How to Advocate for Young People as a Youth Worker
When I first entered the youth worker field in the early 1990s, there were many more funding resources for youth-serving programs than there are today. So, it wasn’t critical for me to advocate for funding. I could just focus on working directly with young people.
But now, there simply aren’t enough financial resources to meet the needs of our young people. The state of our young people is getting worse all the time. You see it every day in your own work. Money won’t just magically appear. It’s on us to take action!
Today, you must be good at supporting young people AND be a good legislative advocate for youth-serving programs. Why you? Because young people need you to, and they’re counting on you. Time and time again, grassroots movements have proven to be successful in creating change.
And those that know the situation or problem firsthand are the driving force in all successful grassroots movements. In youth work, you need to be the driving force; you are the expert simply based on your experience and your passion for their positive development.
It’s not difficult to be an advocate for young people
You simply need to know how to build relationships with a wide variety of people. As youth workers, you and your coworkers already have this relationship-building skill. And use it every day in your work.
As an advocate, the role of youth workers is to let legislators know the importance of your work and what young people need. To be sure, you have the most important knowledge of all: you know your program and its impact on the young people and your community.
Those are the things your legislators need and want to hear from you. Tell legislators anecdotal stories about the young people you serve. Let them know how they have improved after participating in your program. But always remember that confidentiality is critical. Don’t share names or personal information about the young people in the stories you tell.
Some ideas to get you started talking with your legislators
- Invite them to your program. When they visit, they have a clearer picture of your work and the personal experience makes a more lasting impression.
- Send an email to them. Tell them why YOU think they should support youth-serving programs. You don’t have to be the expert with a load of facts and theories – just share your opinions and stories.
- Call them. If you get their voice mail, leave a message and ask them to call you back. If you connect with them, share your opinions and stories about the importance of your youth work.
- Attend a town hall meeting. Find out your elected official’s position on supporting young people. Have they supported youth-serving programs in the past? Will they support them in the future?
- Visit them or ask them to meet you for coffee. Use this time to explain why youth work is so important to your community. Give them specific examples they can relate with.
- Become active in a group that advocates for youth work. Sign up for YIPA’s Buzz on Advocacy e-newsletter. It will provide you with easy ways to be an engaged advocate.
- Learn more about legislative advocacy. YIPA is dedicated to creating exceptional professional development for youth workers and offers FREE legislative advocacy training to anyone interested in becoming an advocate for young people.
Become the advocate our young people need today. It is too important for you, or any of us, to sit on the sidelines. By taking one or more of these simple steps, your organization will have a much better chance of receiving the support it needs to meet the needs of your community.
About the author
Paul Meunier is the executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker. Join us!
To ask Paul a question or share your feedback about this blog, email [email protected].