A new curriculum from the Bay Area Academy of San Francisco State University increases child welfare supervisors' understanding of the unique needs of youth in foster care. Developed by a team of former foster youth using input from supervisors and youth, the training is delivered by current and former foster youth ages 16 to 24. It focuses on four core principles to improve services for youth: positive youth development, collaboration, cultural competence, and permanent connections.
Offered as part of the Bay Area Academy's Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project, the training is geared toward child welfare supervisors and key managers and directors in order to encourage commitment to improving youth services at all levels of an organization. Community-based social work organizations are also invited to reach a wider audience of professionals serving youth. The all-day training includes keynote addresses, workshop sessions, a foster youth panel, and a "giving back panel" for supervisors to receive the youth trainers' feedback on a current case. The training exercises are designed to help strengthen supervisors' ability to support their staff in seven areas:
- Assessing youth readiness for independent living services
- Increasing cultural competence
- Involving youth in decision-making and implementing programs and services
- Identifying areas of stress and the impact of stress on foster youth
- Helping youth deal with crisis situations
- Developing and maintaining permanent connections for youth
- Improving inter- and intra-agency collaboration among youth-serving organizations
In addition to the workshops and panels, attendees participate in several other activities that enhance their understanding of issues from a foster youth perspective. First, attendees are asked to carry "foster care luggage" all day by putting their belongings in a trash bag. Also, attendees view the Museum of Lost Childhoods and of Foster Youth Empowerment, which includes artifacts from foster youth that represent their sometimes difficult experiences growing up in foster care, as well as their accomplishments. Attendees report that these experiential activities, along with receiving the training directly from current and former foster youth, greatly contribute to the overall effectiveness of the training.
The project has delivered 13 conference-style training sessions in 3 years, reaching a total of 520 child welfare workers and supervisors in California as well as other States that have requested the training. Youth delivering the training receive special instruction on training skills and are mentored by project staff to ensure their success. In addition to being paid for their involvement in the project, youth also benefit by learning from the curriculum development process and developing strong leadership and facilitation skills.
As part of the original project plan, staff also have assisted workers and youth from Hawaii who are developing a similar curriculum for use in their State. Staff hope to continue responding to other States' training or assistance needs as requested. The project recently completed an organizational impact study that documented the success of positive youth development training for youth trainers.
The project's website offers biographies of their staff and youth trainers, training materials, best practices, and digital stories created by youth to share their personal experiences:
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Youth Train Child Welfare Supervisors" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/).