Youth Participation in Local Government
This page provides examples of cities and counties in Washington State that have established youth councils, youth commissions, and other programs to engage youth and young adults and encourage them to participate in local government.
Local government-based opportunities for youth to be engaged civically helps them develop the knowledge and skills to make a difference in their communities. Opportunities can include both designated or appointed board or commission member roles as well as other broader youth civic engagement programs facilitated by local governments and/or community-based organizations working in partnership with local jurisdictions.
Youth engagement in government also benefits the local community by ensuring that youth perspectives and voices are heard and considered as part of the local decision-making process.
Here are a few items to consider when developing a youth council, commission, or other advisory body:
- Determine how the agency wants youth to be engaged and what youth should get out of participating in the program.
- Think about how much (or little) time youth can contribute during a 1–2-year commitment.
- Consider the impact of the academic year in Washington (late August/early September to mid-June).
- Determine if youth have voting rights on commissions or advisory boards.
- Determine onboarding and training documents that can help prepare youth for their role.
Many jurisdictions have established dedicated youth commissions or councils to increase youth participation in local affairs and provide input on issues of importance to youth. Among frequent requirements to serve is that the youth member live or attend school within the city, town, or county sponsoring the council/commission. Below are just a few selected examples.
- Airway Heights Youth Advisory Commission — Open to elementary, middle school, and high school students. Engages youth to share their opinions about issues and community programs affecting youth.
- Arlington Youth Council — Open to youth ages 13-18; advises the mayor and city council in all matters related to issues affecting local youth but also develops outreach and education programming for youth.
- Asotin County Youth Commission — Makes recommendations to county officials, supports youth activities, and provides leadership training.
- Clark County Youth Commission — Open to youth ages 11-19 years old; includes a number of reports and policy recommendations produced by the commission.
- Federal Way Youth Commission — Open to high school sophomores or juniors; includes 12 voting members and three alternates appointed by council. Serves as an advisory body to city council and other commissions and, in 2019, was instrumental in creating a scholarship to award funds to youth who are unable to afford recreational activities. See Federal Way Municipal Code Ch. 2.60.
- Mill Creek: Youth Advisory Board — Open to high school students. In addition to serving in an advisory capacity, members volunteer at various outreach and service events.
- Redmond Youth Partnership Advisory Committee — Open to youth ages 13-18 who reside in or attend school in Redmond. Members engage in monthly volunteer opportunities, large scale community events, and are invited by city leadership to share their input on city issues.
- Seattle Youth Commission — Open to youth ages 13-19. Includes 15 members, with eight appointed by the mayor, seven by the council, and at least one member representing each of the seven council districts. See Seattle Municipal Code Ch. 3.67.
- Spokane and Spokane County Chase Youth Commission — Open to high school juniors and seniors. Advises both the city and the county while working on its own activities. Funded by interlocal agreement, as well as charitable donations to affiliated nonprofit foundation. Teen Advisory Council provides an opportunity for teens (grades 8-12) to get involved in community projects and initiatives of the youth commission.
A number of cities provide seats for youth members on various advisory boards, especially boards related to parks, libraries, human services, and the arts. However, some jurisdictions also provide for youth participation in other areas such as planning or transportation commissions.
Youth members generally have designated responsibilities, serve shorter terms (one to two years), and only rarely have voting rights and count toward quorum requirements. Below are selected examples:
- Auburn Municipal Code Ch. 2.45 — Planning commission includes a non-voting high school senior member with a one-year term.
- Centralia Municipal Code Ch. 2.22.020 — Notes that the parks and recreation advisory board should "preferably" include a youth representative 18 years old or younger at the time of appointment who is replaced annually. If youth position is vacant, it may be filled by a citizen at large.
- Clark County Public Health Advisory Council — Consists of 20 unpaid members who identify priority public health issues and serves as the steering committee for the Community Health Improvement Plan. Requires one member be pulled from the Clark County Youth Commission, Clark County Youth, or a local high school or college.
