Published on February 16th, 2016 | from CAMH Education
So, you want to engage youth on your project…
By Tyson Herzog and Olivia Heffernan, Youth Engagement Facilitators, Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health
Meet Liv and Tyson.
We’re two of the Youth Engagement Facilitators at CAMH’s Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth and Family Mental Health. Our job is to get young people involved in and excited about mental health and substance use research. We connect youth with opportunities to give feedback and to be involved throughout research processes.
The idea of engaging youth or other populations might just sound like an extra burden, but it will likely make your projects more relevant and successful. Community and patient engagement is increasingly becoming standard practice, so join the cutting edge of research!
Many researchers have the question, “how can I engage young people in my project?”
Here are a few tips to get you started!
1. Get the help of people who know what they’re doing!
While youth engagement may seem pretty simple, doing youth engagement well and meaningfully is an art. If you are unsure of how to proceed, ask your colleagues for resources or arrange a meeting with a consultant who can guide you in the right direction. Reach out to groups like the McCain Centre, The New Mentality or the Ontario Centre of Excellence.
2. Think about it early (i.e. before you submit your proposal)
While youth engagement can be done fairly cheaply, it is still a line in the budget. Just like you are compensated for your time and expertise, so should youth. Ensure that you have funds to recognize young people for their time — we find that gift cards and cash are well received! If you’re hosting an in-person consultation or focus group, you’ll want to consider things like travel reimbursement (e.g. public transit passes) and snacks!
3. Consider different ways of engaging
Young people are possibly some of the busiest. They have tons of competing interests that vary at different times of the year. Try to be flexible with when and how you engage with young people. For example, offer online or call-in opportunities for times of year that youth are under stress (e.g. exam season), and don’t forget to emphasize that you are grateful for the time that they are able to give you.
4. Check yourself
Going into the process of youth engagement is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It requires a shift of attitude and process. Ask yourself if you are able to be flexible, able to change the process a bit, and able to respect and value young people’s knowledge, skills and expertise.
If you speak to anyone who has meaningfully engaged with youth, you’ll probably find that they are inspired by young people’s ideas, hope and enthusiasm.
Youth engagement doesn’t have to be hard. You probably already have most of the skills you need, such as the abilities to: respect others, really listen, have compassion/empathy, and notice and give value to body language. Consider our tips and consciously apply your pre-existing skills and you may be ready to get some young people on board your project!
As the old saying goes, “nothing about us, without us”!