Why Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Matters in Youth Programs

Dwaine Taylor

Youth programs play a meaningful role in our communities. They provide children and teens with the opportunity to develop personally, form social relationships, and build critical life skills. Whether your organization offers youth sports, music lessons, or volunteer experiences, it contributes to youth developing a sense of purpose and belonging.

Belonging is the key to a successful youth program. If youth feel understood by their coaches, counsellors, or volunteer leaders and connected to their peers, they are more likely to actively participate in and engage with the content of the program. But belonging doesn’t just exist; it is the result of intentional and strategic action in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

Why is EDI important for youth programs?

Consider a few key facts about diversity in Canada:

  • As of 2019, the youth population in Canada was approximately 7 million (1)

  • The population of Indigenous youth in Canada increased 39% from 2006 to 2016 (2)

  • As much as 27% of Canadian youth identify as members of a visible minority (3)

  • 8% of youth identify as part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community (4)

The message from the data is clear. This is the most diverse population of youth in Canada’s history. For organizations that serve young people, it’s critical to understand how to embrace and empower youth from a range of backgrounds, identities, and abilities, ensuring that they feel confident there’s a place for them in your programs.

The success of your recruitment and retention is dependent on your ability to foster a sense of belonging for everyone. As Canada becomes more diverse, integrating EDI within youth programs has become nothing short of essential.

Understanding and applying EDI to youth programs

Applying EDI to youth programs doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, here’s a quick primer:

Equity is about access. To address equity, consider who is able to access your programs, and why. Some youth programs are designed to support specific groups–for example, youth with autism. However, the vast majority of youth programs are designed to be open. The issue? Open doesn’t necessarily mean accessible.

If you manage an open youth program, there are a few key questions you should ask regarding equity. Who would have a hard time accessing it? Is your programming adaptable for youth with physical disabilities? Is there a cost for your program, and is that cost prohibitive?

Diversity considers who is in the room. Think about who is part of your organization, from the board and management to the employees and volunteers. Do they reflect the diversity of the youth you support? Research shows that representation is the most meaningful way to drive engagement of diverse audiences and groups.

Inclusion is about ensuring that everyone is having a good time. Consider what your organization can do to make sure every youth person feels safe, welcome, and included. Do you have food, music, and activities that cater to the broad cultural and social interests of the youth you support? It’s important to remember that inclusion is not about dismissing differences; it’s about acknowledging and embracing them.

Integrating equity, diversity, and inclusion effectively within youth programs may take time, but it’s key to ensuring the success of any modern youth-serving organization.

Continuing the Conversation

The world is more connected than ever, and that means it’s also more diverse. In the current moment, organizations have their opportunity to demonstrate that their programs exist for everyone to enjoy by taking measures to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, identity, or abilities, feels welcome and valued.

Ready to explore tangible steps for integrating EDI principles into your youth programs? Connect with the newpact team to discuss next steps and learning opportunities for your organization.

(1) https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-631-x/11-631-x2019003-eng.pdf

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2021062-eng.html

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