“Love in Action”
How Children Benefit from the Participation of their Families
"[Our children] turn into advocates without a sit-down teaching. You know, I can tell you to do something, but it doesn’t have the same impact as if I show you.Them seeing our transformation into strong, powerful leader is instilling that… I’ve seen my daughters watch my transformation and now I’m privileged to watch theirs!” — Rosazlia Grillier, Community Organizing and Family Issues and UPLAN
“They see that you are not only fighting for them, but you fighting for the community as a whole, advocating for the community. I think that’s something they will never forget, and they get that seed to move that work. They are our future. So every space I am, my daughter’s with me. If I am volunteering, she’s volunteering with me. If I’m talking to children, she’s there with me.” — Muna Hussein, Supporting Partnerships in Education and Beyond (SPEB)
Through engagement in programs, workshops, campaigns, and other community organizing efforts, survey respondents described how families learned skills that branched out to their children.
Their children watched them as they became dynamic members of their community. Survey respondents described young people as “sponges and mirrors,” soaking up, processing, and reflecting the information they received from the adults in their lives. Youth whose families were involved in leadership and organizing groups benefited not only by the material changes achieved through grassroots campaigns, but also by the process of observing adults in their families develop and use leadership skills.
The following quote demonstrates the importance of children seeing the adults in their lives engage in policy change.
"Our parents have often notes that it is important for their children to see their parents fight for them and their education. It models what love in action looks like, both for their children and for their community. It helps show their kids that they can advocate for themselves and they should never settle for anything less than they deserve. And doing so in partnership with those in your community makes the work even stronger, not just for them as individuals, but for all who follow in their footsteps. It is powerful to see mostly Black and Brown parent leaders leading the work to build a better city for their kids." — Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE)
Focus group participants who helped to shape the Parent Power and Leadership Survey also said it was critical for children to see and understand the social change possibilities of community organizing. Through their parents’ participation, youth learned the importance of using their voice. One focus group participant, Toyin Anderson from the Parent Leadership Training Institute and UPLAN, described how adults can collaborate with young people to amplify their voices. “There comes a point when…[our children] start to advocate for themselves, and then my voice helps to elevate what their feelings and perspectives are,” said Toyin.
Intergenerational learning is central to the work of parent leadership and advocacy organizations, even when groups are not explicitly offering programming to multiple generations. For example, community organizing encouraged families to engage in activities together, children to advocate for their own needs, and parents becoming more active in resource sharing in their communities. Organizations reported that children often learned leadership behaviors from their families, and as a result, adults and youth grew together. The quotes below speak to this family growth as families engage with leadership and advocacy organizations.
"[Children] are aware of their family needs and can be vocal about it. When we went to visit with one of our legislators, a 10 year old boy that came with his mom started telling the legislator why childcare was important to his mom. It took us all by surprise because he did it all on his own.” — Central Valley Children’s Services Network
“I’m so proud that my six-year-old is watching her mom and watching all the beautiful [parent leader] family that we have when she’s sitting in on calls and she’s learning and she’s using her voice to tell teachers what she needs.” — Sara Morrison, Choice for All and UPLAN
How Organizations Would Like to Engage Children
We asked participants whether there were additional ways their organization would like to engage children and youth. Almost 21% (n=23) mentioned wanting to implement a youth-specific arm of their existing curricula. Many said they would tailor similar content to parents and children in an effort to expand community organizing and leadership skills of children through age appropriate content.
Some respondents explicitly engaged children on an ongoing basis. For instance, the Central Valley Children’s Services Network, mentioned they already used intergenerational approaches to leadership development and civic engagement. They detailed their structure in the quote below.
"When we hold meeting with parents we also hold separate meetings with the children and basically cover the same issues that we address with the parents in a simplified way to engage the children. For example, in one meeting we talked about [the] importance of voting; we did the same with the children ages 4 to 10 and even had a voting box so they could cast their vote on what fun activities they wanted to do together."
Similarly, the Children’s Leadership Training Institute, implemented across the U.S., offers age-appropriate leadership development to the children of participants in their Parent Leadership Training Institute.
Still, many respondents who did not already have youth programming anticipated the benefits of creating age-appropriate programming and curricula. One organization suggested that implementing these curricula would round out their intergenerational approach and said that “it would be good to have a youth leadership organization involved so middle and high school students could receive structured and formal advocacy and leadership training while their parents are in a family engagement workshop.”
A few organizations indicated that they were unable to engage youth at this time. Others said that their focus was solely on parental engagement and deferred to other local entities who could better handle a youth-centered approach. A small number (n=4) of respondent organizations shared that for various reasons, they would like their focus to remain on adults and parents.
Obstacles to Engaging Youth
While almost all the organizations reported the importance of engaging youth in their programming, many mentioned challenges associated with doing so. Overwhelmingly, organizations stated a desire to involve children in all aspects of their advocacy efforts but recognized the difficulty of developing specific programs and meetings that were engaging and informative to young people.
Organizations also cited the ever-changing nature of the pandemic as a barrier to engaging youth. One Covid-related challenge was the level of social isolation that resulted from children attending school virtually, unable to connect with their peers. Many organizations were limiting in-person meeting and activities that helped to foster deep relationship-building, opting for virtual or hybrid options. Some youth and families struggled to engage in the organization’s efforts due to technology barriers. Internet access was not always reliable and in some cases families had to share devices, prioritizing access to students needing to complete educational assignments.
Finances were also a common challenge. Budgetary constraints made it difficult for organizations to add youth-specific programs and to hire staff to create youth tailored programming. As demonstrated in the funding section of the findings, these leadership groups are often non-profit organizations with smaller budgets.
Finally, some staff who participated in a focus group worried that adults in parent leadership organizations might prioritize the thoughts and voices of adults over those of children. The responding organizations said they constantly combatted that misconception. They wanted children to feel that they had a voice that was welcomed and respected. Survey respondents indicated their belief that children are aware of their own needs and look forward to contributing in these intergenerational spaces; yet, sometimes the opportunities for youth to share their experiences and beliefs were not present.