Within the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health (YCRH), we pride ourselves on being a youth-led organization that advocates for child and youth health. We each contribute unique perspectives on health, so that we can approach novel situations creatively and with the best interests of children and youth. However, support from our parent group, The Sandbox Project, has been critical to our success. Our partnership with Sandbox is exemplary of an effective youth-adult partnership, and reflecting on this relationship is important to encourage other organizations and policy makers to similarly include youth voice in their decisions.
In 2017, we initiated the Sandbox Youth Adult Partnership Research Project (YAPRP) with the Students Commission of Canada. Dr. Heather Ramey, Principal Investigator of this study, and her research team conducted interviews with current and former YCRH members, Sandbox staff and executives, and external stakeholders.
What did we find?
Key findings from these discussions highlighted the mutually beneficial relationships that have been established between YCRH members and adult allies. For example, YCRH members emphasized they could rely on support from The Sandbox Project’s network, while adult allies reported acquiring new skills from working with young people. Creating this healthy balance between YCRH and Sandbox has grounded the YCRH as a “living laboratory” within which young people can create meaningful relationships, advocate for their values, and encourage involvement from other youth as well.
Recommendations to build strong youth-adult partnerships
Gathering the perspectives of youth and adults alike, this project has provided valuable insight that should be considered in all youth-adult partnerships.
Raise the bar. Create an ongoing platform to gather youth input.
Invest in mutual relationships. Nurture mutual understanding among youth and adults, taking the time to understand their interests and ambitions. Further, use this understanding to connect youth with internal and external opportunities that increase youth presence in decision-making overall.
Appreciate the value of different forms of knowledge and expertise. Expertise does not always surface in the form of academic knowledge; lived experience is just as valuable and should be respected.
Recognize different ways of communicating. Translate knowledge to youth appropriately, recognizing how they grasp information best, with the intention to encourage them to put this information to practical use.
For adult allies, embrace the unexpected. Recognize that working with youth is not equivalent to working with other adults. Provide generous timeframes, engage in mutual respect, and set deadlines at the outset of the working relationship.
Continuously revisit and renegotiate structure and flexibility. Adults are mentors that can help equip youth with the necessary tools for success. Ongoing communication between youth and adults is required to develop conditions in which youth can excel.
While these recommendations appear quite feasible, they are often forgotten. Organizations can superficially gather youth opinion, without appropriately evaluating their input during decision-making. It would be quite outdated to believe that youth cannot provide valuable knowledge and information, especially about decisions which pertain to them. Findings from the YAPRP serve as important reminders, and provide a valuable framework to understand youth-adult partnerships, strengthening the potential of adults to act as strong youth allies. Not only do youth deserve to be heard, but their voices need to be amplified. Let’s do everything we can to help make this happen.
Our e-book can be found here for further reference: http://sandboxproject.ca/ycrh-ebook/