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Ladder of Youth Voice

By Adam Fletcher


For a long time, the only formal position every young person held in society was that of young person. That has changed. Today, young people increasingly have more important positions, including that of decision-makers, planners, researchers, and more. The following Ladder of Youth Voice was created to encourage youth and adults to examine why and how young people participate throughout communities. Think of specific activities youth are involved in, and measure them against this tool.




It is important to recognize that the Ladder is not meant to represent the whole community at once. Instead, it represents each specific instance of youth voice. That means that rather than say a whole classroom is rung 4, several youth could be experiencing that they are at that rung while others are experiencing that they’re at rung 6. For a long time, determining which rung a young person is at was left to perception and position: If an adult believed the youth on their committee were at rung 6, and the youth believed they were at rung 8, they simply agreed to disagree. The following rubric can help provide a clearer explanation of what youth voice looks like.


Youth Voice Rubric

By Adam Fletcher




1. Adults manipulate youth

Youth forced to attend without regard to interest.

Experience of involving youth and rational for continuing activities.

2. Adults use youth to decorate their activities

The presence of youth is treated as all that is necessary without reinforcing active involvement.

A tangible outcome demonstrating thinking about youth voice.

3. Adults tokenize youth

Young people are are used inconsequentially by adults to reinforce the perception that youth are involved.

Validates youth attendance without requiring the work to go beyond that.

4. Youth inform adults

Adults do not have to let youth impact their decisions.

Youth can impact adult-driven decisions or activities.

5. Adults actively consult youth while they’re involved

Youth only have the authority that adults grant them, and are subject to adult approval.

Youth can substantially transform adults’ opinions, ideas, and actions.

6. Youth are fully equal with adults while they’re involved. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment.

There isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for youth. Without receiving that recognition youth loose interest and may become disengaged quickly.

Youth can experience full power and authority, as well as the experience of forming basic youth/adult partnerships.

7. young person-driven activities do not include adults in positions of authority; rather, they are they to support youth in passive roles.

Youth operate in a vacuous situation where the impact of their larger community isn’t recognized by them. young person-driven activities may not be seen with the validity of co-led activities, either.

Developing complete ownership of their learning allows youth to drive the educational experience with a lot of effectiveness. Youth experience the potential of their direct actions upon themselves, their peers, and their larger community community

8. Youth have full equity with adults. This may be a 40/60 split, or 20/80 split when it’s appropriate. All are recognized for their impact and ownership of the outcomes.

Requires conscious commitment by all participants to overcoming all barriers.

Creating structures to support differences can establish safe, supportive learning environments, ultimately recreating the climate and culture in communities.



Roger Hart, a sociologist for UNICEF who originally developed the Ladder, intended the first three rungs to represent forms of non-participation. However, while the first rung generally represents the nature of all youth voice in communities with the threat of “attend or fail”, there are more roles for youth than ever before throughout the education system. Rungs 6, 7, and 8 generally represent “young person/adult partnerships”, or intentional arrangements designed to foster authentic youth engagement in communities.


Today, youth are increasingly engaged as researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates. With this knowledge in mind, the rungs of the Ladder can help youth and adults identify how youth are currently involved in communities, and give them goals to aspire towards.






© 2011. Adam Fletcher owns the copyright for this material on behalf of The Freechild Project. You are welcome to print out this material for educational purposes only - you cannot make any financial gain from them without the explicit permission of the author. You may not photocopy any part of this material without explicit permission of the author. For more information write info [at] 





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