Assessing the Effect of and Support for Youth Involvement in Public Decision-Making: A Report on Nine Case Studies

Article excerpt

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should have the right to express their views freely and that those views should be given due weight.

Health Canada (1995) has defined a set of turning points for Canadian society in regard to the development of children and adolescents. One of those national goals for the healthy development of children and youth in Canada states, in part, that we should "ensure that young people have opportunities to participate in decisions about their healthy development. "

Governments, institutions, agencies and professionals are actively seeking to involve youth more in decisionmaking. More municipalities are becoming "youthfriendly" (CCSD, 1998). School systems are involving students on school boards, inviting students to serve on advisory committees with adults and helping student councils to play a more active role in school and school district decision-making. Public health organizations are promoting youth-led programs and activities.

But our knowledge of such youth programs is scant. A recent literature review (Shannon & McCall, 1997) has described the research on impacts of various models and categorized the programs. The Canadian Coalition on the Rights of the Child is training adult-led organizations in how to involve youth (CMHA, 1995). Health Canada has conducted a meta-analysis of youth consultations (Caputo et al, 1998). However, there has been little critical investigation into the specific characteristics of effective involvement. We also need to know more about Canadian examples of direct youth involvement in decision-making.

As well, there has been little critical examination of the process and the impacts of such involvement. Are youth truly being empowered? Are we really only reaching young people who are already active and successful in reaching their goals? Are structures and systems changing to enable youth to participate in a meaningful way? More importantly, does such youth involvement lead to measurable changes to any of the factors that determine the health and development of children and youth? These factors might include improved access to preventive health services, enhanced social support to youth or changes in health-related behaviours.

The Canadian Association for School Health, with the support of the Childhood and Youth Division of Health Canada, has had an opportunity to investigate some of these questions in a report on several case studies. These nine examples come from the education, municipal and government sectors, including:

a provincial student leadership centre

a school board that has a tradition of electing a student as a school trustee

student involvement in a school accreditation review

a project to reduce violence and conflict in schools

a youth advisory committee to a municipality

a youth centre sponsored by a police department

a municipal youth showcase

a youth advisory committee to a federal department

a youth contest to create an advertising campaign on smoking

For geographical convenience, these examples were chosen from British Columbia and Ontario. This article reports briefly on all of these case studies. Full reports on all of them are available on the web at:

Go to that website to see how and why these examples are successful.

Youth Involvement in Public Decision-Making

Within that broader context of involving youth in general, the case studies reported here examine how young people can be involved in public decisionmaking. In other words, are youth truly being involved and supported so that their voice is heard and acted upon? Five ways in which youth can be involved in the decision-making process were selected for this project:

1. Youth Representatives on Governing Board

2. …