Methods: This study uses in-depth organizational case studies to assess authentic youth engagement practices in four Jim Casey Initiative sites, and compares these findings across sites. One-on-one phone interviews were conducted with 30 participants (15 youth with foster care experience aged 18 and older and 15 staff/professionals) to explore stakeholders’ experiences of authentic youth engagement within the context of their involvement with the Jim Casey Initiative. The analysis approach was conventional thematic content analysis.
Results: For the first research question, “What does authentic youth engagement look like and how does it operate in Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative sites?”, qualitative analyses resulted in the identification of 11 themes based on participants’ definitions of authentic youth engagement, with key emerging themes including youth empowerment, youth-adult partnership, supporting youth, and making a change/impact. Participants were also asked to discuss how authentic youth engagement operates at their site. Eight themes were identified around the operation of authentic youth engagement with community building, youth empowerment, and youth skill building arising as frequent themes. For the second research question, “What are the lessons learned and recommended strategies and approaches for authentically engaging youth?”, there were many similarities in recommendations across sites and between youth and staff participants. Three primary themes emerged: (1) building trust, relationships, and connections with youth, (2) being youth-centered and youth-empowering, and (3) facilitating improved adult/staff/program efforts. A youth leader from the Jim Casey Initiative will share their perceptions of these findings, along with first-hand experiences of participating in leadership roles in the Jim Casey Initiative.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings from this study provide specific strategies for supporting authentic youth engagement that programs and organizations can use to effectively embed authentic youth engagement into their structure and functions.