Young People Have Great Ideas
Young people’s unique perspectives and sense of urgency are valuable assets for communities and can help generate new and innovative solutions. At MYAN, we collaborate with young people to develop their voices and support them to be a part of the decision-making process.
Community Research for Policy Change
We pilot a series of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) programs—a model where young people research deeply into issues they care about, identify possible solutions and present their findings to lawmakers, school boards and other decision-making adults. Rooted in the same positive youth development principles that informs all our programming, YPAR recognizes that youth are competent and their perspectives are important for building knowledge and solutions to social or public health issues. The last step of the YPAR model has young people translate their research into social action—presenting their findings and solutions to community leaders.
Young people are trained to conduct research that improves their lives, communities and sometimes the institutions serving them. These projects identify unmet community needs and use qualitative methods to gather the stories and perspectives of those directly impacted. This work defines “policy” and “change” broadly, spans a wide range of topics and results in a variety of recommendations to improve existing structures or enact new approaches.
MYAN directly facilitates several demonstration projects using the YPAR model. Learn more about Portland-area youth interested in educational equity (link to OPEN Project description) here.
Across the state, MYAN’s network partners facilitate youth-driven research projects focusing on schools, towns, and even entire public health districts. Referred to as Youth Policy Boards, these projects focus on topics related to adolescent mental health, substance use prevention and bullying/harassment prevention.
Statewide Youth Policy Board
At the state level, MYAN runs a Youth Policy Board using the same YPAR model being used by our network partners. The Statewide Youth Policy Board (SYPB) is a team of young people drawn from across the state. As a team, they decide on a topic area that affects them and the communities in which they live. Currently, the SYPB is researching mental health and suicide prevention.
This group provides a space for collective problem-solving and action. Not only do they name the problem—they get curious about it. What are the root causes, who is this impacting the most, what are the barriers to solving it, how do we solve it, what is the “major thing” that sustains and feeds the problem?
- This program is a way to combat the issue of isolation that often accompanies issues (feeling like you are alone, like the burden is too heavy etc.) and bringing people together in small communities to build connection and resiliency around solution-making.
- The theme of “community” is strongly present in the SYPB—young people quickly become close and form a strong group culture.
- The primary goal of the program is to leverage youth experiences and expertise to come up with timely and innovative solutions to problems in Maine.
- The young people involved are drawn from across the state and from varying backgrounds—uniting rural and metropolitan youth and bridging the divide between Northern and Southern Maine.
Young People’s Caucus
The Young People’s Caucus is the result of a partnership between Maine state representative Victoria Morales, The University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute and MYAN. The Young people’s Caucus (YPC) was created as a response to the under-representation of young voices in state policy making, with the goal of helping lawmakers and decision makers be more aware of the value in youth perspectives—their beliefs, insights, solutions and ideas—as an essential piece to creating policies that address everyone’s needs.
The YPC is facilitated by the Youth Leadership Group—young people passionate about social justice and making change within their communities and the state of Maine. The Youth Leadership Group hones their skills in facilitation through short training workshops focused on building communication and elevating the voices of other young people.
At each Young People’s Caucus event, groups of young people with distinct lived experiences from across Maine join the Youth Leadership Group to present on the issues that matter most to them, such as juvenile justice, child welfare, education, and dozens more. Together, they provide their expertise, policy suggestions, and unique insights to major decision makers such as the Department of Education, Governor’s Commissioners, legislators, representatives, lobbyists and community members.
Champion Youth Voice in Your Community
Connect with MYAN staff to learn more about bringing this Restorative Practices model to your school or community!