Innovative Methods for Measuring and Assessing Youth Empowerment and Civic Engagement in Social Work
Critical to social work is the study of youth civic engagement, the process by which youth are supported in engaging with and influencing issues that directly impact their lives (Noguera, Ginwright, & Cammarota, 2006). Youth civic engagement emerges within youth development and leadership programs but also in community organizing, neighborhood development, and policy change. Research on youth civic engagement enables scholars to understand how youth become involved with their communities and learn how their actions can affect policies, practices, and decisions in the world around them (Oakes, Rogers, & Lipton, 2006; Su, 2009).
To date, research methods to study youth civic engagement have largely been shaped by the fields of adolescent development, community psychology, and political science. Consequently, the preeminent measures focus on understanding contributing factors for engagement (e.g., parents’ engagement) and measures of youth leadership and school-focused engagement (Flanagan et al., 2007).
While the existing body of work on youth civic engagement is of importance to the field of social work, we feel that the prior research has focused on a narrow set of ways that youth engage with their communities. New and innovative measures are needed to capture the engagement of youth in vulnerable populations.
This symposium seeks to bridge the divide between traditional understandings of social work practice with youth, defined as ages 12-18, and the current foci of youth empowerment and civic engagement measures in allied disciplines by exploring their intersections and examining new measures and methods for capturing empowerment and engagement through a social work context. The first paper describes how a youth-led research team created an Action Scale (AS) to measure a youth anti-racist civic engagement. The second paper focuses on the engagement of a participatory research project within the context of direct action organizing and the on-going relationship between evaluation, research, and change models with LGBTQQ youth. The third paper examines the approach, process and findings from the last seven years (2006-2013) of the youth participatory evaluation with particular attention to the innovations in methods and measures used. The fourth paper uses survey research to capture and assess ways that diverse youth engage politically.
In conclusion, over the last two decades, scholars across disciplines have demonstrated renewed interest in examining the precursors, methods for, and effects of youth civic engagement. Social work is ideally positioned to develop methods for capturing a broader set of ways in which youth might be empowered and engaged. This symposium hopes to bring greater attention to the unique ways social work research may contribute to the study of youth civic engagement.