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Youth Participation in Local Government


The focus of this page is on what local governments are doing to engage youth in local government decision-making processes. The principal methods explored are the representation of youth members on various advisory boards and commissions, providing for youth representatives to city councils, and through the creation of youth commissions or boards to advise councils on matters related to youth. Links to programs and items for further reading are also included.

About Youth Participation in Local Government

It is important that today's youth be encouraged to take interest in local government decision-making activities and that opportunities be created to foster civic participation by young people. The Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities states that "Nothing is more important to the health of our democracy than the active engagement of young people in representative government at the local level."

In the United States, policies on youth tend to be promoted by national organizations, such as the National League of Cities and America's Promise Alliance for Youth. Bellevue, Lakewood, Prosser, Redmond, and Greater Spokane were named among the 2011 America's 100 Best Communities for Young People. The criteria for this award are based on the Five Promises that evolved from the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in 1997. Among the five promises is that of providing people an opportunity to give back to their communities through their own service.

Definition of Youth

What is meant by the terms "young people" and "youth"? The definitions of "youth" vary depending on the application. The United Nations defines a "youth" as being between the ages of 15 and 25. "Teenagers" are often defined as between 13 and 19 years of age; and "young adults" as 20 to 24 years of age. Seattle defines the term "young adult" as an individual between the ages of 18 and 29 for its "Get Engaged Program" to place young adults on its boards and commissions.

Participation on Advisory Boards and Commissions

The National League of Cities noted that youth is frequently seen as problems to be fixed, but by involving youth in local decision-making, they become assets and resources to elected officials who are seeking effective solutions to community ills. Several Washington cities provide a seat for youth members on various advisory boards; the most prevalent being park and library boards.

  • Centralia Municipal Code Ch. 2.22.020 - Membership on Parks and Recreation Advisory Board - A youth representative is 18 years of age or younger at the time of appointment. Their full term will be one year and will expire December 31st of each year.
  • Kirkland Municipal Code Sec. 3.08.110 - Youth members of boards and commissions - Provides for a two-year term for "Youth-Specific" seats on the human services advisory committee, the library board, the park board, and the transportation commission. Qualifications are a resident of Kirkland or Kirkland's annexation areas and has attained the grade level of sophomore or junior by September of the year of appointment. The persons appointed may complete their terms even if they reach the age of 18 during their terms. All other qualifications and requirements applicable to board or commission members apply to the youth member. (Amended by Ordinance No. 4089, 03/2007)
  • Lacey - Includes youth members on the Historical Commission, Lacey Municipal Code Sec. 2.42.020(A), Park Commission, Sec. 2.44.020 (B), and Library Board, Sec. 2.46.020; requirements include that youth members be between the ages of 16 and 18 when appointed, be enrolled as a junior or senior in the North Thurston School District; or be enrolled in private school or home schooled in Lacey or Lacey's Urban Growth Management Area, and be a resident of the city of Lacey or reside in Lacey's Urban Growth Management Area.
  • Redmond Boards and Commissions - Redmond teenagers interested in helping with issues regarding parks, trails, or the arts in Redmond are encouraged to learn more about volunteer involvement as a Youth Advocate. Three city commissions: the arts commission, the board of parks commissioners, and the trails commission appoint a youth advocate for a one-year term.
  • Renton Boards, Commissions, and Committees - Provides for a representative under 21 years of age at the time of appointment on the diversity commission, human services advisory committee, library board, municipal arts commission, and the parks commission.
  • Seattle Boards and Commissions - The Get Engaged program is a cooperative program between the city and the YMCA. It places young people, ages 18-29, on advisory boards and commissions to give input on policy decisions, to issue recommendations, and to create a mechanism for citizen feedback within city government. The YMCA recruits the participants and provides training and support, while the city offers special one-year positions on the boards and commissions and partially funds the YMCA support work.

Youth Representatives to City Council

  • Edmonds Resolution No. 1123 - Commending Service of Student Representative on the City Council, passed 04/2006
  • Sequim Resolution No. 2006-04 - Creating Student Liaison Position to the City Council, passed 02/13/2006 - City no longer has student liaisons. The students found that they were unable to commit the time.
  • Sultan Municipal Code Ch. 2.21 - Student Council Representative

City and State Civic Participation Programs for Youth

Out of State Programs

Some of the more developed programs appear in Canada and some of the other Commonwealth counties. They are highlighted here.

  • Kansas City MO Office of Civic and Community Engagement Engage KC Leadership Board - The board strives to mobilize and encourage people to become engaged in the civic arena and promote positive intiatives in the community. The board provides young people ages 16-21 the opportunity to be a voice in the City's decision-making process
  • Toronto Involve Youth - A campaign launched by the City of Toronto in January 2004 to encourage community-based organizations to involve young people in decision-making
  • New Zealand Working with Young People, Ministry of Youth Development, New Zealand - Effective youth participation is an integral part of the Ministry of Youth Development's (MYD) work program and the positive youth development approach outlined in the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (YDSA).
    • Youth Participation in Decision Making
    • Vancouver, B.C. City of Vancouver Youth - City of Vancouver's youth portal, brought to you by youth and staff in the Social Policy Division at the City of Vancouver. We work to ensure a strong youth voice in municipal decision-making and to engage Vancouver's young residents in their city.

Additional References

  • Adult Attitudes About Youth Participation in Community Organizations, by Marilyn F. Rasmussen, Journal of Extension, 10/2003
  • California Center for Civic Participation - Youth development organization that enables middle and high school students to create positive social change in their communities, cities, and state. It educates young people in both the public policy process and current issues so that they can actively make a difference in state and local government.
  • CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) based at University of Maryland's School of Public Policy promotes research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.
  • Civic and Policy Engagement of Youth, National Conference of State Legislatures
  • Free Child Project - A program of CommonAction - Provides tools, training, and expert consultation in the fields of youth development, youth empowerment, and youth involvement
  • John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, Stanford University
  • Learn and Serve America - Learn and Serve America has furthered America's tradition of civic participation and volunteerism by making grants to integrate community service with curricula through service-learning.
  • National League of Cities Youth Civic Engagement - Provides program examples and guides
  • The Mikva Challenge - Challenges high school students throughout Chicago to be active participants in the political process through elections, activism, and policy-making programs.
  • New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People Participation Kit - A resource for organizations that want practical advice about how to involve young people in activities, events, and decision-making about issues that affect their lives.
  • Taking Young People Seriously Handbooks, Youth Affairs Council and the Office for Youth, Department for Victorian Communities (Australia), 2004 - A series of resources exploring young people's participation in their communities. The series contains: consulting young people about their ideas and opinions; a handbook for organizations working with young people; young people on boards and committees; a handbook for organizations working with young people, Creating Change in Your Community: A Handbook for Young People.
  • Youth Participation in Community Planning, by Ramona Mullahey, Yve Suskind, and Barry Checkoway, Planning Advisory Service Report No. 486, American Planning Association, 1999 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
  • Union Gap Resolution No. 654 - Provides for a "student delegate" to travel with City representatives to the National League of Cities annual meeting, 02/2007

Last Modified: January 08, 2016