Recreational youth circus programs are a unique context for positive youth development. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young people feel heard in these programs, and research in other recreation settings shows that participation in decision-making helps youth connect with others.
The present study therefore examined how youth voice is supported at five youth circus programs across the United States through program observations and qualitative interviews with participants (N = 17, ages 12–18) and staff (N = 13).
Thematic analysis revealed that both youth and staff felt their circus programs listen to youth members, although actual options for engagement varied.
Furthermore, the love and acceptance of the circus community was omnipresent in the interviews; a feeling of belonging/relatedness even for individuals who felt excluded elsewhere. This study shows that youth circus can foster belonging and inclusion, and raises questions about the differences between perceived and actual opportunities for youth voice in recreation contexts.