- Edmonds Municipal Code Ch. 10.03 — Allows any city board or commission to appoint a high school or college student to serve as a non-voting member for a one-year term.
- Kirkland Municipal Code Sec. 3.08.110 — Requires the human services advisory committee, library board, park board, and the transportation commission include one "youth-specific seat.” Youth members must be sophomores or juniors at time of appointment; term lasts two years.
- Lacey Municipal Code Sec. 2.42.020, Sec. 2.44.020, and 2.46.020 — Requires the historical commission, park commission, and library board each to include one youth member. Youth members must be sophomores or juniors in North Thurston School District, a private school, or homeschool, and be a Lacey resident.
- Redmond Boards and Commissions — Parks and trails commission and the environmental sustainability advisory committee each appoint one youth advocate to serve; the human services committee and the arts and culture committee each appoint two youth advocates to serve.
- Renton Boards, Commissions, and Committees — Human services advisory committee and the municipal arts commission each appoint one youth representative, 21 or younger.
- Snohomish County Children's Commission — Advises the county on issues of health, safety, and welfare of children; composed of 25 members, including two youth.
- Spokane County Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee — Includes one non-voting youth member serving a one-year term.
A few cities (typically smaller jurisdictions) have created positions for student representatives or liaisons to city council. In the examples below, the youth liaisons are often invited to attend city council meetings and speak on youth and school issues but they may not vote or sit in on executive sessions.
- Quincy Municipal Code Ch. 2.20 — Student representative is invited to attend council meetings, may sit with council, and must comply with council rules of procedure. Also provides for an alternate who serves as the student member of the recreation and arts commission.
- Sequim Resolution No. 2006-04 (2006) — Creates two student liaison positions and states that each liaison "shall attend each evening council meeting” and offer advice on any issue to the council.
- Sultan Municipal Code Ch. 2.21 — High school liaison may be appointed by mayor and approved by council, or, alternatively, multiple students may serve on a rotating basis as approved by the high school principal.
Below are other selected programs that aim to engage youth in local government and the community.
- Bellevue Youth Link — Youth leadership program sponsored jointly by the city parks and community service department and the school district. Includes a governing council, a Youth Link Board that advises city council and the city manager on youth issues, and smaller action teams that work on specific tasks and projects.
- Union Gap Resolution No. 654 (2007) — Provides for a student delegate to travel with city representatives to the National League of Cities annual meeting
Below are examples of application forms, award nomination forms, and other documents related to youth participation in local government.
- Bellevue Youth Link Board Application
- Mill Creek Youth Advisory Board Application Form (2022)
- Redmond Arts Commission Youth Advocate Application (2020)
- Renton Youth Application for Boards/Commissions/Committees (2021)
- Asotin County Youth Awards Nomination Form (2020)
- Clark County Youth Achievement Award Nomination Form (2016)
Policies, Procedures, and Bylaws
- King County Internship Policies and Procedures Manual (2013) — Detailed guide for employing student interns and work-study students
- Mill Creek Youth Advisory Board Bylaws (2016)
- American Planning Association Washington Chapter, Youth In Planning Task Force — Aims to encourage youth to get involved in local planning initiatives. Tools include the Washington By and By graphic novel and examples of youth engagement in planning initiatives across the state.
- Institute for Local Government
- Governments Engaging Youth Toolkit — Offers resources designed to help begin, grow, or expand youth engagement in your community’s programs by providing a framework, assessment tools, and case stories highlighting the broad variety of options available to suit your community’s unique needs.
- Engaging Youth — Offers resources and case stories to help local officials and staff develop and maintain effective youth commissions and to engage youth in civic and work-based learning experiences.
- National League of Cities: Authentic Youth Civic Engagement Guide — Includes tools for promoting meaningful youth participation in local government.
- National Civic League: Best Practices for Youth Engagement in Municipal Government, (2017) — Focuses on youth councils at the municipal level, including a report on best practices gleaned from a study of multiple youth councils in one metropolitan area.
- YMCA of Greater Seattle: Washington Youth & Government — Local programs include youth legislature and mock trial, as well as national youth programs.