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Alive and Motivated: Young people, participation and local government

Saggers, S., Palmer, D., Royce, P., Wilson, L. and Charlton, A. (2004) Alive and Motivated: Young people, participation and local government. Australian Government. Department of Family and Community Services on behalf of NYARS, Canberra.

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Purpose of the research: The purpose of this research was to develop a deeper understanding of the role and impact of local government on young people, and how it may strengthen their inclusion in the communities in which they live. The research sought to provide a comprehensive review of the range and effectiveness of service delivery models designed for or accessed by young people in diverse parts of Australia.

Research methods: Research methods included the collection of qualitative and quantitative data and was guided by a Reference Group comprising young people, local government representatives, and a youth work academic. A literature review of local government engagement with young people reveals a shift in focus of local government from property services to human services, and structural and process “reforms” which have required more demanding forms of governance. Young people, too, represent a dynamic category subject to changing policies and practices. The way in which young people have been conceptualised has influenced the development of youth work, as a discrete category of service. A contemporary focus on community development, participation and civic engagement frames at least the language and sometimes the content of much recent work with young people.

Online survey: An online survey of youth services in all local governments in Australia had a 35.7 per cent response rate. The purpose of the survey was to: ascertain the range of services and programs provided by local government; determine the target groups, funding, governance, and methods of service provision; outline youth services staff employed; and to invite local governments to nominate programs they considered innovative and which would form the basis for our case studies. The results reveal that youth services and activities are diverse, ranging from the most traditional, in the form of libraries and recreation, to the more recent attractions of information technology and electronic communication. A significant part of local government work with young people involves leadership and coordination, planning, policy development, advocacy and lobbying, and facilitation and support. Local governments are taking a more prominent role in the provision of education, employment and training for young people than in the past, and services are delivered by a diverse combination of in-house and external providers. A wide range of youth service staff are employed by local government.

Case studies: Case studies of innovative programs nominated by local governments and selected by the Reference Group, were conducted in all states and territories except the Australian Capital Territory. These case studies provide a rich source of information about the history, achievements and challenges facing each project, providing sufficient detail for others to determine the applicability of the project to other areas. A review of the case studies reveals differences in the focus of projects, including those which: offer a service to young people; are concerned with representation and advocacy of and for young people; target particular “at risk” groups; or rely on local networks with an emphasis on family, community and leadership. Virtually all councils have some formal youth governance structures such as youth advisory groups or councils, while some included less formal means of mentoring, modelling and offering advice. A number of projects concentrated on training and educating young people for the labour market, while others offered organised activities and leisure options. Community education and social action, using cultural development and the arts featured in some projects. Consultation and building agreements between young people and other community stakeholders were emphasised in some places, while the management and regulation of young people’s behaviour was typical of others.

Models of youth practice in local government: Using data from this research and the scholarly literature on young people and participation, models of youth practice are reviewed. This includes a typology of local government youth work practice which illustrates the importance of underlying philosophies, target groups, rationale and methods, collaboration and diversity, and the focus of activities. Local government youth practice is more than service work, involving the development of youth policy, coordinating activities of local groups, assisting groups to apply for funding and planning programs, and researching priorities of young people. Youth councils and other participatory mechanisms of local government are not new and in some cases may offer a flawed model for engaging with young people. Inhibitors to participation by young people identified by this research are discussed.

Towards quality youth practice: in local government Finally the ingredients for quality practice, built upon respectful collaboration with young people, are reviewed. These include: community resourcing; the importance of relationships; having fun; food; time; space; practical activity; flexibility and diversity of initiatives; simply talking; clarity of purpose and commitment; promoting success; resources; acting 3 strategically; the role of failure; respect, sensitivity and goodwill; the selection and education of staff; and most importantly valuing the contribution of young people. Principles for respectful initiatives with young people, and the means by which they might be implemented, are identified. Young people are “alive and motivated” when involved in programs and activities of their choosing. Their engagement goes well beyond the skate parks and youth advisory councils of the past, involving everything from frontline service delivery to fringe arts and performance, newspaper production, and online participatory forums. Any local government seeking to engage young people has some inspiring models from which to start a conversation about participation and action.

Item Type: Report
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Series Name: Report prepared for the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme
Publisher: Australian Government. Department of Family and Community Services on behalf of NYARS
Copyright: © 2004 National Youth Affairs Research Scheme
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