What hinders youth engagement? Disengaged youth may not tell us why they failed to show up to a meeting when they confirmed their attendance or why they “ghosted us” when we asked them to complete a task, but there are feelings and triggers behind the excuses.

One Voice IMPAACT (OVI) has been reading the research about youth engagement and listening to youth talk about their experiences. A common thread is the feeling of being tokenized. Roger’s Hart Ladder of Young People’s Participation defines tokenism as using young people’s stories to strengthen a cause.

Youth described tokenism in the following ways:

We don’t like to be displayed too much, put in front of donors, or have all the focus put on what we have been through.

It felt like I was just a face for an ad. Make sure that the stories being told about the youth are used to uplift their voice and not for a marketing pamphlet.

I have been invited to events where they told me exactly what to say. It felt like they did not want me to authentically speak; I did not say what they wanted so they cut me off when I started to speak.

We can move beyond tokenism by building authentic relationships with youth and creating a safe space for shared decision-making.

Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is the Executive Director of Selfless Love Foundation, whose mission is to enrich and transform the lives of current and former foster youth through raising awareness, strategic partnerships, and advocacy.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Wynter has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and abandoned children, providing leadership for local, state, and national efforts to improve the child welfare system. Dr. Wynter’s expertise in strategic planning and systems building have supported her transformative work in the areas of independent living and adoptions.

Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative entitled One Voice IMPAACT provides current and former foster youth opportunities to develop skills for leadership and life, advocate for changes to policy and join a network of youth leaders across the state of Florida.

References: https://www.aecf.org/blog/how-the-jim-casey-initiative-engages-young-people