What is Youth-Adult Partnership?
Youth-adult partnerships are a powerful tool for collaborating across generations to improve youth mental wellbeing. These partnerships promote inclusive practices that value and elevate the voices of youth with lived experience. Before we begin, let’s ground ourselves in shared meanings of meaningful youth-adult partnership, elevating youth voice of lived experience and fostering mental wellbeing.
Youth-Adult Partnership can be a powerful tool for youth engagement and organizational improvement. By forming authentic partnerships with youth and sharing decision-making responsibilities and power, youth-adult partnership provides a framework for collaboration across generations. Both youth and adults benefit from skill building while working toward a shared goal and promoting intentionally inclusive practices.1
In this guide, lived experience refers to personal knowledge gained through first-hand experiences living with or caring for a loved one with a mental health and/or substance use challenge. Equally important and impactful are young people’s intersectional identities such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and physical and mental abilities. Lived experience also includes navigating systems of care like mental health and foster care. The knowledge gained through real and personal experience is as valid as theoretical and/or academic knowledge.3
The distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and actions of young people as a collective body that reflect diverse perspectives and experiences, inclusive of all backgrounds, identities and cultural differences.2
A state of wellness in which an individual can realize their own abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and make contributions to their community. Mental wellbeing is more than the absence of mental illness; it is fundamental to our collective and individual abilities as humans to think, emote, learn, interact with others and enjoy life. Mental wellbeing is thriving regardless of a mental health or substance use challenge.4
Why is youth-adult partnership important?
Youth-adult partnership works
The 4-H Council’s Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development and Tufts University5 found that meaningful youth participation and engagement help young people be healthy and thrive. A longitudinal study of the 4-H youth leadership program revealed that young people who participated in 4-H engaged in substantially more community and civic services and made healthier life choices.
When our systems, services and decisions center around youth and youth engagement, everyone benefits:
Benefits of Youth-Adult Partnership6,7,8,9
- Explore and discover through learning and self-expression.
- Build practical skills and knowledge to be informed and assertive advocates for their own health and the health of others.
- Deepen their sense of belonging and connection to others and their communities.
- Learn how to turn knowledge and awareness into actions that improve the wellbeing of others.
- Better understand youth and the value of young people’s authentic perspectives.
- Improve their cultural respectfulness and facilitate more meaningful interactions with youth.
- Enhance their ability to form authentic, trusting and supportive relationships.
- Energize their passion for creating communities where all young people can thrive.
3. Youth-serving Organizations
- Deepen their understanding of how youth experience their services and/or programs.
- Increase service engagement and retention.
- Identify new programs and/or services to fulfill unmet needs.
- Gain trust and recognition from their community.
- Improve youth health and development outcomes.
- Attract funders and partnerships.
- Improve quality of life for youth by increasing access to effective community supports.
- Create coordinated networks of care that support youth holistically.
- Cultivate engaged community members that are committed to the wellbeing of the community.
Youth-adult partnership shifts power and control from resting solely in the hands of adults to being equally shared by youth and adults.10 It means shifting from treating youth like objects, to seeing youth as partners and resources.
Lofquist’s Spectrum of Adult Attitudes defines three categories for attitudes towards young people:11
- Youth as objects
- Youth as recipients; and
- Youth as partners.
On CONNECTED, community-based organizations partnered with youth to achieve results in their communities. In these relationships, youth and adults shared control to increase organizational effectiveness while also facilitating the inter-personal growth and development of all partners.
- The adult is in control with no intention of youth involvement.
- The Objective: Personal growth of young people.
- The Byproduct: Conformity of young people and acceptance of the program as it is.
- The adult is in control and allows youth involvement.
- The Objective: Personal growth of young people.
- The Byproduct: Increased organizational effectiveness.
- There is a youth/adult partnership (shared control).
- The Objective: Increased organizational effectiveness.
- The Byproduct: Personal growth of young people and adults.
- The Ford Family Foundation Youth-Adult Partnership Resource Toolkit.
- Washington Youth Voice Handbook: The what, who, why, where, when, and how youth voice happens.
- Lived Experience is Expertise from San Mateo County Health
- Adapted from the World Health Organization’s definition of mental health
- Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development and Tufts University’s Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development
- Engaging Youth in Community Decision Making
- Effectiveness of Positive Youth Development Programs from Youth.gov
- Review of evidence on the outcomes of youth volunteering, social action and leadership from the Institute for Volunteering Research.
- Rationale for Youth Engagement from the School-based Health Alliance
- Building Effective Youth-Adult Partnerships Factsheet from Advocates for Youth
- What is authentic youth engagement? by The Maryland Governor’s Office for Children
- School-based Health Alliance’s diagram of Hart’s Ladder
- Adapted from UNICEF’s 1992 report: Children Participation from Tokenism to Citizenship
This website was created as a part of CONNECTED, a two-year initiative aimed at reducing youth anxiety, depression and suicide in underserved communities through meaningful youth-adult partnerships. CONNECTED was made possible by funding from a private venture philanthropist and strategic partnerships with Change Matrix, Michigan Public Health Institute, Relias, Watauga Consulting, and Youth MOVE National. For questions, please contact Julia Schreiber at JuliaS@TheNationalCouncil.org.