For policies to reflect the strengths and realities of our youth and achieve positive, equitable outcomes, young people must be at the center of the policymaking process.
On March 30, 2023, AYPF hosted our Capitol Hill Forum “Youth as Experts in Federal Policymaking”, a moderated, interactive discussion focused on the importance of engaging young people in federal policymaking, at the Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, DC.
Participants heard from the following panelists, who shared from their experiences and expertise:
- Kenvin Lacayo, AYPF Youth Policy Consultant and young advocate for education reform and youth empowerment.
- Margarita Alegria, Ph.D., Chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
- LaVontae Brooks, Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative Steven Horsford.
Panelists shared effective, evidence-based strategies for youth involvement in vital decision-making processes. Additionally, speakers explored specific, practical approaches to sustained engagement with young people at the federal level. Throughout the discussion, panelists and attendees affirmed that youth are experts of their own experiences and can provide valuable insights and solutions to policy issues that affect their everyday lives.
Dr. Alegría highlighted her research during which her team developed a youth civic engagement program focused on working systematically on neighborhood challenges to improve youth well-being. She asserted that young people should have a voice in the creation and implementation of programs intended for them. Dr. Alegría emphasized how much her team learned from the young people. Youth are experts at identifying and problem-solving their neighborhood challenges and began to see themselves as leaders. After participating in civic engagement activities, Dr. Alegría shared that the young people felt more connected to their communities and optimistic about the future. She asserted that when young people are treated as leaders with seats at decision-making tables, it heightens their self-esteem, sense of belonging, and sense of purpose, which is beneficial to their mental health.
LaVontae highlighted that building meaningful relationships and compensating young people for their time and expertise as important ways to keep them engaged and motivated in policymaking, as well as providing them wraparound resources and supports for things such as housing, transportation, and childcare. He also stated that engaging young people requires adults to acknowledge their agency and ability to be agents of change, believe that their lived experiences are valuable and have merit in decision-making conversations, and commit to supporting young people every step of the way.
Kenvin noted that no one knows better what young people are going through than young people themselves and that those who are closest to problems usually have the best ideas for solutions to fix those problems. Kenvin shared a practical example of engaging young people in federal policymaking; he had recently participated in a focus group with a congressional office during which young people gave feedback on draft legislation before it was to be reintroduced. He said that he appreciated that experience because the office affirmed that what the young people had to say was important, valuable, and essential. He also appreciated that the young people would be updated on how their insights impacted the legislation and on the bill’s progress.
Kenvin advised adults to rid themselves of any assumptions and biases about young people before engaging in this work. He shared that while young people may have gone through similar systems or situations, they are individuals with their own unique circumstances, experiences, and insights, whose diverse perspectives are invaluable to the policymaking process.
We thank our panelists and attendees who were essential to the success of this event!