For Child Welfare Professionals
Youth engagement is not a one-time action. Rather, children and youth should be involved in all aspects of child welfare, especially in their own case. It is important that child welfare systems build cultures in which all youth can utilize their strengths and talents to inform permanency planning, training, and policies and practices. The tips and resources below address common challenges professionals may encounter with youth engagement. Additionally, the Adoption Call-to-Action Plans page features four States focusing on older youth adoption and/or youth engagement.
- Build an authentic, honest, and trusting relationship with the youth:
- Do what you say you will, and don’t give up on the young person.
- If the young person can learn to trust you, it could help them be open to building new relationships and letting a family in.
- Create opportunities for youth to explore their talents and interests, which could then foster new supportive relationships.
- Provide opportunities for youth to talk about their fears and questions about permanency with foster care alumni. Below are two examples:
- Give youth time to think about permanency, consider options, and change their mind. Don’t accept an answer as final. Refer to these publications and questions when speaking to youth about permanency:
- Keeping the Family Conversation Alive
- Belonging Matters: Helping Youth Explore Permanency
- Explore what relationships/family means to them:
- How do you know when someone cares about you?
- What makes you care for others?
- What would make you want to let someone in?
- Engage youth in all aspects of recruitment, matching, and placement decisions:
- Tools for Success: A Toolkit for Child Welfare Professionals to Achieve Permanency and Stability for Youth in Foster Care includes tools and best practices for partnering with youth in planning for their permanency.
- Help youth identify and talk about the losses in their life and provide them space to grieve.
- Treat youth as experts of their life and encourage their feedback.
- Learn about the youth and their interests, experiences, and hopes for the future.
- Allow youth to make decisions and make mistakes. Help them learn and correct.
- Incorporate Positive Youth Development.
- Talk with the youth before a meeting and provide time to address questions or concerns.
- Help them prepare a written statement if need be.
- Provide training so the youth can learn how to self-advocate.
- Set ground rules and structure meetings to ensure that each person, especially youth, have an opportunity to be heard.
- Include relatives and other positive supports in permanency planning. Below are strategies for including family and supports:
- Train professionals on the following:
- Let youth guide the conversation.
- When having important discussions with youth, choose an environment in which they feel comfortable.
- When engaging youth for projects (i.e., parent or staff training, program improvement), make it worth their time:
- "#Things2Consider, Stipending Youth and Young Adults" discusses the importance of showing appreciation for youth expertise and time by providing stipends.
- Help youth identify what they are passionate about and engage them in projects that suit their skills and interests.
- Refer to the resources below on how to engage and recruit youth:
- Promote normalcy. The resources below highlight ways to engage youth in discussions about normalcy and how it can help youth build connections and improve permanency and transition outcomes:
- Implement models that incorporate youth engagement, such as the following:
- Youth engagement can strengthen recruitment and matching:
- In-depth profiles are an example of youth-driven recruitment.
- Start by identifying social supports for youth:
- Build an organizational culture and hire staff who believe youth are valuable resources and should be integrated in all practices. Refer to the resources below:
Youth Engagement Tips From Young People
“Someone actually listening to me and taking my feelings into account would have made a huge difference.”—Teresa
“Know your youth enough to know what they need. I wish I had had someone advocate for me so that I could take advantage of the benefits that could help me sustain life.”—Elena
“What difference can you make? Supporters of foster youth: Try and try again to make a difference. Help youth to never give up. Learn about resiliency and the impact of trauma. Give youth the space to grow but affirm them every step of the way. Show up. Be consistent. Don’t take “distancing” personally.”—Real Life Story