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July/August 2024Vol. 25, No. 6Spotlight on Youth, Authentic Youth Engagement, and Lived Experience

This edition of CBX spotlights the value of authentic youth engagement and lived experience. We feature a message from Commissioner Rebecca Jones Gaston about the importance of involving youth in the decisions that affect their lives. Additionally, this issue includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • A Message From Commissioner Rebecca Jones Gaston

    A Message From Commissioner Rebecca Jones Gaston

    Written by Commissioner Rebecca Jones Gaston

    Over the last 18 months, I had the pleasure of traveling around the country to each of the 10 Regional Offices of the Administration for Children and Families. It was a great privilege to meet with many Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) staff and regional teams as well as many tribal nation leaders and community partners. I visited grantees for programs related to child welfare, runaway and homeless youth, positive youth development, and adolescent pregnancy prevention, and I heard about the successes and challenges in our collective efforts to promote the well-being of children, youth, young adults, and families. 

    But do you want to know my favorite part? It was meeting with the children, youth, families, caregivers, and others who receive ACYF programs and services. I specifically remember one youth during my travels to the southern regions—a young teen with floppy hair and a big smile who I’ll call “Charlie.” Charlie heard I was coming and asked the program staff if he could speak with me because he had “something he needed to say.” And that something sticks with me even today. In so many words, he shared how important it was that he and his sister be placed together in a foster home rather than be separated. He lit up as he talked about his sister and their bond. It struck me as a concrete reminder of how vital our role is in keeping families together and strengthening connections as well as the importance of engaging youth and families in all aspects of our work.

    ACYF and our programs within the Children’s Bureau and Family and Youth Services Bureau are committed to partnering with those with lived experience and integrating their voices into our work and policies. We recognize the value of authentic, varied, and diverse engagement and believe those with lived experience can provide valuable insights that inform and transform systems, practices, and outcomes.

    We must listen to what people are saying about their needs and shape our actions to what is and is not needed to meet those needs. And we must join with youth like Charlie, developing them as leaders and supporting their participation and leadership in change efforts. What action can you take today to partner with those with lived experience?

  • Brief Focuses on Incorporating Lived Experience Into Child Welfare Capacity Building

    Brief Focuses on Incorporating Lived Experience Into Child Welfare Capacity Building

    A brief from the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative, Incorporating Lived Experience Into Child Welfare Capacity Building, outlines the Collaborative's efforts to support child welfare jurisdictions in integrating the voices of those directly affected by the child welfare system into practice and evaluation. The Collaborative consists of three Capacity Building Centers that provide technical assistance to states, courts, and tribes as they seek to improve child welfare policies and practices by engaging individuals with lived experience (LE) in system reform initiatives.

    The brief discusses the Collaborative's approach, which involves qualitative methods like literature reviews and facilitated discussions to understand challenges and successful strategies for incorporating LE into capacity-building efforts. It emphasizes the importance of developing clear definitions and frameworks for LE to ensure meaningful involvement across different jurisdictions and how incorporating LE into child welfare initiatives can lead to better family engagement, more effective services, and improved outcomes for children and families.

    Key initiatives highlighted include the development of learning experiences and events such as the Family Empowerment and Leadership Academy and the Child Welfare Virtual Expos. These programs are designed to promote authentic engagement and build capacity at the leadership and caseworker levels to collaborate with and empower individuals with LE through their participation in planning and decision-making processes. The brief also provides an overview of several of the tailored services provided by Capacity Building Centers to different jurisdictions.

    Jurisdictions looking to incorporate LE into their child welfare projects will find recommendations on opportunities to do so and how to advocate for a collaborative approach that values the wisdom and perspectives of those with firsthand experience in the system.

    Read the full brief for more detailed information, including available products and frameworks, and to gain a deeper understanding of the different Capacity Building Centers.

  • Strategies for Effective Youth Engagement

    Strategies for Effective Youth Engagement

    A blog post from the Annie E. Casey Foundation delves into effective strategies for youth-serving organizations to engage and partner with young people. "Strategies for Youth Engagement" outlines various forms of youth engagement, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in decision-making processes and leadership roles. The post highlights activities that facilitate collaboration between staff and youth, offering insights into the practical aspects of these engagements and addressing the feasibility, benefits, and challenges of the different levels of engagement:

    • Inform. Youth can preview information but have limited ability to influence projects or outcomes.
    • Consult. Youth can contribute to planning and issue-solving, although having limited control might result in inconsistent participation.
    • Involve. When involved from the onset, young people can provide substantial input and engage with staff more effectively.
    • Collaborate. Staff and youth share responsibility for executing the work, and young people build leadership skills. However, roles and authority can sometimes blur.
    • Youth-led. Youth-led initiatives are only achievable when young people are accountable for all aspects of planning, design, and execution.

    The feasibility of these strategies often depends on the organization's resources and commitment to youth participation.

