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Committee On Youth Councils Of The Welfare Council Of New York City: A Report — 1949






Welfare Council of New York City

44 East 23rd Street

New York 10, New York






 Members of the Committee

Mrs. Leonard H. Bernheim, Chairman

Albert A. Edwards

Morris Eisenstein

Mrs. Evelyn Ellenbogen

Abraham Fleischman

Marvin Green

Helen Harris

Mrs. Mary Howe

Robert Johnson

Mrs. Wenonah Bond Logan

James McCarthy

Nancy E. McDowell

Francis J. McGahren

Rev. Philip J. Murphy

 Approved by:

Committee on Youth Councils—October 26, 1949

Central Coordinating Committee—November 9, 1949

Board of Directors—November 18, 1949






The Youth Councils Project Committee was authorized by the Central Coordinating Committee on November 10, 1948 with the following charge:

 “To work with the existing and proposed youth councils for

The purpose of developing ways and means for facilitating

The development of responsible youth councils in New York

City as well as assisting the group work and recreation

Agencies in establishing channels for working with youth councils.”

 In April, 1949 the committee was appointed and it was asked to report in October, 1949. The first meeting of the committee was held on May 25, 1949. Six committee meetings have been held. At three of these meetings, 19 young people representing 8 youth councils participated in the discussion. Miss Margaret Moogan, who is currently making a study of youth councils throughout the country for the Youth Division of the National Social Welfare Assembly, participated in one meeting of the committee and Miss Violet Sieder of the staff of Community Chests and Councils, Inc. participated in another committee meeting.

The committee, while recognizing the importance of a youth council program in New York City, realized that there are many practical questions of policy and implementation for the program which must be considered by the Welfare Council and by the youth serving agencies. The committee therefore discussed the following questions:

  1. Should a youth council program include teen-age and school-age youth? or young adults? or both?
  1. What would be the relationship of “unorganized groups” such as social groups, cellar groups, etc. to a youth council program?
  1. What would be the responsibility of the youth serving agencies for participation in and assistance to a youth council program?
  1. Should there be a period of emphasis on youth participation within the agencies before an inter-agency youth council is organized?
  1. Should a youth council program be promoted on a local neighborhood, regional or borough basis first? or should a city wide youth council be organized first?
  1. Where should responsibility for a youth council program in New York City be placed?
  1. What adult volunteer advisory or supervisory committees and leadership would be needed?
  1. How should a youth council program be financed?
  1. How should staff service be provided?
  1. What would be the relationship of such a youth council to other youth councils organized under other auspices including those organized by young people not affiliated with any youth serving agency?

The committee present its final report in three sections:

(1) Background

(2) Convictions underlying the youth council program

(3) Recommendations for action.


Although during the 1930’s an inter-organization youth program was active in New York City as a part of the American Youth Congress, this program disintegrated early in the war. During the war years other programs urgently demanded community attention and it was not until the close of the war with the resumption of interest in the more usual youth programs that interest in inter-organization youth councils again became evident.

A contributing factor in this renewed interest was the growing recognition on the part of youth serving agencies that young people should be encouraged and assisted to contribute their skills and ideas to the program and management of the agency, and that “youth participation” was desirable in the planning of program and the operation of the agency with a sharing in major decisions on policy, budget and personnel. From a conviction about “youth participation” in agency affairs grow a further conviction about “youth participation” much needed practice in democracy as preparation for citizenship could and should be provided.

Agency leadership and community leaders endorsed the philosophy expressed in the Report of the Youth Participation Panel in the National Conference on Prevention and Control of Juvenile Delinquency:

“A democracy cannot permanently survive if it ignores the basic rights of individuals and if its citizens are not prepared to discharge their responsibilities as members of a free society. The education and everyday experiences which people have in their childhood and youth determine in large measure their effectiveness as adult citizens.” 1/

From the young people too had come strong interest in youth councils as a result of the greater freedom and the greater sense of their contribution to community life which was increased during the war. Young people with initiative and a desire to take an active part in the community often have found the established agency programs unsatisfying and they crave opportunity to think for themselves and to plan and manage their own activities. The first initiative for the organization of youth councils frequently has come from these young people.

