Youth Voice & Leadership

Building Block 3

building block 3

What It Means:

Programs authentically partner with youth to build their leadership skills.  Young people are involved in meaningful opportunities to plan, implement, and evaluate program activities. 

Why It Matters:

Young people are more likely to stay engaged in the program when their ideas and contributions are included.  This places their interests at the center.

What Effective Practices Look Like:

  • Staff value and encourage youth voice and expression.  Youth have the opportunity to make significant choices about activities in the program.

  • Youth serve as leaders and mentors to each other.

  • Staff support youth’s leadership development through appropriate skill building opportunities (e.g. goals setting, planning).

  • Youth input and contributions are encouraged in activity planning, implementation and evaluation. As young people gain experience, their input and contributions become increasingly sophisticated.

  • Staff provide opportunities for reflection and for youth to showcase their work.

More Building Blocks

Research and Reports

University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development. “Civic Engagement and Leadership.

This online page contains blogs, recommended research articles, and pre-recorded presentations on the topics of citizenship and leadership in youth programs. It’s a great way to keep up with the latest resources on building youth leadership skills in afterschool programs.

Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College. “2013-14 Northstar Youth Worker Fellowship Papers.

This collection of papers was written by a cohort of experienced youth work practitioners in Minnesota during the course of their Northstar Youth Worker Fellowship. Many of the papers explore questions of autonomy, authority, and youth leadership in afterschool and youth programs.

Toshalis, E. and Nakkula, M. (2013). “Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice.” Students at the Center. 

What motivates students to engage in learning and achieve academic success? The authors synthesize research on achievement motivation, school engagement, and student voice, concluding that the more educators use student-centered approaches to reinforce student agency, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise.

Tools and Templates

The FreeChild Project. (2008). “Youth Voice Toolkit.

This online toolbox provides a one-stop resource – including tools, examples, and other resources - for incorporating youth voice and engagement into your afterschool program. It is especially helpful for those just beginning to incorporate youth voice into their program, but has something for all levels of experience.

Advocates for Youth. “Youth-Adult Partnerships.

This page includes information, tips, and even lesson plans on how youth and adults can work together in genuine partnership. In addition to general youth engagement resources, it also provides resources focused on using youth-adult partnerships to promote young people’s reproductive and sexual health.

Martin, S., Pittman, K., Ferber, T. and McMahon, A. (2007).

Building Effective Youth Councils: A practical guide to engaging youth in policy making.” Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment. This is a helpful guide for creating or strengthening youth councils. It contains a synthesis of theory and practice that provides a general framework for thinking about youth councils, explaining the principles for youth action and the importance of youth engagement.

Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice Toolkit.” Students at the Center. 

This toolkit accompanies the report of the same name in the “Research and Reports” section of this page. It describes activities and materials that help educators understand and apply the concepts of achievement motivation, school engagement, and student voice.