The fOrT is a fantastic youth centre in Corio, a northern suburb of Geelong, which provides free activity-based programs and a safe space for young people to relax, socialise and connect with youth workers and services. I visited the fOrT on 24 June, to discuss the youth engagement resources project with staff from organisations working in the Geelong and Surf Coast regions, a meeting that had kindly been arranged by Simone Lewis, Surf Coast Shire Youth Development Team Leader.
I asked participants to work in small groups to analyse the themes of the project, and they shared a number of insights:
What is ‘youth engagement’? How would you define it? Does it differ from ‘youth participation’?
“Why have we gone from participation to engagement? Because there’s so much work that people have done around participation… and now we’ve gone ‘nah, let’s change the word’”
“Participation is like moving through a process… Participation is great, but where have all the ideas come from? Was it youth ideas-led?… How can the young people themselves not just be included but take ownership and drive?”
“Sometimes I find in more disengaged areas where young people are not motivated to do youth-led stuff, sometimes you back to setting up an officer-led event and out of that comes the youth engagement… For example, we ran a skate event, officer-led, in Deans Marsh, and out of that came to youth-led events, because they’re like ‘Wow, this is what we can do!… We want to do something’… They were actively participating”
“[Engagement is] creative empowerment… relationship development… youth-led and decision-making… non-judgemental, non-tokenistic and validated”
“The journey and the process… It could be continually changing… depending upon which phase you’re at, or how you’re approaching it, but it must be meaningful and purposeful and not forced”
“We talk about little P and big P, so little P might be the participation of someone coming to an event but a big P is that they have started it and it’s youth led”
What are the ingredients of, and barriers to, successful engagement with young people?
- Keep up to date with tools YP use (e.g. social media)
- Ways to keep in touch with clients who don’t have mobile
- Realistic support and expectations
- A train-the-trainer package to deal with youth: “we are advocates but want everyone else to be as well”
- Politics within work setting
- Language – for workers (e.g. acronyms) and young people (need for straight forward)
- Getting others to value the opinion of youth – not just ‘preaching to the converted’
- Appropriate skills for workers
What content would you like to see in the new resources?
“It would be great to have a checklist where you could evaluate your event or what you’re doing, to be able to go ‘am I just being tokenistic?’, because you can’t just explain that sort of thing sometimes to people”
“[How to find] funding and means of lobbying to secure sustainable funding… [how to] address the needs of geographic isolation”
“Is there a component in it for… support for young people?… What comes after? Because I see some organisations who will definitely engage… “We’ve got you on the board, we’ve ticked all these things” but are they really getting the support they need? And what are those tools for organisations to be able to provide that support?”
“A train-the-trainer package to deal with youth… we are advocates but want everyone else to be as well”
How do we move on from ‘preaching to the converted’? How do we move this onto other members of the community, or council, who don’t currently have the same passion about engaging with young people? What messages do we need to put into these resources?
“Using ambassadors, so young people who are connected with their communities… so they become an integral part in terms of the community’s education and adding to these resources… Once you do have a young person saying ‘this is what is needed’ then it becomes less philosophical”
“OH&S is embedded in all organisations because it’s a standard that we all have to adhere to… why can’t youth also have a priority and be built in?… Because what happens if you don’t have a passionate person in your organisation?… So whether it’s a directive or embedded into a role, or it’s on every team agenda – ‘not only do we talk about OH&S, we talk about youth’”
“These resources would be good for the Rec Department, the Parks Department… because they are meant to consult with young people as part of their work… perhaps these resources aren’t being well-used because they are sitting with us and we do it as a job” – “And it needs to be easy for them to do it… because a lot of people see it as extra work for them, it’s not their core business”
“Over the last year or so we’ve developed a really good relationship with our planning department… because they were doing a whole heap of community services and we went to them and said ‘this is not accessible for young people, but let us help you’. So we were able to support young people to come along to the consultations by planting [youth] workers on different tables so that they [young people] felt comfortable there… so now Planning come to us… and they understand it”
“We all know that young people are amazing and the things they have to contribute astound us every day, but the other workers from the other departments don’t necessarily know that, and when they get a taste of that it makes them want to come back for more”
What examples or case studies can you give?
“I would showcase the fOrT… it runs really great now, and it will continue to evolve and change as young people’s needs do… but it wasn’t like it got put here and that magically all happened… A lot of the relationships were established with the external users well before we got a space, and our connections to young people were well established before we got the space, so I think the planning has to happen first… We had to get it going, and it had to be a development [with] lots of consultation, and it’s not like that ends – we consult regularly, it would be daily here that there’s varieties of consultations happening with programs and the young people who are coming through the door”
“We’ve run quite a few projects on Instagram and social media platforms and we find it incredible… young people totally engaging with it, we’ve had some outcomes from the project that we’d just not thought about… we did one in the 3216 suburb … ‘take a picture of something in 3216’, and we got hundreds of responses, then we made a wallpaper and we wallpapered the Leisure Link swim centre, the library and the skate park with that. But then we got this online community of young people who are still tagging their photos, and saying ‘OK, when’s the next project? We want to get involved’… So we decided that we could take things further, and out of that we chose 10 of those photos to use as stickers to advertise our Facebook [page]”
What ideas do you have for the new resources?
- Case-studies to bring things to the next level of practice
- Resources for relationship-building with other departments
- Something dynamic, online that be updated
- Something that addresses the organisation and structure, a mandate for youth engagement
- More electronic than paper-based
- Pages that we can download and update and fill in per project
- Get young people to make it
- Better photos
- Technology, use film and links to make it dynamic
- Use simple, engaging language, not jargon
- Have stats and outcomes – ‘what will you gain from working like this?’
- Online, YouTube, easy-to-read
- No more than 12 words per sentence
- Make it a game
- No flow charts
- Make it accredited training so you get the budget and time resource commitment
- Lose all the lead-in stuff [the messages from Minister and YACVic co-chair inthe original Taking Young People Seriously handbooks]
- An email sent to you once a week
- A one-page definition of youth-related things for people who don’t work in the sector
- Examples of areas they’re [councils] are operating in that they wouldn’t have considered as being relevant to young people, e.g. wanting tourists to pick up their rubbish
Many thanks to all of the participants for a productive and thought-provoking session. Special thanks to Simone and Jarrod Zdrzalka, Surf Coast Shire Youth Development Officer, for facilitating my visit, and to Danielle Parker, City of Greater Geelong Multicultural Youth Development Officer and manager of the fOrT, for hosting us.