The Lab created a new initiative to support the well-being of youth whose families have experienced separation and divorce. Research shows that the divorce process can be very damaging for children as their well-being is closely linked to the level of conflict between their parents and other factors. In the family justice system we rarely hear the voices of children who are experiencing the separation or divorce of their parents.

Despite the legal principle that the “best interests of the child” should be the primary consideration, this principle is interpreted through the observations and perspectives of others (parents, lawyers, judges). While there are some notable examples to the contrary focusing on the litigation process (“voice of the child reports”, the “Hear the Child Society” etc.), the child rarely gets a chance to express their own views about things that are fundamental to their lives – where they will live and go to school, how much time they will spend with each parent etc.

The long term goal of the Youth Voices Initiative is to support the well-being of youth whose families have experienced separation and divorce.

With initial support and guidance from OXD (formerly Open Road Communications), local experts in service design, we are using a systemic human-centred design approach putting families and children at the centre. We held a series of design workshops to develop prototypes to change the system to preserve and improve youth well-being.


This process started with a narrative workshop on January 22, 2017 to better understand the emotional, informational, and legal needs of youth during separation and divorce from youth themselves, in their own words. Unlike previous reform efforts, we started by hearing the voices of family members, and children in particular, in order to diagnose the problem, design effective solutions and then rigorously user-test those solutions before scaling up. We are using developmental evaluation to capture key learnings and incorporate them along the way.

We completed further research and held a sensemaking and ideation workshop on January 28, 2018 involving people from across, and outside of, the system as well as youth. Once opportunities were fleshed out and prioritized, a third workshop was held on September 28, 2018 to identify concepts capable of being prototyped and refined using cycles of user testing and revision.

The Lab’s Blog includes postings describing these three workshops and the human-centred design approaches we used.

A fourth workshop was held on April 26, 2019 to do more detailed design on one of the selected concepts for prototyping – the #youthvoicesheard initiative. Check out the initiative’s Framework for Change.

The concept to be prototyped is an online digital platform supported by a social media campaign which will:

  • Encourage young people to find and express their voice in a variety of creative ways
  • Showcase youth stories and creative content in many formats (video, written, music, poetry, art etc.)
  • Partner with others advocating for child rights and the benefit of child voice in the separation/divorce process
  • Develop and host activities and campaigns for youth including a peer community of support and online mentoring services
  • Build a library of creative content demonstrating the voice of young people
  • Provide education for parents (including partnering with organizations and agencies working with parents)
  • Offer input to justice system leaders and practitioners about how to embed child voice into the system

Fundamental to this initiative is the role of the Young People’s Leadership Group. Nine very courageous and committed young people have already stepped forward to work with the Lab staff to oversee and guide the prototype development for the Youth Voices initiative.

Check out and follow the Youth Voice Initiative’s Instagram page (youth_voices_bc) to keep up to date on our activities.

We are committed to documenting all of our activities on this initiative and to sharing as much as we can along the way to support and encourage other innovators in their work. To start, we have created subpages to collect the key designs, materials, forms, artifacts, photos and analyses supporting this work.

Project Pages

Youth Voices foundational documents

Narrative workshop – Jan 22, 2017

Sensemaking workshop – January 28, 2018

Concept workshop – September 28, 2018

#Ourvoices Prototyping workshop – April 26, 2019

Youth Voices Framework for Change

Next Steps

Stay tuned for more information in this space and in the Lab’s Blog.

We are grateful for the support of the Vancouver Foundation for this important work.