Youth-Adult Partnerships Backgrounder

According to academic literature, youth-adult partnerships[1] involve young people working together with adults toward a goal of individual, community, national, or social betterment. In these partnerships, young people contribute equally and actively in planning and decision-making.

Researchers have found that the support and partnerships offered by adults within activities can have an impact on how engaged youth are[2]. Relationships that provide youth with opportunities for independence and exploration tend to foster youth participation, while more traditional “student-teacher” models tend to result in disengagement[3]. Strong youth-adult partnerships serve a variety of different purposes: they protect youths’ rights for participation, particularly in terms of decision-making; they facilitate positive youth development; and they work to support youth toward improving their communities and civil society[4].

Youth-adult partnerships are collaborative. Working in partnership means that youth are often involved in decision-making and governance of the organization in which they are working[5]. Research has shown that positive youth-adult partnerships are important for youth engagement in youth governance[6].

There are many different settings in which youth-adult partnerships can be fostered. One is the youth conference, such as the Students Commission youth conferences, which can be an important context for positive youth development, engagement, and empowerment[7]. Youth leadership programs, such as the YMCA’s Youth Leader Corps are another context in which youth-adult partnerships have been found to foster positive youth development[8]. It is important to understand how positive youth-adult partnerships develop within these different contexts in order to provide insight into how similar organizations could nurture the development of these relationships.

Youth-adult partnerships are best sustained in agencies where organizational pathways exist to support and sustain youth leadership development within the organization[9]. Yet somewhat surprisingly, developing youth-adult partnerships and creating additional roles for youth as decision-makers and planners have been challenging for youth organizations, with many expressing a desire for guidance in navigating this shift[10]. Our research would answer a call that has gone out to develop an understanding on how to create strong youth-adult partnerships to advance youth engagement[11].

In addition to academic knowledge, a large base of practical and experiential knowledge has also highlighted the importance of youth-adult partnerships. Youth organizations within this partnership (e.g. members of the National Youth Serving Agencies) identified an interest in exploring contexts (particularly of youth conferences) of youth-adult partnerships, and shared a need for evaluation.

In addition, young people from across the country have highlighted the importance of youth-adult partnerships and have made recommendations at various youth events, programs and initiatives. For example, at the Unite & Ignite 2011 youth conference, recommendations included bridging the gap between youth and adults to encourage youth engagement and retention in smaller communities. Youth and adults at the most recent Young Decision Makers meeting identified the need for young people to develop and deliver training for various adult practitioners. In Victoria, youth researchers developed a youth engagement indicator resource kit for evaluating the Ministry of Child and Family Development’s youth engagement strategy, with one indicator dedicated to youth-adult relationships.


The Centre’s Adult Allies in Action booklet summarizes current research about adults as allies to youth and adult-youth partnerships. It includes resources, tips, how-to's as well as activities to build partnership skills.

Gaps in knowledge:

  • Lack of clear descriptions of contexts (e.g. youth conferences, youth leadership, etc.) where youth-adult partnerships take place and how they lead to positive outcomes for individuals, organizations and society.
  • Lack of connections between types/content of programs/organizations, types of youth-adult relationships and types of outcomes.
  • Lack of understanding ways that youth and adults partner in institutional, cultural and societal contexts where adults are in very asymmetrical power relationships with youth.
  1. Zeldin, S., Larson, R., Camino, L.& O'Connor, 2005
  2. Grossman, J.B. & Bulle, M.J., 2006; Ozer, E.J., Cantor, J.P., Cruz, G.W., Fox, B., Hubbard, E. & Moret, L., 2008
  3. Mitra, 2005
  4. Zeldin, Larson, et al., 2005
  5. Zeldin, S., Camino, L. & Mook, C., 2005
  6. Mitra, 2005
  7. Pancer, Rose-Krasnor, & Loiselle, 2002
  8. Libby, Rosen, & Sedonaen, 2005
  9. Libby et al., 2005
  10. Zeldin, Camino, & Mook, 2005
  11. Zeldin, Camino, et al., 2005


The Students Commission