Youth at Ranch Ehrlo can influence policy and bring change to the agency’s procedures with the northern and southern youth representative councils (YRCs).

The YRCs are a formal assembly of youth who willingly take on a leadership role, help plan and organize special events, and act as a voice for themselves and their peers. The YRC is a conduit to senior leadership, providing feedback and thoughtful discussion surrounding agency activities.

The southern YRC held its last meeting on Friday, June 14th, celebrating a youth representative's 17th birthday at a local restaurant. The meeting was also an opportunity for the group to reflect on the year’s accomplishments, most notably the successful organization and execution of two dances, coordination of activities for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and the review of Ranch Ehrlo’s youth dress and deportment policy.  

“The power of these kids, far too often, is underestimated,” said Randy O'Shaughnessy, director of group living services and supervisor of the southern YRC. “Their ability is unmatched. The things I’ve seen the YRC accomplish over the years, and the groups we’ve had, are just incredible.”

The YRC has been part of Ranch Ehrlo’s culture for longer than Randy has been involved with the Ranch, its history extending more than three decades.

The YRC meets monthly and is comprised of one, sometimes two, youth representatives from each group living program.

“Having representation from each program allows for inclusion, diversification of opinions, and it provides representation for a number of different perspectives,” said Randy.  

While this year’s YRC didn’t put forth immediate suggestions to senior leadership, Randy said past YRCs have had incredible influence over the agency’s policies.

“If the kids are having concerns about something they will bring it to the table,” he explained. “In my time, they’ve looked at a few different things: the dress and deportment policy, the allowance policy, and there’s been discussion surrounding routines and expectations.”

In 2023, the YRC put forth suggested changes to the dress and deportment policy, which resulted in significant policy changes – particularly those regarding hats indoors. A few years ago, the YRC also had a voice in changing the camping policy so that youth could opt out of the summer camp trips if they so wished.

“The youth provide a significant amount of input and the executive are really good at listening to their voice,” said Randy. “Kids didn’t make any suggestions to policy reform this year because when the discussion came up there was nothing pressing or significantly concerning to them.”

The YRC is part and parcel of the youth experience at Ranch Ehrlo, providing participants with an opportunity to have a sense of control, ownership, and influence on their lives and the decisions that affect them. 

“Nobody is going to buy into any type of treatment or help if they don’t have an element of ownership, and that ownership comes through many different avenues of engagement,” said Randy. “Any time you can provide a young person with an opportunity to be empowered and own the decision-making process of their lives, the more likely you’re going to see success.”