    The blog encourages organizations to tailor their approaches to fit their unique contexts and capabilities, suggesting that a continuum of strategies can help youth engagement efforts be both meaningful and sustainable. This includes examining not only the engagement strategies but also the areas where youth engagement would be more beneficial and appropriate.

    This resource can serve as a valuable guide for organizations seeking to enhance their youth engagement practices with practical tips and considerations to help them navigate the complexities of partnering with young people.

    Read the full blog post on the Annie E. Casey Foundation's website.

  • The Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity

    The Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity

    The National Academies Roundtable on Population Health Improvement recently hosted a hybrid public workshop focusing on the significant role young people play in driving social, economic, and environmental changes that enhance community health and equity. The event highlighted the impact of youth leadership in fostering conditions for health and equity. Discussions also covered the civic infrastructure and resources essential for supporting youth participation and leadership in these efforts. Proceedings from the workshop have been compiled and published in an e-book, Exploring the Power of Youth Leadership in Creating Conditions for Health and Equity.

    The workshop underscored the importance of empowering youth to lead initiatives that address various determinants of health. By involving young people in leadership roles, communities can leverage their unique perspectives and innovative ideas to create more equitable and healthy environments. The event emphasized the need for robust civic infrastructure to facilitate youth engagement and support youth in driving meaningful change.

    Four main panels structured the workshop:

    • Youth Civic Engagement and Leadership: This panel discussed the historical context and goals of youth engagement, effective involvement strategies, the state's role in youth organizing, and success stories. It highlighted the importance of understanding young people's perspectives and the resources necessary to support their activism.
    • Child Development and Family and Community Context: This session focused on adolescent development and the impact of family and community dynamics. It included insights from organizations like Community United for Restorative Youth Justice and emphasized the importance of supportive community structures for youth development.
    • Data, Surveys, and Research: This panel introduced initiatives like the MyVoice project and youth-led organizations such as Students Deserve in Los Angeles. It featured academic perspectives on youth organizing and discussed the sustainability and accessibility of youth movements.
    • Infrastructure and Supports for Youth Leadership and Engagement: This panel addressed the necessary infrastructure to support youth leadership, including funding, mentorship, and organizational support.

    The workshop concluded with a discussion on the need for continued efforts to support youth leadership and integrate their voices into policymaking and community development processes. This gathering served as a platform for sharing strategies, experiences, and best practices in youth leadership. Participants explored how to build and sustain environments where young leaders can thrive and contribute effectively to community health initiatives. The insights from this workshop are intended to inspire and guide future efforts in promoting youth-led health and equity projects.

    The full e-book on the workshop and its findings is available for free from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

  • Initiative Elevates Youth Voice

    Initiative Elevates Youth Voice

    Listening to and incorporating the voices of those with lived experience is vital to improving the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Youth Voices Rising, an initiative of Fostering Media Connections, is a series that elevates the perspectives of dozens of young people with lived experience every year through live and virtual workshops, contributor curriculum, writing contests, events, and calls for submissions.

    Explore articles from youth with lived experience covering a wide range of topics from the power of tapping into heritage to the impact of sibling separation:

    • "Generational Foster Care in Native American Communities": Shawna Bullen-Fairbanks addresses the unique challenges Native American communities face with generational foster care, emphasizing the effects of historical trauma, the importance of culturally sensitive support, and the joy of reconnecting with her culture.
    • "My Sister Is a Stranger": Erin Gantz narrates the emotional journey of reconnecting with her sister after years of separation in the foster care system, exploring themes of loss, identity, and the complexities of familial relationships.

    Dozens of youth have submitted their stories to Youth Voices Rising. Jumpstart your exploration with these articles:

    Access these and more on the Youth Voices Rising website.

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News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • The Rising Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System

    The Rising Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System

    Jurisdictions are increasingly exploring ways to divert youth accused of delinquent behavior from the justice system. Compared to young people who are arrested and prosecuted in juvenile court, young people who are diverted from formal court processing are less likely to be arrested for subsequent offenses and more likely to succeed in education and employment.

    A recent brief from the Sentencing Project, Protect and Redirect: America’s Growing Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System, details significant diversion reform efforts undertaken by jurisdictions in the last 5 to 10 years. It begins by providing background information about diversion efforts using data about the outcomes of diverted youth, including data exploring diversion efforts by race that highlight disparities.

    There are many ways to expand diversion opportunities, as evidenced by efforts made by state and local justice systems. The brief provides examples of various new laws, programs, and pathways to expand the use of diversion.

    In addition, it emphasizes the steps jurisdictions have taken to promote racial and ethnic equity in diversion. Studies show that White youth are diverted at higher rates than other groups, including Black and African American youth, Hispanic and Latino youth, and American Indian/Alaska Native youth.

    The issue brief is the first in a series of publications about youth diversion released in 2024. The other four briefs highlight the following topics:

    • How to address disparities in diversion
    • Best practices for diversion
    • Using data to maximize success in diversion
    • Effective messaging to promote diversion

    Visit the Sentencing Project website for more information.

