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January 7, 2016
As staunch advocates for the rights of children, we at CCC believe it is important that young people have a voice in shaping the public policies that affect their lives. Through our YouthAction NYC program, we have been training high school students to be advocates since 1999. Our participants have met with countless city and state elected officials to discuss their concerns on topics such as youth homelessness, teen reproductive health, and juvenile justice, among others. They have done projects to raise awareness about teen mental health, the sexual exploitation of children, and cyber-bullying; and they are leading the charge to elevate youth voice, training and inspiring their peers to be leaders in their own communities.
Recently we have begun to see a surge in interest among policy-makers to include young people as advisers and collaborators. In the last few years, youth have been invited into the Participatory Budgeting process and are now eligible to be appointed to their local Community Boards. Additionally, NYC Service, an office of the Mayor of the City of New York, has announced an initiative to have 30,000 youth sit on advisory boards that will interact with the City Council, the Department of Education and other city agencies.
In response to this ambitious undertaking on the part of city government, CCC recently met with other organizations that have expertise in working with youth on public policy and advocacy initiatives. Organized by the Center for Court Innovation and CORO New York, this was an effort to identify sustainable strategies and best practices for youth advisory boards. The group heard from youth program participants, city officials and youth development workers, including CCC’s YouthAction Program Coordinator, Laura Jankstrom. The excitement in the room was palpable, and the group agreed to continue meeting so that they can work together to ensure that the youth sitting on advisory boards have an authentic experience whereby they are given the tools and opportunities to speak up about the issues that impact their lives.
It is not only New York City that has shown a growing interest in youth civic engagement. Laura Jankstrom has been representing CCC’s YouthAction program at conferences and trainings across the state, conducting workshops for other counties that wish to begin incorporating this type of work into their youth programs. Most recently, Laura attended the New York State Afterschool Network’s Fall Training Institute in Rochester and the New York State Association of Youth Bureau’s 45th Annual Conference in Niagara.
CCC is proud to be at the forefront of training youth to be community leaders and advocates, and is thrilled that more New York City youth will be given an opportunity to weigh in on the policy issues that affect them. We will continue to be a resource to new programs, sharing best practices and offering assistance to ensure that these programs are effective and sustainable.