#14Stories: Podcast Guide
This podcast was entirely youth-led, meaning that while we were supported by Never Too Late and the Adoption Council of Ontario, young people part of the Youth Connections Network were in charge of the who, what where, and why!
Many young people from child welfare are engaged with the agenda of the organization in mind. As long as that is transparent (ie. use of story for fundraising, education, advocacy, awareness), there isn’t a problem and we also acknowledged that young people are rarely engaged for the sake of engagement.
Barriers to engagement are something we talk a lot about at the NTL Youth Connections Network, we’ll go into more detail on that in the Supporting and Empowering Young People to Show Up section. These barriers may have not been identified if the ‘top down’ approach from the organizations goals was utilized.
As young people heading up this project, we got to set the tone and decide why we would engage. Many of us agree, that the simple act of connecting with others that carry similar experiences is enough. We are whole beings beyond our child welfare status. One of the values of this project and the NTL Youth Connections Network is recognizing the intrinsic value of connecting with one another.
So we took the opportunity for “storytelling for the sake of storytelling”. Just for the sake of connecting with each other and the broader network of young people in Ontario. Maybe through hearing these stories, others would feel less isolated and alone during a time we are all experiencing that due to the pandemic.
Example Engagement Process
There is something unique and invaluable about the creation of the 5/14 podcast. Having the opportunity to work alongside those who may not necessarily have the same story or journey as you do, but still understand you on a level that no one else in the world ever could, is a deeply profound experience.
Creating this podcast was not just about the final product itself, it was about the individual and shared journey of everyone who participated. It not only provided young people the opportunity to share their story but allowed young people to better understand their story and experiences. Being able to understand one’s story allows one to approach this work with a lens that promotes both empathy and compassion. There is no doubt this work can be exhausting, there are things we get from storytelling, but there are also pieces of ourselves we give away in doing so.
This podcast would not have been what it is without the relationship building that ensued throughout the process. Even though this podcast was developed during a time where most human interaction is limited to a computer screen, the ability to foster connections with one another was always at the forefront of this journey.
Having a supportive team of people who “get it” and come to this work with a wealth of knowledge formed by both professional and personal experiences gave the project its strength to overcome the countless hours of team meetings, late nights, losses…etc. There was always someone to go to for support, every single step of the way and long after the process was over. It is important to know that this project was not simply about ticking all of the boxes, dotting all of our i’s and crossing all of our t’s, it was so much more than that. It was about creating safe spaces where we could address and acknowledge strength, trauma, loss, compassion, empathy, hurt, fear and everything in between. It was about young people coming together to empower and learn from one another.
Although the final product is a piece that the entire team is proud of, the relationships that formed and the bonds that were strengthened as a result, was the most rewarding part of this process. After all, Isn’t that the purpose of story telling? What is story telling without the creation and strengthening of connections?
“Tell the story of the mountains you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.”
— Morgan Harper Nichols
One of the first things you want to determine is what the structure will look like in terms of engaging young people. What role do the supports and external experts have? Are they taking an advisory role, or are young people expected to follow the experts and supports lead? Nothing on this scale is ‘wrong’, it’s just important to determine where you fit and be honest about it when you engage.
Some Things to Think About
Why paying young people is important.
Aside from the wealth gap between generations, young people from child welfare are often significantly marginalized in ways that create significant barriers to education and gainful employment.
Lived expertise is just as valuable as professional expertise, and some of the ways were able to reduce barriers to participation was because of the lived experts being the ones to organize and plan the project.
Providing space for community.
It was important for us to create opportunities of engagement outside of soliciting young people’s stories. One of the ways we tried to do this was by hosting a listening part so folks could hear the rough cut of the podcast in advance of the release date and reflect.
For some young people from child welfare, there is a level of risk associated with publicly telling your story. For many, a concern is the stigma they may face if future employers search for them on the internet and discover their connection to the child welfare space. For others, friends in their lives may not yet know their story, or there may be adverse response from family members.
Podcasting is a unique platform in that we can hear the voices of folks and connect with them, but we can keep name and images out of the public for additional safety.
When young people express hesitancy around engaging due to the need to protect their story, it’s important to take this very seriously. The risks being taken have real-life consequences, and yet young people often give generously of their stories to make things better for those who will come into the system later.
Evolving and informed consent
Being clear about consent and providing several opportunities to revoke consent is another critical piece of creating safety. We had different tiers of consent:
At the stage of recording, a consent was signed.
A second layer of approval was sought prior to publishing stories to ensure there was still comfort. This was the last opportunity to fully retract participation before anything was publicly released.
Young people could revoke consent after release, we would remove their parts of the podcast and take down any posts that mentioned them. Young people were informed that because the content was already posted, it may have been downloaded or replicated and that we had no control over that but would still respect their wishes.
Don’t set youth up for failure
Young people often become connected to projects like this through their passion for making a difference. While the stakes may not ‘seem high’ they can be.
With a trauma-informed lens, we can acknowledge the adverse impacts that perceived failure or disappointing those around us may have on young people from child welfare. We also may be disadvantaged in terms of having less control over our behaviour than others, living more chaos-prone lives, and delays in our education.
Ensure young people have the skills and support they need to succeed in the role. This could look many different ways, we recommend asking young people and continuing to have ongoing conversations about capacity building to ensure that we can succeed in the jobs we take on.
Things going wrong is not a sign of failure, it’s just part of the journey! It’s better to anticipate things going wrong to be able to approach it with a solution focused lens. We feel less taken aback and shocked when we can say “things going wrong will just be part of this process.” Here are a few of our learnings.
Remember what’s really important.
Entering this project, we knew that what was most important was honouring young people’s work and participation. We tried to navigate challenges from this lens and perspective. One example was when we missed one of our daily, promotional Instagram posts because we didn’t have the young person’s second layer of approval. We knew the right thing to do was to wait for confirmation. Knowing why we made the decision was enough to offset the panic or feelings of defeat from things not ‘going as planned’. Our relationship with that person was more important than meeting schedule or deadline.
Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.
Working together can be tough! We can try to protect against that by setting our clear expectations and processes, but sometimes we miss these important steps or things just get away from us.
When conflict arises, go back to our first tip (remember what’s important), and remember not to ignore the situation. This can often let negative feelings fester. Find an honest, brave way of communicating about the conflict.
Let there be a natural flow.
Due to the chaos of the lives of young people from child welfare, it’s important for the door to be always open. Depending on the demand on our time, we may go through periods of higher and lower involvement. Keep the door open and try not to make young people feel bad for ‘disappearing’. Having to explain or justify their absence.
H E L P !
Do not be afraid to ask for or offer help! Try to find a balance of work, remember to check in and try to have multiple people on the team that can support each other with complimentary skill sets. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
This guide is based on the experiences of Never Too Late’s Youth Connection Network in creating our #14Stories podcast series. Our community is one that experiences a lot of marginalization and pushout, for this reason it’s been important for us to remain as accessible as possible. While this guide is based on the experiences of one group of young people making a podcast, we hope the learning will be translatable to other communities hoping to engage in more authentic and safer ways.
This project was made possible through generous funding from Frayme, a national knowledge mobilization network in youth mental health and substance use practices, and RBC’s Future Launch Program