Study Documents the Benefits of Authentic Youth Engagement

Posted November 5, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Washington State University researchers studied the Casey Foundation's approach to partnering with young people.

Engag­ing young peo­ple emerg­ing from fos­ter care to help shape prac­tice and pol­i­cy is a key approach of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive®.

But does it work?

A team of researchers from Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty set out to answer this ques­tion. Their review took them to four Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive sites — in Geor­gia, Hawaii, New Mex­i­co and Ten­nessee — and spot­lights the ben­e­fits of authen­tic youth engage­ment.

Read Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty’s research

Across the sites, researchers exam­ined doc­u­ments, inter­viewed and sur­veyed youth as well as staff and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, and ana­lyzed data from the Oppor­tu­ni­ty Pass­port® Par­tic­i­pant Survey.

Among their findings:

  1. Authen­tic youth engage­ment helps youth build both self-con­fi­dence and self-advo­ca­cy skills.
  2. Youth engage­ment has influ­enced changes in pol­i­cy and prac­tice, includ­ing extend­ing the age of fos­ter care, address­ing bar­ri­ers to Med­ic­aid cov­er­age and increas­ing the liv­ing allowance for expec­tant and par­ent­ing youth.
  3. While sites have the tools and process­es need­ed to engage youth, they could advance this work by expand­ing com­mu­ni­ty part­ner­ships to lever­age resources like finan­cial train­ing and col­lege help.
  4. Four com­po­nents make youth engage­ment authen­tic. These are: 1) part­ner­ships between youths and adults; 2) prepa­ra­tion; 3) oppor­tu­ni­ties; and 4) support.

Jef­frey Poiri­er, a senior research asso­ciate with the Foun­da­tion who com­mis­sioned the research, says defin­ing, doc­u­ment­ing and under­stand­ing lessons learned from youth engage­ment efforts is key to help­ing all sys­tems that serve young peo­ple do their work more effec­tive­ly, from schools to work­force agen­cies to child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice systems.

This research makes clear that under­stand­ing and fol­low­ing the key four com­po­nents of authen­tic youth engage­ment can yield impor­tant gains not only for indi­vid­ual young peo­ple, but for the com­mu­ni­ties where they live,” Poiri­er says.

The researchers also out­lined how orga­ni­za­tions like the Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive can strength­en youth engage­ment work. Their rec­om­men­da­tions on this front include engag­ing more youth and a larg­er diver­si­ty of youth, includ­ing: youth of col­or, par­ent­ing youth, for­mer fos­ter youth, youth involved with the jus­tice sys­tem, and youth with diverse sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions and gen­der iden­ti­ty or expression.

When adults work direct­ly with young peo­ple to make changes, build­ing trust and lis­ten­ing to their voic­es, the effect is pow­er­ful,” says Leslie Gross, direc­tor of the Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive. This research rein­forces the impor­tance of authen­tic youth engage­ment while iden­ti­fy­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to strength­en rela­tion­ships with more diverse groups of young people.”

Down­load an info­graph­ic sum­ma­riz­ing find­ings on authen­tic youth engagement

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