Power of Youth Explained

The Power of Youth Explained is a six-part series of short interactive, digital articles curated by #iwill partner organisations and Ambassadors. The series aims to bring together research, experiences and resources that not only develops the readers’ knowledge and understanding of youth social action, but helps them turn it into action. They are also designed to help your organisation put your Power of Youth Charter commitments into practice.

ARTICLE 2:

Why should youth social action be accessible to all young people & how can your organisation support this?

A LETTER FROM THE CURATORS:

Welcome to Explained: Inclusion!

We have brought together a range of resources on this page, designed to help you consider how inclusion could look in your YSA project or setting. 

This topic has been curated by #iwill Ambassador Naomi and Phil and Abi from the Centre for Education and Youth, who have participated in, led and researched youth social action, and have come to the conclusion that inclusion is an essential facet of good YSA practice. 

The resources here include information that illustrates why an increased focus on inclusive practice is necessary, theory that explains the radical roots of YSA that creates change for marginalised communities, practical advice to help you make sure projects are open to all young people, and examples of brilliant projects shaped by diverse groups of young people.

We hope that you leave this page inspired and excited to think more about inclusion in your own setting.

VIEWPOINT: Who’s Missing?

Phil and Abi, Centre for Education and Youth

Take a good look at your youth social action project, and at who is involved. Who is there? But more importantly, who is not there, and what is preventing them from being there?

At its heart, youth social action (YSA) is about young people being supported to create change in their communities. Social action has roots in radical group work, bringing people together to challenge unequal power relations and push for greater social justice. This is an exciting heritage, and one that provides opportunities to look to the long history of social action by civil rights, feminist, queer and disabled activists for inspiration. Celebrating the political nature of YSA allows us to gain inspiration from the past and look hopefully to a future that works for all young people. To water this down or to present youth social action as an apolitical one-off day event is a missed opportunity for more powerful change in the community.

For YSA to build on this history and be effective, communities must be represented by the young people taking part; a project designed by a group of young people with similar backgrounds may not be as effective in pushing for change as a project that has benefitted from a variety of different experiences. Inclusion cannot be an bolt-on consideration towards the end of planning a project, it is a central component of YSA. Inclusion can be used as a challenge throughout all stages of a project, from planning to delivery, and as a prompt to be discussed with both staff and young people. It strengthens projects’ outcomes and improves practice, benefitting from a range of understandings of the issues experienced by different members of the community. So make sure you reflect on any YSA projects you may be involved in, asking yourself questions like such as:

  • Does this project make any assumptions about the time, money or resources available to participants?
    • For example, participants may have work, family or childcare responsibilities that limit their ability to contribute large amounts of unexpected time.
  • Does this project make any assumptions about participants’ cultural backgrounds or ethnicities?
    • For example, organising meetings in pubs could exclude Muslim participants, or those who aren’t comfortable in spaces where alcohol is served.
  • Does this project make any assumptions about participants’ cultural capital?
    • For example, not every participant will be familiar or comfortable with approaching potential funders, and may need support or training to do so.

YSA projects are not always designed to be fully inclusive, and research shows that young people from marginalised groups can often be excluded from chances to get involved. As practitioners, it’s important to look closely at ourselves to identify any biases, prejudices or blind spots that could impact on the projects we facilitate. It might also be useful to involve other organisations and form partnerships with those who have a history of meaningful work in your local community. We see inclusion as a foundation for high-quality work alongside young people, and an exciting push to broaden who is driving forward positive change within our communities.

For further prompts to support inclusive practice, check out our prompts section below!

INCLUSION AND PARTICIPATION IN YOUTH SOCIAL ACTION

Findings from the National Youth Social Action Survey have consistently shown that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are significantly less likely to participate in meaningful youth social action (MYSA) than their wealthier peers. Take a look at the evidence below from the 2019 survey.

In 2019, 41% of young people from a higher socio-economic background (ABC1) were taking part in meaningful social action, in comparison to 29% of young people from lower socio-economic background (C2DE).

Although the data has fluctuated, there continues to be a disparity between white and BME engagement. In 2019, 37% of young people with Black and Minority Ethic backgrounds were participating in meaningful social action, in comparison to 35% of white young people.
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Despite opportunities to broaden participation in meaningful youth social action, persistent inequalities are visible in the data, and in young people’s perceptions of who youth social action is for.  Social context, individual background and needs all play a role in how accessible a young person can find youth social action in a particular situation. Use the prompts for practice below to consider your opportunity specifically and what more you can be doing.

Find out more about what we mean by high quality and meaningful youth social action in Power of Youth Explained: Part 1.

