Youth’s motivation to join YouthLab

It is perfectly clear for us what the benefits of participating in exchange with youth are for justice professionals and for the system in which they work. As is stated by the European Commission in 2011 in the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, making the justice system in Europe more child-friendly is a key priority. Being trained by young experts to learn about their needs, language and point of view, is one important step towards achieving this piority.

But what is in it for the youngsters? What do they win from going into exchange with representatives of the justice system? Years of close collaboration with youth made us recognize the following motivations for young experts to join:

They want to make a positive contribution by sharing their story

Several youngsters have experienced many just and unjust events after a (long) time in detention. It’s our experience that they want to express what has happened to them, to get it off their chest. They are being trained to share their honest experiences in a constructive way. This enables them to be heard – a basic need of all. Sharing their experiences allows their stories not to be wasted, but instead to make a positive contribution.

They enjoy using creativity as tool for equal communication

Creativity is a major pillar in the impactful exchanges between youngsters and justice professionals. It allows them to meet as equals, since most creative forms are no more familiar to professionals than to youth. Therefore, we encourage both professionals and youngsters to connect through creative forms. Depending on the creative approaches used in your programme, youngsters could get the opportunity to express themselves through rap or spoken word. Creativity allows them to tell their story in a language that empowers them.

What motivates me in this project is being able to see professionals in a different light, in a better light, being able to communicate without this hierarchical relationship, even if the respect remains present. I also like the fact that I can share what I have experienced, knowing that I will be listened to and that it will help other young people.

Young Trainer, Belgium

It makes them part of a supporting community

When being released after many years, youngsters might lack a sense of community. Being on a programme together with like-minded experience experts and under guidance of people that stand up for their needs, helps them to establish communal relations. They share experiences with each other and they grow as a team. Together they explore a new path and find new directions in life – without criminality.

They become a role model

The first and main motivation for youngsters to join turns out to be the opportunity to be an example and a voice for other youth. By sharing their story, they can speak up and explain how being inside detention has had an impact on them. It gives them a chance to demonstrate how to make a change and choose a different path in life. By sharing their story and learning to ask for help, they learn to open up, for new opportunities but also for support.

They get new work experiences and build a network

We believe it is crucial that youth gets paid a reasonable fee for sharing their perspectives with justice professionals. Paying a fee on top of expenses communicates that we take the youngsters seriously and that their experience and time are of true value. Also, it adds to perceived equality in the exchange with professionals. It goes without saying that the financial arrangement in itself is an important stimulus for the youngsters to show up but that doesn’t mean their engagement is uniquely about the money – as all the other motivations show.

The possibility/experience of healing

By telling their story in a creative and constructive manner, the youngsters experience a sense of healing – even if indirectly. This has been expressed by several youngsters! They explain how sharing their experiences with many people in different settings helped them process. Some even stated that it helped them understand how their lives had unfolded as it did so far. Without explicitly aiming for a sense of healing, we indirectly facilitate a safe space for the youngsters to share and process their story.

Before, I thought the professionals were like robots who wanted to punish me. It sounds stupid perhaps, but now I realise they are human too.

Jason – Experience expert, Netherlands
Hugo, youth from Belgium, speaks about his experience with the YouthLab