As a result of the growing conviction about the necessity for active participation by youth in their own and community affairs, the Welfare Council of New York and the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office included two hundred young people as participants in the Youth Conference sponsored by those organizations and held at City Hall on January 13, 1945. Six hundred adult delegates from public and private organizations concerned about the welfare of youth also participated. A Youth Advisory Committee of eighteen young people played an important role in planning for the conference. In the general conclusions and recommendations of the conference the following were included:

“It was generally agreed that planning for youth must provide for participation by youth in the solution of its own problems, and that youth must assume a more vital role in community life. ‘Helping youth to help themselves’ is the best possible form of community interest. Interest and cooperation are essential to the development of responsibility. To be vital, participation must extend into the areas of program planning and administration, and be directed toward the achievement of specific objectives.   Methods suggested are:

Youth Councils

City wide council with recognized status

Local council with recognized status

Operation.” 2/

Since that time the Welfare Council has given frequent and serious consideration to the development of youth councils in New York City. Both the Conference Group on Group Work and Recreation and the Regional Councils have carefully studied this aspect of youth programs.

1/ National Conference on Prevention and Control of Juvenile Delinquency, Report on Youth Participation, p. 1 Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 1944.

2/ Welfare Council of New York City, New York City’s Million Young People, p. 35, 1945

In March, 1947 the following statement of policy concerning youth councils was adopted by the Central Coordinating Committee upon the recommendation of the Conference Group on Group Work and Recreation:

“Experience of the Council and of the Conference Group on Group Work and Recreation substantiates the position previously taken by the Council, namely, that it believes in community youth council organization in New York City and that youth councils properly organized provide a suitable approach and an appropriate vehicle for the expression of youth’s concerns.”

The Conference Group on Group Work and Recreation has kept in close contact with efforts to organize a city wide council, and the Regional Councils have been in touch with local neighborhood youth councils. The Brooklyn Council for Social Planning has promoted youth councils in six local neighborhoods in Brooklyn with the assistance of a student from the New York School of Social Work for a period of six months and later through the work of a full time staff member for the period of a year. This demonstration project was made possible through a grant of special funds to the Council. The Community Welfare Council of Staten Island has promoted a borough wide youth council with the assistance of volunteer adult advisers.

The growing interest in youth participation in relation to the planning and operation of agency services has stimulated the growth of agency youth councils composed of representatives of the membership groups of the individual agency. Several New York City agencies including the New York Metropolitan Section of the National Jewish Welfare Board and the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York, have organized such councils.

The Youth Division of the National Social Welfare Assembly has promoted interest in youth councils throughout the country. Local New York City units of the sponsoring agencies have been urged by their national offices to promote the program. Councils of Social Agencies in many cities are examining the implications and application of this program. In a recent survey made by the Community Chests and Councils of America more than sixty-five Councils of Social Agencies were either organizing or discussing youth councils in relation to their community.

In addition there has been great interest in the establishment of a national youth council movement which could cooperate with youth movements in other countries. American youth have been represented in world youth conferences, such as the World Assembly of Youth, and this channel for international understanding and cooperation between American youth and the young people of other countries has been fostered by many agencies


  1. That young people need to learn to be secure, healthy, self-reliant, responsible, self- disciplined individuals, who have knowledge and skills of how to work with others.
  1. That this learning can best take place through direct, meaningful experiences which afford constant use of skills and a consistent progression in the development of new skills which would make young people increasingly capable of managing their own affairs.
  1. That these needs, learning and skills are often reflected in interest in community affairs (neighborhood, city, nation and world) and a desire to participate and share responsibility for the affairs of the community.
  1. That these interests should be the point of departure for any program designed to provide education for democratic citizenship so essential to the success of a democratic society.
  1. That the community is composed of groups and institutions which mold and develop the young people into the pattern of the community life. These groups have many objectives in common, but each makes a unique contribution to the community.
  1. In the agencies and institutions of the United States there is a definite trend toward including young people in the planning and management of affairs which affect their interest. This practice is consistent with the growing democracy which seeks to become more and more inclusive of all groups of citizens.
  1. The community, although composed of a variety of groups and institutions, in total cuts across all lines of sex, race, religion and age, and presents an integrated front representing all those interests.
  1. Young people who have developed skills in participation and leadership through progressive experience in agencies and institutions, should have the opportunity to participate in total community affairs even before they reach voting age.

1/   cf.     Youth Division, National Social Welfare Assembly Study of Youth Councils, 1949


The Youth Councils Project Committee recommends:

A) That the Welfare Council endorse the following approach to a youth council program in New York City:

1. Definition of a youth council:  A youth council is a representative body through which young people representing youth organizations and agencies plan and work together on common problems and interests and through which young people are  encouraged to assume an increasing amount of responsibility for their share in the affairs of the community and to participate effectively as citizens of a democracy.

2. Goals of a youth council include: 1) to provide opportunity for all the young people represented to participate in experiences through which all   come to understand, to accept and to learn to live cooperatively with other people; 2) Purpose and philosophy of a youth council program: to provide opportunity for young people to play a decisive role in a genuine partnership between young people and adults in community planning for the welfare of young people; to provide young people with practice and experience in the democratic process; to build an intelligent, participating American citizenry who can support, interpret and apply democratic concepts in their community, their nation and their world.

