Youth Voices Initiative gets children’s voices heard

In 2016, the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab—a group of lawyers, social workers and designers working on projects at the intersection of law and design— observed an unsettling trend among BC families going through separations. The perspectives of the young people whose families were experiencing separation and divorce were getting missed. So, working with youth and other stake holders across the legal system, they developed the Youth Voices Initiative: a multimedia platform where young people can share their stories.

Kari Boyle, Coordinator of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab says that the key was to start by gathering information on the youth experience: “Bringing people together, asking them to tell their stories was amazing,” says Boyle. “That first workshop changed my whole way of looking at this. It was very moving.”

Emily's Journey

Emily’s Journey: The Lab generated a series of personas exploring how youth experience family separation. These personas helped them to develop concepts for possible tools to support youth.

Family conflict can have a devastating impact on children’s self-esteem, their ability to adjust and cope, and their social competence and behaviour. During separation and divorce, a child rarely has the chance to express their views on things that will fundamentally change their lives. There are some processes available (for example, Judicial interviews, Section 211 reports and Hear the Child reports), but they are generally used in the most litigious separations. Most separations never interact with the court system, and the Lab saw this as the biggest gap.

“These brave young people who came—some of them had been through just awful, awful experiences” revealed Boyle. The youth, many of whom were recounting their family separation experiences from several years prior, still carried around the emotional weight of the experience. “It was still very real. The feelings were not very far below the surface.”

“We realized we didn’t want any more reports. Enough reports, they just sit on a shelf and gather dust,” reflected Boyle.

Instead, using human-centred design principles, the Lab began gathering information in 2017 about the emotional, informational, and legal needs of young people as their families move through separation and divorce. The Lab conducted a series of workshops both with legal services providers and youth, gathering the perspectives of stakeholders across the sector.

Then, using what was collected in the workshops, the Lab got to work designing possible solutions. In 2019, together with the Young People’s Leadership Group – a working group made up of six youth – the Lab began developing a prototype – a multimedia platform where young people can share their stories. The hope is that the platform will offer peer-to-peer support, and also educate parents and other system actors. The goal of the Youth Services Initiative, said Boyle, is to “change the behaviour […] of parents, and the system actors like lawyers, judges, court services, parenting coordinators—anybody that works with families.”

“Our long-term goal,” added Boyle, “is to improve the wellbeing of families and their children” throughout what is often the darkest period of time of that family’s life.

The Youth Voices Initiative beta is expected to launch in 2020. Follow the important work of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab online at and on Twitter at @BCFamInnovLab

The BC Family Justice Innovation Lab wishes to express its gratitude for funding from the Vancouver Foundation.