Real Youth Voice

6 Feb

Here is the question that I am grappling with – how do we help youth share their voices in a way that serves them, rather than the adults encouraging them to do so?

Maybe part of the problem is that youth voice is not fully integrated into any aspect of child welfare work. So when anyone makes a concerted effort to included it, it comes off as that – a very serious effort to do something different. When I attend panels where youth are asked to share their stories, sometimes the questions are so leading or the adults are working to push a certain agenda, it is uncomfortable. I am often tasked with asking young people to participate in a myriad of speaking opportunities, so this is an issue that hits me very personally.

There is a fine line that we walk when we ask youth to share their story. Done well, it can be incredibly empowering and give the young person the opportunity to connect with others in a whole new way. Done poorly, it is far more damaging. It can creates another disappointment that the youth must grapple with and can sever a previously trusting relationship.

When I listen to my intuition, I know what feels right and what doesn’t. The problems arise when the outside pressures are too loud for me to listen to myself. The thing is this: my values are what got me into this work and are what guide my work. My belief in the power of change within the system and the expertise of youth.

In this situation, you can’t take a shortcut in building a relationship. The trust has to be established before you can ask a young person to share, particularly in a more public setting. Adults need to work on the timeframe of the youth, not the other way around. Stories have power in both ways – to build you up or bring you down.


5 Responses to “Real Youth Voice”

  1. Amy Chou February 6, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    Thanks for sharing! So important. So glad to have folks like you pushing to have authentic youth voice in this work – even if uncomfortable truths come out of it.

    • ladamsk3 February 6, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

      Thanks! I really appreciate all your support. And now it looks like I have your blog link now 🙂

      • Ysette Guevara February 6, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

        LOLing at ladamski finding yr blog. Will share this in Twitter if you won’t!

  2. annecsch February 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on Research Team Updates and commented:
    Such a great perspective. I work in a juvenile detention center leading a theater workshop every week, and it IS a thin line between getting kids to open up and pushing them too far. I’ve found though, that most of the time, they really appreciate having someone trusting to listen and truly hear their story. It takes a lot of time to get to this place, though.

    • ladamsk3 February 26, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

      Thanks for sharing and for your thoughtful comment! I think your point about building that trust is exactly it. It can be tough, but I feel like the greatest privilege in this work is to have a young person share something so real and trust you with the experience.

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