While human rights frameworks are increasingly popular within western policymaking, there are criticisms of rights-based approaches. This research explores factors which support or hinder the translation of youth rights from diaspora populations in Canada pertaining to how and where their rights are expressed. The methodology critically challenges notions of policy development that exclude youth as policy actors by integrating youth voice, expression, and data collection through art.
Methods: Although policy research typically relies on Discourse Analysis and quantitative methods, this research utilizes arts-based focus groups (FG) with youth ages 16 to 29 from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Jamaica.
Four FGs, carried out by two Spanish speaking peer researchers and the PI, with 23 youth sought to understand how youth understand rights within key domains of the project (youth justice, child welfare, education) and how they conceptualize their own rights. FGs were 3 hours, including a brief presentation about youth rights followed by a broad rights question, looking at each of the areas from a human rights framework and from youths' perspectives. The FG included arts-based activities, the development of posters, to provide alternate forms of communication beyond the traditional research setting. Artworks were vetted to eliminate identifying information. FGs were analyzed for themes and youth voice compared with Canadian policies that claim a youth rights framework to understand the disjuncture between youth experience and policies that provide opportunities for access to youth rights.
Findings: Using youth voice and visual expression, findings explore themes of human rights as experiential rather than theoretical. When it comes to defining and understanding rights, youth themselves see complexity and include legal, justice, and even ethical issues. Youth assert that just because rights are named, it does not mean they have them; even though they have the right to education, the ability to participate is limited by exclusion as school intersects with immigration status, access to health card, etc. Thus, policy is intersectional and layered. Further, policy is a tool for youth and not just adults, yet youth are invisible. While youth face significant challenges in countries of origin they bring significant strength.
Conclusion and Implications: Youth are not typically regarded as the ones to create the solution to a problem, but rather in need of being managed via policies and programs. Youth are situated within constructs such as: ‘citizens in the making’; a “social problem”; risky, dangerous, problematic, and in need of containment; youth are considered an adjunct to policy rather than legitimate policy actors. This research seeks to challenge notions of policy that focus on expert knowledge and presents policy from the perception of young people to reveal how youth experience the policies that are intended to give them rights.