New data reveals that local youth are the experts on their needs and should be at the center of youth-serving systems. In this report, authored by a five-member Youth Commission sponsored by United Way of King County, youth are clear: youth-serving systems must meaningfully engage the young people they seek to serve in order to create the change needed in communities.
The report, supported in part by the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Account (PSTAA) within King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) provides five recommendations to support changing system structures to center youth. PSTAA’s K-12 Community Based Supports strategy features the Love & Liberation pilot, a program that brings together BIPOC-led organizations supporting youth to develop positive cultural identities. The report highlights the following recommendations:
|5 recommendations from the Youth Tell All report|
|1||Make young people integral to all decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and feedback processes.|
|2||It is vital to develop healthy and safe, as well as honest and consistent, relationships with young people.|
|3||Our decision-makers should represent our communities.|
|4||Build authentic relationships with our communities while centering the experiences of the people most affected.|
|5||Pay us for the ideas, time, labor, and leadership we contribute to your organization.|
DCHS staff sat down with Noah Ajeto, one of the youth analysts who conducted the research and authored the report, to get his take on the project, its importance, and what adults can do to support youth.
DCHS staff: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with this project.
I’ve lived in Washington all my life, specifically in Auburn. I went to school in Bellingham at Western Washington University. I got my Bachelors in psychology. I’m Filipino. I’m a socialist. I organize with Anakbayan and Auburn Mutual Aid.
This project seemed like a cool opportunity to not only conduct research but to tap in with the other youth orgs that are scattered all over King County.
DCHS staff: The report mentions that as the pandemic goes on, there is a ‘de-prioritization of youth’. Could you expand on that- what does it mean, and why is it important?
I think it’s as simple as when resources and people’s energy start to thin, youth are the first to go in that equation… There’s a hierarchy of who matters and youth are generally at the bottom because they are not seen as productive to society in the same way… And, a lot of youth aren’t being given the opportunity to be youth.
DCHS staff: The report utilized participatory research methods- it was led by youth and for youth. Can you share more about what that means, and why it was important for this project?
This process- being led by youth- made the project very authentic. A lot of times you’ll see that organizations say something is youth-led but…there might be one token youth or there might be a handful of youth that are on a youth board… In this project, we really had the freedom to do anything we wanted to do, or to not do.
The bottom line is, if you’re not getting feedback from the youth in the communities that you claim to serve, that are being affected by change, then you’ve already failed. I think that’s why the participatory model is really important, because it’s a lot more authentic.
DCHS staff: Did anything surprise you or stand out to you about the interviews or the overall recommendations?
What stood out to me is that a lot of the youth we talked to are very aware of their oppression already and the ways systems that govern them are keeping them down and keeping the youth development field from progressing.
These recommendations are not that surprising. As soon as we got our first wave of interview data, we immediately knew this was already starting to mimic similar things that have been said for decades. We know that we can’t get at the root of youth issues without youth being at the forefront of attacking those. Because we’re the group that’s most fit to understand our own struggles, right?
DCHS staff: What advice would you give an adult who is in a position of influence and wants to begin to implement these recommendations?
I think that it goes back to things that have been asked for decades by youth. And that, honestly, these asks are not radical at all. (Youth are) constantly placed into a state of dependency to adults to make decisions for us.
We youth only have influence, we don’t have actual power to push decisions through. What I would tell adults is, Y’all need to actively make sacrifices and to cede power.
DCHS staff: One of the important distinctions that the report makes is calling out not just youth providers, as individuals- but the system as a whole. What do you think gets in the way of systems change and what can be done about it?
If we point fingers and blame individuals, then we are starting to compartmentalize the problem and not see the forces that are putting folks in these predicaments… So, it’s important to note that the structural issue is what comes first and then you see that bleed into the culture of nonprofits doing youth development.
…Every org that claims to serve youth should take on these recommendations. This is just the first step. We want to build the first floor and then we want to keep building up and up and up and build this building. But we have to start somewhere.
The paper’s here, folks should read it, and folks should talk about how they’re going to implement it and really take action. I would also like to shout out to ForFortyTwo and FEEST who are already embodying these recommendations, along with others listed in the report.