As a child and youth mental health agency, your resources are likely already stretched thin, but youth engagement won’t happen in a meaningful and sustainable way unless there is dedicated funding to support it.
Building agency readiness and cultivating deep relationships with young people requires:
Meaningful youth engagement requires time. Agencies will need to train staff, develop relationships with youth, implement relevant changes, provide clinical support, etc. Identifying what human resources are available is crucial for setting the stage for youth engagement. Everyone has a role to play – here are some examples:
- Create agency policies and organizational structures to support youth engagement
- Create opportunities/roles for youth in the agency (e.g. youth on staff, volunteers, advisors)
- Set parameters and manage resources (e.g. staff time, space)
- Share mental health/systems knowledge
Adult allies (professionals, staff members, volunteers, parents, community members, etc.)
- Are accessible to young people
- Develop strong relationships with youth
- Create safe spaces for youth to express themselves and ensure that all voices are heard
- Create opportunities for youth to build skills, address issues that they believe to be important and take action that contributes to change
- Set realistic expectations and clearly communicate project parameters, including resources and level of decision-making power
- Coordinate project activities (e.g., recruitment, training, access to resources)
- Support the co-planning, co-implementation and co-evaluation of projects
- Prepare youth for the slow pace and potential challenges of social change
- Communicate with stakeholders within and across projects
- Allyship is about listening.
- Ally is a verb.
- Allyship is a relationship, not an identity.
- Allyship is consistant.
- Allyship involves constant education
- Allyship involves community accountability (not isolation).
- Allyship is not about the spotlight.
- Allyship involves focusing on those who share your identities.
- Allyship is about listening, apologizing, acting accountably and acting differently going forward when criticized or corrected.
- Allyship respects emotional energy.
Clinical support professionals
- Ensure safety within youth engagement initiatives
- Respond to youth issues and needs
- Support youth to find and critically appraise mental health information
- Identify formal supports, natural supports and community networks
- Work with young people to develop the skills to safely support their peers
Champions (professionals, staff members, volunteers, parents, community members, etc.)
- Promote and support youth engagement
- Model the change they want to see
- Encourage, acknowledge and celebrate success
- Influence and advocate
- Promote and support youth engagement
- Provide ideas and advice
- Contribute additional resources (e.g. space, time, financials, expertise, etc.)
- Influence and advocate for change
A place to gather
Youth will need a place to gather, to call their own, and a place where they feel safe and comfortable. Finding such a place requires a number of considerations:
- Is it physically accessible?
- Are there any safety concerns to address (e.g. proper lighting in the parking lot)?
- Is it central and easily reached by transit?
- Is it available in evenings when youth are more likely to make use of it?
- Is it appealing to young people? How can youth contribute to the design (e.g. colours, furniture, ambiance)?
Monsignor Clancy Catholic Elementary School (Thorold, Ontario) wanted to create a place in their school where people could feel safe, relax and de-stress. Through funding from Dare to Dream, the school created a Relaxation Station – an environment with access to calming music, books and community resources. This space is open to anyone who needs it and is supervised by student leaders trained to be suicide-alert helpers and by a child and youth worker.
Incentives to support participation
Incentives to participation can take many forms and serve as motivators for those participants who are less inclined to be involved. Incentives can range from practices (like ensuring that food is available at a meeting) to relationship-based (like working to establish or strengthen a connection with a particular staff person or peer who may bring particular skills/expertise to the youth engagement initiative). While incentives do not always come with a financial cost (e.g. volunteer hours, reference letter, access to Wifi etc.), keep in mind that they often do demand resources.
“First I came because I heard there was pizza, then I came because I wanted to see who would be there, now I come because these people are family.” Anonymous Youth, Valoris, Rockland, Ontario
There are many barriers that can prevent youth from participating in engagement activities. Youth may have to incur costs such as transportation, meals, or specialized training. Overcoming these barriers to engagement usually involves resources, whether it’s providing bus tickets or paying for childcare. When thinking about how you can address some of the barriers to engagement, here are some questions to keep in mind:
- Will youth need to incur transportation costs?
- Will they have to miss school or work?
- Are there childcare requirements?
- Do youth need a computer/internet to access resources to actively participate?
- Do youth need training to participate actively?
Providing an honorarium to youth is a way of recognizing their time and expertise. This can take many forms, so work with youth to figure out what is meaningful to them. Some examples include food, gift cards, volunteer hours or professional references. To bring some consistency to the way your organization handles honoraria, it’s helpful to establish an honorarium policy. Here are a few considerations when developing this type of policy:
- What kinds of activities are eligible for honoraria?
- Is an honorarium based on time spent on activities or project milestones?
- It’s easiest to provide the honorarium at the time of the event. Does your organization support this?
- Will youth need bank accounts and social insurance numbers?
- Where applicable, will receiving an honorarium affect the young person’s social assistance payment?
- Consider processes involved in disbursing honoraria and ensure that these are clear and transparent (How much? Who will request it? Who will sign off? When will it be available? How will it be tracked?).
Finding additional resources
If you’re looking for some creative ways to enhance your resources, check out some of the ideas below:
- Fundraising: Hosting an event or initiative with the goal of raising money, example: coffee houses, auctions, etc.
- Explore the possibility of applying for a grant. These are non-repayable funds provided by a government, organization or donor towards a specific project.