Supporting youth civic engagement: Supranational and national policy frameworks in comparative perspective
Chaskin, Robert J.
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Chaskin, Robert J. , McGregor, Caroline , & Brady, Bernadine. (2018). Supporting Youth Civic and Political Engagement: Supranational and National Policy Frameworks in Comparative Perspective. Galway: UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, National University of Ireland Galway.
Over the past half-century, and particularly since the adoption of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), there have been both increased attention and shifting policy orientations towards children and young people globally and in specific nation states.1 This has included an agenda that moves beyond a narrow focus on basic survival, protection, and remediation to a more holistic focus on the ‘whole child’, promoting young people’s personal and social development and addressing their connections to the world. Emphasis has also been placed on recognising young people’s potential for agency and contribution to society, as well as their right to participation, civic engagement, and influence. This shift is also reflected in scholarship reconceptualising childhood as more than a period of transition to adulthood. Rather than viewing children and youth as passively shaped by the socialising influence of, for example, families and schools, childhood is now seen as a status in itself in which young people are active contributors to their socialisation and to the world (Wyness, 2012; Archard, 2004; James and Prout, 1997). Along with this focus on young people’s rights and potential as contributing members of society has come significant concern about the extent to which young people are in fact engaging, and about how best to support their engagement. This is particularly true with regard to young people who live in circumstances of disadvantage, are from marginalised backgrounds, or may be excluded or alienated from their communities, key institutions, and society at large. For disadvantaged young people in their teens and early twenties, especially urban youths and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, such disenfranchisement is often reinforced by negative media portrayals and punitive policies that treat these young people as threats to be controlled rather than as young people with the agency and potential to contribute positively to society. The current focus on seeking to foster young people’s positive engagement in society is likely informed by several factors. First, forces of globalisation, urbanisation, economic restructuring, and important demographic trends – especially increasing diversity and mobility – are changing the face of communities in many parts of the world, shaping new circumstances to which young people must respond, and providing new challenges and new opportunities for action. Second, the youth population is a sizeable component of this demographic picture, particularly in developing contexts and in many disadvantaged communities in the global north. Third, debates about the current state of community and democracy are raging in many quarters, along with arguments about, for example, the role of social capital and social exclusion and the ways in which state, market, and civil society actors may contribute to (or undermine) community, address disadvantage, and promote well-being. Successfully engaging young people in the institutions that shape their lives and the communities in which they live and building their capacity as social actors can be a critical factor in their positive development as individuals. It can also enhance their role as active citizens and promote their positive contribution to these same contexts and institutions (Flanagan, 2013; Sherrod, Torney-Purta, and Flanagan, 2010; Yates and Youniss, 1999; McLaughlin, Irby, and Langman, 1 The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1959; the UNCRC was presented for states to sign and ratify 30 years later and has subsequently been ratified by all member nations with the exception of the United States, which signed the convention but has not ratified it. 2 1994). Effectively engaging young people, however, can be challenging. This is particularly true of those from disadvantaged backgrounds – those most affected by structural factors of inequality, disadvantage, and discrimination – regarding their engagement in community action and participation in political and democratic processes. Such participation concerns engaging young people as citizens, both civic and political actors with autonomy and capacity to identify issues and priorities, deliberate and advocate for addressing societal problems, and contribute to the common good. Partly in response to these circumstances, a number of policy frameworks have been developed at both the supranational and national (and in some cases local) levels. These frameworks argue for the importance of young people’s civic and political engagement, their active participation in political processes, and the need for policies, services, and institutions to take young people’s perspectives into account in establishing priorities and shaping provision. They also seek to promote the engagement of young people in particular ways. As one policy document states it, the intent is to ‘develop and advocate on the concept of youth civic engagement, its impact on youth and community development and its correlation with democratic consolidation and social innovation’ (UNESCO, 2014: 14). Beyond such advocacy, policy frameworks may also endorse or establish specific mechanisms to support greater inclusion and participation of young people. This report examines some of the central policy frameworks – at the supranational level and at the national level in three jurisdictions: England, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland2 – that argue for and seek to promote young people’s civic and political engagement. It provides a comparative analysis of these frameworks, seeking to tease out common and divergent assumptions, emphases, and approaches and to draw from this a set of conclusions and their implications for research, policy, and practice.3 The analysis focuses on the following questions: • What are the key assumptions behind policy frameworks that are meant to promote youth engagement? What are the rationales for promoting engagement, what kinds of ‘engagement’ are looked for, and why? • What are the key historical, contextual, and contemporary trends and considerations that have shaped the development of these policies, and how do they respond to these considerations? • Who are the young people these policy frameworks seek to engage, and how are young people characterised in these frameworks? • What are the major strategic approaches to encouraging young people’s engagement? What are the goals, objectives, and outcomes they seek to accomplish? • What roles are the state, supranational bodies, and civil society organisations meant to play and through what practical strategies (programmes, processes, supports, activities)?