Our Youth-Voice(s) Framework-to-Practice Model

What We Discovered

280 youth development agencies in the Kansas City metro area collectively bring in an estimated 155 million dollars in annual revenue. When comparing these yearly earnings with other metro areas of similar population size, Kansas City far outshines its peer cities in philanthropic investments targeting opportunity youth.

Youth Development Organizations’ Earned Yearly Revenue in Millions

Cause IQ (2021) Youth Development Organizations.


Might we more effectively utilize these resources?

YouthLed KC believes that we can.

We at YouthLed KC have defined youth-voice(s) as a concept and the youth workforce opportunity ecosystem in the KC metro as an emerging market. Throughout our experience in working with youth, we have identified a low capitalization of youth capacity and a high potential for growth in the way that our regional players, including us, have traditionally organized, facilitated, and managed young people.

In the world of youth development in Kansas City, we have found that youth, adults, and opportunities are not able to easily come together. An absence of sustainable systems that are accessible to any stakeholder, regardless of social capital, personal network, or performance, has created inequities that need to be addressed. The missing infrastructure has naturally created deep striations by institutional legacies in the youth development ecosystem, with not enough attention to establishing institutional systems that ensure effectiveness, accountability, and access in ways that single stakeholders can’t.

While this need is complex and we are well aware that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, our Youth-Voice(s) Framework-to-Practice Model seeks to shift our regional schools, organizations, and municipalities away from a high dependency on outside institutions to minimize failure and guide them towards an equitable system built on collaboration.

An Empirically-Based Critical Capacity Assessment Tool

After taking a deep dive into the intricacies of youth empowerment, we discovered three key terms that are essential: youth-voice(s), youth inclusion, and youth participation. We have grouped these terms along with several other key outcomes in the youth development ecosystem under the umbrella concept of the Greatest Number of Sustainable Outcomes (GNSO).

In order to achieve the Greatest Number of Sustainable Outcomes in our region, we argue that first, any school, organization, or municipality must consider if their current policies and values reflect young people as equals. While many efforts around youth development center on programming experiences, the infrastructure of all youth experiences is built on policy. See our policy recommendations here.

When policies and values have been instituted to give young people a seat at decision making tables, then we recommend intentionally developing a Positive Youth Culture. Declaring youth as a priority in writing isn’t enough. The Kansas City region is racially, socially, and experientially diverse. To build a positive youth culture is to emphasize the need for all youth and adults to recognize biases, the need for mental health supports, and cultural differences across communities to name a few.

On a strong foundation of policies, values, and a positive culture, programs should be built which are meaningful. For students in a school setting, meaningful engagement is a right. Students have a right to be thoroughly involved in every aspect of their school’s operative functioning. We have traditionally left students out of conversations around curriculum, budgeting, hiring staff/teachers, and engaging in the community. A lack of meaningful engagement has resulted in apathy and a level of anti-intellectualism that merely sees education as a checkbox on a list of things to do.

Outside of schools, youth are a part of countless organizations and municipalities as a stakeholder to be served. While young people may not have a right to determine the direction of an organization, we suggest that organizations who consider youth to be a part of their overarching mission consider how they can more meaningfully allow youth to participate in the ongoing development of their mission, vision, and goals.

Generally, youth-voice(s) champions tend to over-emphasize youth-to-youth collaboration, which is deeply impactful for young peoples’ collaborative skills, without recognizing the need for adults to be in the room. An idea or concept generated and led by youth often needs strong adult partnership to bring into fruition. We believe that when youth and adults work together as equal on projects and problems that directly impact the community around them that young leaders begin to naturally emerge. We believe that regional adoption of this model or one of similar stature is what is necessary for our collective youth and adult community to reach the Greatest Number of Sustainable Outcomes.

Cultural Impact of Meaningful Engagement

Fletcher, Adam. “Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change.” Soundout.org. April 2005. https://soundoutorg.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/d45dc-msiguide.pdf

Our theory of change is that as more programs and opportunities are built on a strong foundation of policies and inclusive practices that we will see a cultural impact which stretches far beyond any individual stakeholder. As our region moves away from a mindset that is predicated on adultism, and towards a reality which embraces youth and adults as partners, equal in capacity and brilliance, that relationships will form bonds of trust. This trust will increase learning, academics, and performance while also providing well rounded solutions for systemic problems. This framework-to-practice model has been created to restore dignity and respect to young people while connecting us all to a future that is ever brighter.

Let’s find out if we’re a good fit.