PROMPTS FOR PRACTICE

  • How did we find participants, and promote the opportunity? Did we reach outside of our usual networks and speak to any new groups? Did we explain how young people will benefit from taking part?
  • Will taking part in this leave some young people out of pocket? Are we able to cover any travel costs, or look at other costs we might be able to reimburse?
  • Are we able to offer flexibility for young people who have work or caring commitments?
  • Are activities and resources accessible for young people with learning needs? Can we offer clear information in different formats?
  • Are the buildings and spaces that we will use for this project accessible? Can young people with mobility needs or who use wheelchairs access the space? Are there accessible facilities, such as toilets (including gender neutral toilets), and quiet spaces? If work is taking place online, have we considered how young people can be supported to be fully involved in online spaces? 
  • Are ‘ground rules’ in place to support young people to join in safely? Who was involved in creating and reviewing these rules?
  • Are all rules clearly communicated to young people, along with clear communication around what happens if these rules are not followed?
  • Would any of our expectations around young people’s behaviour be more difficult for young people with learning difficulties or who have social and emotional support needs? Can we put in place any additional support to support young people to meet these expectations? If not, is it fair to hold these expectations for all young people?
  • Can we pre-empt any ‘trigger points’ or difficult situations that might arise? What can we do to mitigate these, and is there additional support we can plan in advance?
  • Across our organisation, do we have a commitment to anti-racist work that is supported by our leadership? Is there a race equality policy in place, and are all members of the team familiar with it? Are all members of the team able to identify racist incidents (including use of racist language) and challenge those involved?
  • If we are using resources, are they representative of a wide range of identities? Do they include visual representations of Black, ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ and disabled young people? Do they support young people to consider people with identities and experiences different to their own? How do they support young people to address issues caused by racism and discrimination?
  • Are staff able to reflect on their own biases and ensure that these are addressed? How can we make sure that we don’t perpetuate any harmful stereotypes, or make anyone feel ‘othered’? Do we talk about equality in our practice as a team?
  • Were young people involved in planning the project, or identifying the issue that the project is designed to tackle?
  • Are we prepared to talk about politics if the issues that are important to young people taking part are political? How can we make sure that we provide a safe space for difficult topics to be discussed in a way that is young-person-led and respectful?
  • How much scope is there to develop leadership amongst young people? Are we providing enough opportunities for them to shape this project?
  • Have we thought about access to quiet spaces, or 1:1 support for times when young people might need space?
  • Do we have a trained mental health first aider on site, or someone who is able to respond appropriately if a young person is in crisis? Are there any resources we could use to support a young person to regulate their emotions?
  • Are we able to ensure that the project provides space for young people to talk about their experiences, and that all young people are supported to respond with empathy and understanding? Are we comfortable addressing any instances where young people may respond inappropriately or make someone feel uncomfortable?

WHAT’S THE WORD ON THE GROUND?

Check out these two case studies from organisations who are exploring how they provide inclusive youth social action opportunities.

Sport England
Shaftsbury High School

VIEWPOINT: COVID-19 and Accessibility

#iwill Ambassador Charli Clement

COVID-19 is making an impact across all of our daily lives – but for me, as a disabled and chronically ill young person, some of these challenges are already familiar. As an activist, I am fighting for better communication and support for disabled people, both during this crisis and in the future. Here are the lessons I feel we can all learn from the COVID-19 crisis.

Increased accessibility is a possibility, and it should be here to stay.

For many disabled people, traditional education and work places are not spaces we fit. When asking for accommodations like working from home, it is seen as an inconvenience, and we are told they aren’t possible.

Yet when COVID-19 began, it took only days for companies and universities to move online and to adapt imaginatively to using new digital tools. While welcome, I can’t say I didn’t feel frustrated that this was suddenly possible.

I don’t think these tools should necessarily replace standard ways of working, but there is no reason for them to be abandoned completely after the crisis. For example, my lecturers have been uploading the written transcripts they would use in-person.  So why isn’t this always uploaded to support those who struggle with the normal recordings? Many pupils find lectures challenging due to concentration and sensory issues, or being hard of hearing.

Similarly, for those of us dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, working from home can be a key accommodation. Having to drag our aching and exhausted bodies into an office or to two hour long lectures daily is no easy feat. Right now, being able to take our time and tailor our days to fit our bodies feels like a luxury – but it shouldn’t be.

The current accommodations could enable so many more to work or study, and make us feel truly integrated into society. Having a meeting over Skype or Zoom instead of travelling for hours can mean I don’t deal with the payback my body gives me for days afterwards, and that little break can mean the world. Telephone medical consultations can also be a relief for many.

We shouldn’t let healthcare, schools and workplaces say they can’t facilitate these accommodations once the crisis is over, just because able-bodied people are back to life as normal.

Social media gives communities the space to come together and push for change

Social media has always been the most accessible way for me to be an activist. And, although I’m now able to do more in-person too, it will always be one of my favourite places to spread the word about the things I believe in. During the coronavirus crisis, it has become a place for the work of many, for communities to come together in new and creative ways.

There are people sending mums of autistic children foods they can’t access, people supporting the NHS in their thousands, incredible stories of people in their 90s surviving coronavirus. These stories keep me going when it is possible for anxiety to be overwhelming.

Through the Scouts Community Impact group, I was part of the process behind the successful “ThreeFor3” campaign, where we asked people to share the three ways they’re looking after their mental health, and to tag three friends to share their own. It was so much fun to see so many people take part – we even trended on Twitter!

Social media is a fertile space for political discussion and for coming together with like minds. Along with positive stories, there are those holding the government to account and making sure that a certain level of appropriate scrutiny is held up. There’s a lot of talk about “putting your politics aside” during this time, but in my opinion, it’s even more important to be political in order to better the actions of our elected officials for now and our futures, for the frontline and for vulnerable people.

A pandemic doesn’t pause our disabilities or vulnerabilities

Something that the discussion hasn’t always considered is that just because we are united around a shared crisis – it doesn’t mean our other challenges have disappeared. Services may be closing, but it doesn’t mean we get a break, whether that be from health conditions, caring responsibilities, family issues, struggles with our mental health, or a combination.

If anything, many of our existing challenges will be heightened or exacerbated. Isolation is only intensifying the weight many young people already carry on our shoulders. And with school and university still up in the air, many of us have had support we rely on withdrawn.

I implore government officials in education, health and social care to take into account how different this situation is for every young person. Where you can, take the opportunity to hear from young people’s lives and experiences. For every young person, there is a different experience of this crisis – we need to see each one as an individual instead of a statistic.

Want to read more from Charli?

ACROSS THE SECTORS

Being accessible and inclusive is crucial regardless of which sector you’re in, check out the below examples and resources to see why and how:

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND OTHER RESOURCES

KEEP UP WITH THE POWER OF YOUTH EXPLAINED

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