or an organization dedicated to youth voice, the group might be able to have a greater impact in community issues and decision-making. If you are a local government or an organization starting a youth council, it can be just as helpful to create partnerships in your community. Whether it is for recruitment, funding, or impact. Building relationships with other organizations and sections of the public sector can be helpful in expanding and strengthening your youth council’s reach. Let others know how this council can benefit decision-making and the community as a whole. The more community members on-board, the better.
3. Make a Plan to Recruit Youth
Next, you will need to create a coalition of youth. Whether you are a young person, a local government, or an organization, it is important to consider how to recruit youth to join the youth council and any criteria needed to join. There are a lot of considerations to make when deciding on a recruitment plan, but here are a few important ones to discuss:
- DIVERSITY. Having young people from diverse backgrounds is essential here, just like anywhere else decision-making is happening. Diversity in the young peoples’ race, ethnicity, gender identity, socio-economic background, able-bodiedness, geographic area, etc. are all important considerations. As well as making sure there is representation from all different school types; such as, public, private, charter, and home-schooled youth. Diversity helps create better solutions and allows for varying perspectives on how an issue affects different groups of people.
- AGE. Recruiting youth of different ages and grade levels is also valuable in expanding the council’s perspective. A policy or community issue may affect someone who is 17 differently than someone who is 10. Both perspectives are important to consider in their own way.
- INTEREST & EXPERIENCE. This consideration depends on the scope of the youth council. If the council addresses youth and community needs in general, then hopefully the young people applying have an interest in bettering their community and addressing youth needs that are not being met. If the council is more specific and it focuses on a certain issue or topic, say sustainability and environmental protection, then it may be useful to consider whether the youth is interested in the topic or has experience in the field. However, it is not essential that the youth applying all have experience as we want a diverse background. This is just one of many considerations and does not determine alone whether a young person is dedicated and the best fit for the council.
- GPA. A high GPA is not essential for the applicant to be committed, driven, and a valuable part of the youth council. This is important to point out because often grades are used to limit the activities a young person can participate in, even if it does not reflect how the youth will act as part of the council. There can be many reasons why a student does not have a high GPA and it should not automatically negate them from being a valuable part of the council.
You may need to create an application that young people can fill out and an interview process to ensure the youth selected represent the community as a whole and there are a variety of voices present.
4. Outreach & Recruitment
After you make a recruitment plan, it is important to outreach in ways that are conducive to recruiting a variety of young people in your community. Outreaching to as many young people as possible and in ways that reach groups where they are is important. Also, it is essential to consider the barrier to participation and try to find a way to make participation accessible as possible. Lack of internet access, transportation, language differences, etc. might determine whether a young person is able to join the council. Finding ways to work around these barriers and highlighting them on outreach materials can be key to getting more youth to be involved. Additionally, paying the youth for their time can be a huge incentive for young people to join. Their time and perspective is valuable and creating a stipend they can receive for attending meetings show that the community or organization is serious about youth voice and empowerment.
5. Hold Meetings
Once the youth have been selected, hold meetings discussing the areas the youth council will focus on and how to create change in their community. It is important that the young people are leading the meetings and delegating action items to each other. Adults can be helpful support and guidance, but the emphasis should be on youth leadership and highlighting their perspective. Your council can come up with its own rules and systems to make meetings effective and move tasks forward, just find out what works best for your group. The tasks and action items created will depend on what your youth council decides to focus on. It can be advocating for local policy changes, implementing projects or initiatives that address youth needs, sharing their perspective on community issues, and/or anything else they feel passionate about that can create change.
Our Work with Youth Councils
At Vermont Afterschool, we are committed to supporting youth councils across the state. Currently, we are supporting a bill in the Vermont State Legislature that would create a statewide youth council. This youth council would collaborate with the state legislature and be part of statewide decision-making. We believe youth voice should be truly valued and their perspective should play an important role in policy-making.
For 2020-2021, Vermont Afterschool is also supporting eight youth councils in communities across the state to fund $5,000 each work of youth-driven projects. We are guiding the councils through a participatory budgeting process that gives youth the opportunity to submit project proposals that address community needs and allows local youth to vote on the projects they want to see implemented. The winning projects will be funded from youth to youth!
Resources to Learn More: