Youth Participation in Community Development

Friday, 23 July, 2021 - 23:06

Community Development anywhere in the world is facilitated by the extent to which the local people can mobilize their resources to address local needs. The role of the youths to fast-track Community Development Programmes has been recognized, particularly, in local communities where they have played pivotal role in education, health, environmental sanitation, mass mobilization, religious activities etc. Through active participation and encouragement; youths can be effective instrument for CD programmes and may take ownership as well. Youth can be meaningfully engaged in CD programmes.
The merging of community development and youth development has been at the core of current research literatures. Community development literature emphasizes the importance of citizen participation as a means of strengthening communities. Advocates and practitioners of rural community development also believe that citizens should be meaningfully involved in community decision-making.
The above imply that, for development to occur there is need for a greater participation of local people in development process which will change the nature and direction of development intervention as well as result in a type of development which will have local people‘s support and recognition.
Youth participation refers to the involvement of youth in responsible, challenging action that meets genuine needs, with opportunities for planning and/or decision-making affecting others in an activity whose impact or consequence is extended to others i.e., outside or beyond the youth participants themselves. It is only through participation that youth develop skills, build competencies, form aspirations, gain confidence and attain valuable resources. This shows that youth participation therefore is a product and strategy of sustainable human development.
Youth comprise nearly 30 per cent of the world's population, these large numbers of young people are an opportunity; an investment to their communities. Youth participation in community development programmes therefore:

  • Strengthens young people‘s abilities to meet their own subsistence needs;
  • Prevents and reduces vulnerabilities to economic, political and socially unstable environments;
  • Promotes ownership and sustainability of change interventions;
  • Helps gain entry into target communities and build up trust and social capital.

Challenges of Youth Participation
The benefits of youth participation are substantial, however implementing, continuing and developing youth participation strategies in health, mental health and/or community programs can be diminished, inhibited or interrupted by a range of challenges. Knowing what these are can assist in reducing their impact. Therefore, one of the first steps in developing youth participation strategies is to identify the barriers that may affect young people’s ability to participate.
There are different barriers to youth participation for each of the different players involved; the young people themselves, the organisation and the community
Barriers affecting young people’s ability to participate include:

  • A lack of trust by young people in decision-making systems
  • Poor information about how to become involved in youth participation
  • Insufficient time due to education and/or work obligations and family/friend commitments
  • Location and lack of transport
  • Skills deficits, for example in literacy, verbal skills and public speaking
  • Low socio-economic status, for example homeless young people
  • Lack of confidence, by both young people and staff
  • Insufficient resources
  • Minimal power given to young people to initiate organisational change
  • Negative social attitudes to, and stereotyping, of young people
  • Lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • Inequality, with class distinctions preventing young people from lower income backgrounds to interact with, and assume responsibilities in conjunction with, those from high-income backgrounds

Intermittent crisis situations that can damage the capacity of young people to participate in an ongoing or consistent manner.

Barriers relating to adults, workers and organisations include:

  • Organisational mindset:
    • Organisations often recognise participation of young people in theory but not in practice
  • Turnover of staff and volunteers:
    • affecting continuity of relationships and the capacity to follow-up young people seeking to become involved in program activities
  • Organisational disagreement:
    • where issues regarding the type and manner in which young people may participate in projects may hinder their committed involvement. Support from the whole organisation is necessary
  • Adult/parent mindset:
    • a lack of parental support, with parents fearing loss of control over young people as they become more confident, independent and assertive as a result of their experiences
  • Community resistance:
    • perceptions that young people’s opinions and abilities are subordinate to that of adults
  • Differences in skills / abilities:
    • a misconception that differently skilled young people need to be protected from harm or undue stress.

Alongside these challenges to participation there are a number of subgroups of young people for whom participation is especially challenging.
These subgroups may need additional support in order to participate and include young people who are:

  • living in a corrective, psychiatric, child-care institution, refuge, or in foster care
  • living independently or in a non-family situation of Indigenous descent
  • living in challenging circumstances eg low income, co-resident families, rental accommodation, single parent household.

The first three ‘at risk’ characteristics, as listed above, are over-represented in the 15–19 year old population, when compared to the national population, leading to a high likelihood of non-participation. There are potential strategies for minimising some of these challenges, including utilisation of local youth and/or mentors within the community. This not only increases the likelihood of initial engagement but, more importantly, instils a sense of connectedness to community, therefore promoting long-term involvement.
Additional challenges to successful implementation of youth participation in mental health include:

  • Mental health promotion seen by some organisations as a developing area.
  • Internet and website development is a relatively new area for some organisations (often used in engagement and development of youth participation programs).
  • Organisations often find broad mental health promotion strategies difficult to evaluate.
  • Previous negative experiences of youth participation attempts complexity and confusion around duty of care issues and roles or responsibilities.
  • Involvement of young people in participation programs is often transient resulting in sustainability issues. 
  • Organisational constraints such as financial and time limitations imposed owing to competing demands. 

A range of organisational and environmental barriers to youth participation exist. Duty of care, skill development, adult mindsets, organisational mindsets and the transient nature of young people and workers in the mental health system are some primary issues. Limited specific funding and poor worker supports contribute to youth participation seeming ‘too hard’ at times.

  • Consent forms required for young people involved with media
  • Parental/Guardian consent for  those under 18 years
  • Consent forms for participation  in offsite activities
  • Workers requiring ‘working with children checks’/police checks (varies by State and Territory)
  • Confidentiality when working with families
  • Codes of conduct
  • Complaints policy
  • Wellness plans and emergency contact information
  • Provision of information about participation to families
  • Provision of information to young people in an accessible and appealing format

Young people are increasingly recognized as significant agents in the realization of both community and national development programmes. Throughout the world, hundreds of thousands of young people are spearheading positive social change leading community initiatives, operating small businesses, and re-shaping political processes. With more than one in five of the world‘s population between the ages of 12 and 24, and with 1.3 billion of these young people living in developing countries, it is imperative that youth develop the skills they need to contribute to their families, their countries, and the global community.
Youth participation therefore is a mechanism that enables youth to gain these skills while simultaneously changing their communities. The involvement of today's youth in community development programmes especially in its decision-making and implementation is critical to sustainable youth development.
It is imperative that youths participate actively in all relevant levels of decision-making processes because it affects their lives today and has implications for their futures. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilize support, they bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account.
IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) - Udensi, Lawrence, Daasi, Gibson L, Emah, Domale, Zukbee,
Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association, ‘National Youth Participation Strategy Scoping Project Report’.Stepney: Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association, 2008

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