Document Type

Capstone Project (Campus-Only Access)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


Health, Human Services and Public Policy


Collaborative Health and Human Services, Concentration: Public Health and Social Work

First Advisor

Caitlin Stinneford


United Way of Santa Cruz County is a nonprofit organization that serves youth and families in Santa Cruz County. The problem being addressed is the lack of youth voice impacting programming and organizational decision-making systems. Excluding youth from programs and larger decisions that affect them directly, creates gaps to service delivery and decreases equitable opportunities for youth. Although many organizations are shifting to the idea of centering youth voice, many do not incorporate youth voice in their framework, and decisions are solely made by adults with little to no feedback from youth. The main contributing factors to this problem include adultism: the sense of entitlement to make decisions for youth without their direct input, lack of best practices and framework on how to incorporate youth voice in existing systems, and lack of healthy youth-adult relationships (developmental relationships). As a result of these factors, consequences can include lack of youth opportunity and experiences in their community, compromised social-emotional health and development, and youth needs are left unmet and excluded from decisions that closely impact them. With the support of United Way’s United 4 Youth collaboratives, two focus groups were conducted in the Watsonville and Live Oak area. In an effort to hear youth’s feedback about topics including learning environment and style, physical and mental wellbeing, challenges and barriers, and collaborative process and delivery. Through in-person focus groups and Google Form questionnaires, feedback showed that there was a need for increasing extracurricular activities and opportunities for creative outlets for youth, both in and out of school. Additionally, youth recognized the importance of managing stress and anxiety and were able to provide tools to do so. The key themes, along with other meaningful youth feedback, will help guide youth advocates in creating targeted programming to meet their needs. Focus groups, regular check-ins, and/or other modalities such as survey questionnaires, are all easy and effective ways of incorporating youth voice in existing organizational systems.

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