Youth councils properly organized provide a suitable and an appropriate vehicle for the expression of youth’s concerns and for meeting some of their needs. A youth council should build a program of cooperative and coordinated effort between member groups and should not be an independent program group. Youth council activities are not planned to take the place of regular programs of member groups but representatives should bring to the council ideas, problems and program suggestions for joint study and action and should report back to the groups the discussion, the decisions and the program plans of the council.

The actions of the youth council become part of the program of the member groups which share in planning through their representatives to the council. The youth council will include programs in which all or a majority of the groups cooperate in one effort.

      3. Youth leadership and responsibility in a youth council program.

Representatives to the youth council should be chosen from and by the youth membership of the organization or agency.

The youth council program should be developed by youth themselves who should be responsible for organizing, administering and planning the council’s work. Young people should play a decisive part in the preparation of the program which should provide opportunity for creative self expression, should stimulate young people to think for themselves and should encourage young people to get the facts, to share the facts and to act on the facts.

4. Adult community and youth agency responsibility in a youth council program.

Agency board, staff and adult membership should:

1) provide through house councils, interclub councils, etc. an opportunity for youth participation within the agency as preparation for participation in a youth council,

2) promote and encourage local youth councils in the neighborhood served by the agency,

3) in an advisory capacity give guidance and leadership to the youth council,

4) give support and assistance on a continuing basis to the youth council representatives of their agency member youth groups and to the those groups as they participate in the youth council program,

5) offer assistance and help to youth council representatives of youth groups unaffiliated with an agency or an organization and wherever possible encourage  these groups to affiliate with an agency.

  1. Adult adviser and advisory committee.

A youth council should have an adult adviser and an adult advisory committee to plan jointly with the council concerning implementation of the program. It is desirable that representatives of the adult advisory committee meet with the youth council frequently.

6. Membership in a youth council.

A youth council has no individual membership but is a representative body of delegates from the organizations and agencies which are members of the council.

Youth councils should be representative of the community including all races and creeds.

Each local youth council should have a clearly defined policy concerning membership in the council and the basis of representation for member groups. Eligibility for membership in a youth council should be determined in relation to the purpose, function and program of the youth council.

Representatives of social and other youth groups not affiliated with established youth serving agencies and organizations should be encouraged to relate to the established agencies and to cooperate with representatives of those agencies through membership and participation in youth councils since an inherent goal of youth councils is to promote integration of these unaffiliated youth groups into the total community program.

  1. Teen-age and young adult youth councils.

Separate councils for teen-age youth and for young adults are desirable and it is inadvisable to attempt to combine the two age groups into one council.

  1. Neighborhood youth council program.

Where an adult neighborhood council exists the youth council should be related to it.

Responsible, strong, effective local neighborhood youth councils must be developed prior to any development of a broader borough or city-wide youth council program. Such a broader youth council program cannot successfully be initiated until local councils have been established.

  1. City-wide youth council program.

However, some form of city-wide youth council program will inevitably result when strong neighborhood youth council programs have been established. This council may also wish to relate to national and international youth movements.

  1. Finances.

A local youth council requires a budget plan. The budget need not be large but some funds for office and program expenses will be needed. The major part of the budget should preferably be provided through membership dues from the member groups although this source may in certain circumstances need to be supplemented by funds raised through the council program or through contributions from other sources.  Expenses can be kept to a minimum through reliance upon the assistance of the member groups by providing office space, lending mimeograph equipment, etc.

B) That the Welfare Council sponsor early in 1950 an institute primarily for the purpose of interpretation of youth participation and youth councils to agency board and staff members and other adult leaders of community youth programs.

C) That a Youth Councils Committee be appointed as a Project Committee for the year 1949-1950 with staff service by the consultant on group work and recreation.

The members of the present committee would be willing to continue as members of the committee but it is suggested that the committee be enlarged.

The charge to the Youth Councils Committee would be:

1. to promote an educational and interpretive program concerning youth participation,

2. to assume responsibility for planning an institute on youth participation as recommended above,

3. to confer with and advise agencies concerning the development of agency councils and local neighborhood youth councils and to promote the organization of such councils,

4. to consult with representatives of neighborhood youth councils concerning a city- wide youth council program,

5. to study and review the experience and progress during the year,

6. to present a report in June, 1950 concerning recommendations for future action.

Source:  United Neighborhood Houses, Box 238, File 648, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities, MN


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