There is a gap between what systems are intended to provide for young people and how young people’s experiences of those systems play out. This is especially true for young people in the care, youth justice, and homelessness systems, who frequently have to navigate myriad referrals, rules, cultures, and biases to access the services they need in education, social services, youth justice, mental health, employment, and more. The Youth Experiential Learning Simulation (YExLS) is an attempt to help bridge that gap.
Developed by professionals who have worked in youth serving systems for decades in collaboration with young people with lived experience of those same systems and further refined through the participation and feedback of those from the justice system, social workers, teachers, probation officers, and more, YExLS seeks to help participants get a better sense of what it is like to be a young person navigating public systems while also pursuing their own dreams, following their own interests, and surviving their own traumas. The simulation provides an opportunity for professionals, either in front-line or strategic roles to ‘walk in the shoes of a young person’ so that together, we can help build better solutions for and with children, young people and their families.
YExLS is gamified but is not a game. During a two-hour session, participants spend roughly half the time navigating the room, pursuing the interests and goals of their assigned character. Each participant’s experience in the simulation is unique. Like life, participants may find their way made easier or more complicated by their decisions or by chance. The second half of the simulation is where we process, where we figure out what just happened, and where we start to plan specific, real-world solutions that we can take back into our roles on the frontline and in strategy development.
YExLS was developed on a pro bono basis by Baker McKenzie and the Youth Law Center in the USA. With support from End Youth Homelessness Cymru and Cardiff University, YExLS was piloted in Wales in May 2022 and approximately 50 participants experienced the transformative power of the simulation. Working closely with our American partners we aim to provide opportunities for many more people in Wales to experience YExLS, with the ultimate goal of improving systems and services for young people in Wales.
Such is the impact of the simulation, and the fact that that it cuts through sector silos and has equal relevance for both frontline and strategic personnel, we advocate for anyone working with young people, either directly or indirectly, across the public, private, and third sectors to have the opportunity to experience this simulation.