Youth advocacy in other fields

Youth advocacy is a powerful concept in diverse fields of practice and study that engage with youth issues, from education and psychology to media studies and public policy. Here are some resources that illuminate how youth advocacy — and youth itself — is conceptualized in these fields, all of which intersect with library theory and practice.

Dalrymple, J. (2005, January). Constructions of child and youth advocacy: Emerging issues in advocacy practice. Children & Society, 19(1): 3-15.

Dalrymple examines the perspectives of youth, youth advocates, and policymakers and funders regarding youth advocacy and finds that “there is a danger that the construction of advocacy in an adult proceduralised way is likely to compromise its potential to challenge the structures that deny young people opportunities to participate in decision making about their lives” (p. 3). Advocacy is framed in a protective light as a response to youth vulnerability, with the caveat that “[t]his is not to deny that young people have the capacity for individual or collective resistance but to acknowledge that, in certain situations, they need support to enable them to come to voice” (p. 5). Dalrymple engages with the complexities of youth voice and power issues as well as the social forces behind moral panics and the sanctification of childhood. She emerges as a proponent of a professional “culture of advocacy” (p. 11) but notes the contradictions of establishing such a culture, namely that discourses of protection and panic are most effectively used to justify the need for advocacy, but effective advocacy practice must move beyond those discourses for a youth-centered approach. The article also introduces the idea of advocacy as anarchic, threatening adult-child hierarchies by blurring the boundaries of authority.

Dalrymple, J. (2004, August). Developing the concept of professional advocacy. Journal of Social Work, 4(2): 179-197.

Dalrymple here problematizes the fragmented nature of child advocacy efforts, attributing it in part to the still-in-progress professionalization of the social work field and the resulting authority struggles over youth advocacy. She argues that the development of the field of youth advocacy parallels that of community organizing, with both fields built on “values which are critical of structural inequalities” (p. 184). There is an inherent contradiction in the professionalization of advocacy work that challenges institutional biases in that “professionalizing youth work would mean sacrificing its values, which are based on treating young people as equals and working alongside them to confront oppression” (p. 185), but moving away from a professional model would lessen advocates’ authority in the systems they are working with youth to navigate.

Gruendel, J. & Aber, J. L. (2007). Bridging the Gap Between Research and Child Policy Change: The Role of Strategic Communications in Policy Advocacy. In Aber, J. L., Bishop-Josef, S. J., Jones, S. M., McLearn, K. T., & Phillips, D. A., eds., Child development and social policy knowledge for action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gruendel & Aber position advocacy as one thread in a larger exploration of the relationship between child development research and public policymaking. Making a distinction between advocating for individual children and advocating for social change, they warn that transitioning from research to advocacy can be fraught with contradictions, as it is difficult to engage in both types of advocacy at once. They take a broad view of what is relevant to youth advocacy, noting “we need to focus, as well, on the more general and less traditional issues of children’s well-being, including national economic security policy, the role of government, and the tax side of the budget as well as the expenditure side” — where “traditional issues” are “health care, foster care, delinquency, and juvenile justice” and “specific but ‘historically new’ concerns” include “infant and toddler care, child care and early education, linking health and early care” (p. 46). In addition, they convey of frustration with the disconnect between research findings and action, pointing to communication strategy as a possible arena for intervention. Citing a study from the Frameworks Institute that found that advocates’ “mixes messages” left their audience confused, they advocate a clearer and simpler focus on defining issues and articulating solutions.

Heintz-Knowles, K. E. (2007). Who’s Looking Out for the Kids?: How Advocates Use Media Research to Promote Children’s Interests. Mazzarella, S. R., ed. 20 Questions about Youth & the Media (pp. 87-99). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Heintz-Knowles approaches youth advocacy from the standpoint of media representation and media policy, relating this to the ongoing problem of negative public images of youth. The chapter  describes the work of public action groups such as Action for Children’s Television in advocating for more child-friendly media programming and more accurate media representations of youth and argues that more research is needed in media representations of and effects on youth in order to support ongoing advocacy efforts.

McLaughlin, M., Scott, W. R., Deschenes, S., Hopkins, K., & Newman, A. (2009). Between Movement & Establishment: Organizations Advocating for Youth. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

This is a book-length, in-depth study of community organizations that advocate for youth in urban contexts, focusing on the San Francisco area. The authors define these community-based advocacy organizations as a part of the nonprofit “third sector” that moves in between the market, the state, and citizens—or, as the title puts it, between movement and establishment. It has an explicitly political outlook, though it does not explicitly align itself with political parties or figures. While it may be useful in introducing advocacy concepts related to library work, it is most broadly applicable in considering the workings of organizations that the library may be trying to partner with as part of its outreach agenda and in providing a framework for understanding the social and systemic forces at work in situations where advocacy is a force. The authors describe and categorize major targets of youth advocacy initiatives and the strategies used to achieve objectives on these fronts, as well as the challenges advocacy organizations face by virtue of occupying a “third space” between individuals and institutions. Data is gathered through case studies of three youth advocacy organizations in the San Francisco area.

Rodríguez, L. F., & Conchas, G. Q. (2009). Preventing Truancy and Dropout Among Urban Middle School Youth: Understanding Community-Based Action From the Student’s Perspective. Education & Urban Society, 41(2), 216-247.

Rodriquez & Conchas situate advocacy as a key aspect of community organizing work and argue that it is particularly effective in forcing institutional accountability to youth. They also construct the creation of neutral or youth-oriented space as a form of advocacy. Beginning with the claim that “U.S. youth in general are often powerless” (p. 235), the authors situate youth in the contexts of the educational and justice system, electoral politics, health care, and other systems that have tremendous power over them with little to no accountability to them. Advocacy then is conceptualized as a means of creating a system by which youth are empowered as institutional stakeholders.



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