n Commonwealth Youth and Development - Youth participation in Australia : empowerment or employment




In the past ten years Australia has rapidly restructured its economy, exposing its institutions and businesses to higher levels of global competition than its international competitors. At the same time as the country faces cuts in public funding and services, Australian governments, schools and community organisations are increasingly attending to the voice of the youth, made possible through access to information and communication technology to interact directly with young people. This article uses case study research commissioned first by a philanthropic trust and second by an educational institution to explore the challenges and opportunities facing the youth sector in Australia in relation to these economic and cultural trends.

The article bases its findings on these two case studies, involving three sites where different approaches to youth participation have been used, some of which are still work in progress. In the first case, a group of services have come together to better integrate their response to young people and have utilised a youth advisory committee to develop the protocols for the venture. In the second case youth participation is being introduced to the governance of a philanthropic trust with a view to introducing social entrepreneurial youth work practice to the sector. The article identifies three broad approaches in the research literature: human rights, socially critical and youth development to conclude that the human rights approach is the most adequate theoretic prism through which to describe the case studies and their effectiveness in a range of environments. The findings suggest that while Australia has begun a journey, a poorly structured commonwealth and states human rights framework limits what can be achieved through youth participation at the governance and service level. Overlooking these limitations, and believing that Australia is well advanced in human rights legislation could well endanger young people rather than involve and engage them in taking responsibility for their own socio-economic wellbeing.
Along with the literature search, it was essential to consult youth studies educationalists, management of the youth services, youth support workers and the young people themselves. Commissioned youth participation tools and research were reviewed and activities conducted in public space were observed. It was found that in Australia youth participation is marginal to the main game, where fundamental rights are denied young people. The funding, organisational change and service innovation to the social entrepreneurial perspective should be accompanied by advocacy and acknowledgement of the economic structures positioning some Australian young people in lengthy periods of dependency on social welfare, extending their dependence on family who are often involved in generational dysfunction and poverty.


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