Introduction: Why Start a Youth Council?

“Every school and city in the United States should have a program that fosters communication, collaboration and trust between the students and local leaders of that community.” - Michael Berry, Dunwoody, GA


Youth councils operate across the country at all levels of government. At the local level, their main task is to act as a bridge between youth and local officials. In essence, youth councils strengthen civic engagement and help to prepare the next generation of publicly minded leaders. This guide identifies main issues, best practices and questions that are important when starting, organizing, maintaining and institutionalizing a youth council as a part of your local government and community.

There are many benefits for cities using effective approaches to youth participation, such as

  • Increased youth involvement and engagement
  • Budget savings and revenue generation
  • Enhanced support for city initiatives
  • Improved policies and programs for youth
  • Strengthened image as a youth-friendly and inclusive community

Young people also benefit from youth councils in many ways:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Development of leadership and other soft skills
  • Better understanding of local policies and governance
  • Personal contributions to the community through service
  • Increased awareness of opportunities in the local community and beyond

Young residents are an asset to local governments – they can raise genuine concerns about their education, health and safety, or environmental sustainability, and offer both desirable and feasible solutions to policy challenges. Cities that engage their youth are consistently listed among the top places for young people to live. This, in turn, make cities attractive places for businesses. Young adults want to reside in a community that acknowledged their value when they were children and adolescents.

Throughout Georgia, city leaders are recognizing younger residents as a resource for community problem-solving and positive change. In these cities, youth councils are working with elected officials and other leaders to tackle important policy issues and discovering that their voice matters in decision-making processes that affect them in their daily lives.

Youth councils may engage with local governments and communities in multiple ways:

  • Introduce new issues to the agenda
  • Provide input in decision-making
  • Draft and recommend new policies
  • Raise awareness of local government among their peers
  • Assess existing youth programs and services
  • Actively participate in campaigns aimed to improve well-being among youth and other residents across the community

These are just a few examples of how youth councils may operate. Overall, it is important that each city forms a youth council that is relevant to the local context and takes into consideration specific needs, concerns and strengths of the community.

Reflecting this emphasis on local solutions for local issues, youth councils in Georgia differ greatly. The youngest youth council in Georgia is in Tybee Island. The students in this program focus on learning civics and what local government is all about. Most youth councils consist of high school students, but their range of activities varies. In Cumming, for example, the youth council makes recommendations on how to strengthen or expand existing services. One key function of Dublin’s youth council is to assist the mayor, the city council and staff in decision-making, problem solving, and accomplishing community goals. The Eatonton youth council operates as an advisory body to the city council in youth-related matters, and they are expected to hold forums on problems, activities and concerns of youth while also promoting healthy, safe and fun activities for their peers.

But how do you establish a youth council? How are participants selected? How are these councils funded, structured and coordinated? What kinds of documents are needed? GMA produced this guide to provide answers to these and many other practical questions.

Following this introduction, the second part of the guide focuses on key areas of planning and implementing a youth council by outlining specific steps you would need to consider. The third part of the guide offers you a directory of existing youth councils in cities across Georgia, including information on their design, by-laws and other important documents. These sample documents are available in the fourth part of this guide and will help you decide which kind of youth council works best for your city.

This online version of GMA’s Youth Council Guide is the result of a collaborative effort among GMA staff including Janice Eidson, Director of Conferences & Management Services; Kay Love, Managing Director, Georgia City Solutions; Brian Wallace, Director of Strategic Initiatives; Artiffany Stanley, Member Services Consultant; and Holger Loewendorf, Research Manager. Additionally, we thank Ilkka Kauppinen, MPA student at the University of Georgia, for his help in drafting and editing this publication.

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