  • Study Examines Models for Supporting Immigrant Families in Child Welfare

    Study Examines Models for Supporting Immigrant Families in Child Welfare

    Child welfare agencies can face challenges meeting the complex needs of immigrant families. This population has grown steadily in the United States over the last several decades, and while there is no systemwide approach to effectively serving immigrant families, many jurisdictions have implemented programs and models at the local level. A recent study by the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare examines some of these models and highlights key components and models so that they can be adapted in other jurisdictions.

    The study, “An Examination of Child Welfare Agency Models That Serve Immigrant Children and Families,” was published in March 2024. Researchers collected information from child welfare professionals from seven different agencies in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. Each one-on-one interview focused on 10 domains to capture key components of child welfare practice with immigrant families:

    1. Structure of the immigration model and staffing
    2. Citizenship determination
    3. Consular notification
    4. Communication with family members
    5. Legal screening
    6. Trafficking
    7. Unaccompanied minors
    8. International reunification and repatriation
    9. Parent in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention
    10. Translation and interpretation services

    After analyzing interview results, researchers identified three main themes:

    1. Specialization of immigrant-related knowledge and skill sets: Many jurisdictions in the study had staff with specialized expertise in serving immigrant families. These specialized staff were either in the form of a specialized office or unit, dedicated staff members, or bilingual staff.
    2. Formal and informal relationships with consulates and external partners: Study participants highlighted the importance of working with consulates and community providers. The benefits of these partnerships included support obtaining documentation, engaging parents who are detained by ICE, and addressing legal needs and challenges.
    3. Creative and innovative approaches to engaging immigrant families: Approaches include committing extra time to rapport and trust building, being culturally informed, and maintaining connections across international borders.

    Read the full study, published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, for more details about each of the three themes as well as study limitations and directions for future research.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Youth Collaboratory Releases Youth Leadership and Collaboration Guide

    Youth Collaboratory Releases Youth Leadership and Collaboration Guide

    A new tool from Youth Collaboratory provides guidance for developing and sustaining youth and young adult leadership groups. Guide to Authentic Youth Leadership and Collaboration was designed for youth and young adult leaders, advocates, and adult partners to apply across various human services sectors.

    The guide is a product of Youth Collaboratory’s youth catalyst team. It features sections on developing mission and vision statements, establishing a team culture, determining compensation and invoicing, optimizing team functionality and workstyles, organizing meetings and events, and creating and facilitating group presentations.

    Each section provides thorough guidance designed to be adapted to the needs and goals of individual groups. For example, the team culture section addresses the following topics:

    • Mutual agreements
    • Managing disagreement and restorative practices
    • Power and decision-making dynamics
    • Supporting young leaders in their roles
    • Peer relationships and dynamics
    • Self-care and community care
    • Formality of spaces
    • Increasing engagement
    • Virtual team building
    • Communications
    • Team representation
    • Transition and closure

    Explore the guide for more details about prioritizing youth leadership and establishing youth and young adult leadership groups. It is available on the Youth Collaboratory website.

  • New Framework Highlights Holistic Prevention Strategies to Support Family Well-Being

    New Framework Highlights Holistic Prevention Strategies to Support Family Well-Being

    The child welfare industry is increasingly prioritizing and investing in prevention—strategies that equip families with the tools and resources they need to thrive before their situation escalates to crisis. In support of these efforts, Chapin Hall, in partnership with the Doris Duke Foundation, developed a strategic framework to develop an integrated child and family well-being system. It provides an overview of the greater vision while outlining specific steps needed to achieve it.

    The Meeting Family Needs Framework is anchored in two foundational conditions for change:

    • Shared leadership with communities and lived experience
    • Collaboration, synergy, shared ownership, and accountability

    In addition to the two conditions, the framework highlights six components of systems change:

    • Strategic service expansion: Expand supports and services to meet families’ basic needs.
    • Eligibility expansion: Increase the number of families who are eligible to receive supports before a crisis occurs.
    • Enhance accessibility: Reduce administrative barriers and red tape. 
    • Family-centered practice: Expand workforce capacity to use family-centered practices that result in higher engagement.
    • Community-centric delivery: Partner with communities to deliver services and establish culturally responsive service arrays.  
    • Narrow child protective response: Reduce child welfare intervention to only cases with safety risks.

    There are several approaches leaders and communities can take to using the framework, including using it as a catalyst to build stronger collaborations with people with lived experience and across agencies; create, expand, or sequence action plans; and engage the child welfare community in existing work by the health, human services, and caregiving systems.

    Chapin Hall offers a variety of resources related to the framework, including a webpage, the full framework, the framework "at a glance," and a one-page overview. Future work will include briefs on each of the six systems change components.

  • Examining the Importance of Developmental Relationships for Young People

    Examining the Importance of Developmental Relationships for Young People

    Developmental relationships—or relationships with supportive adults and peers—are critical for young people, especially young people who grow up in challenging circumstances like the child welfare system.

    Developmental relationships have many benefits, including helping young people shape their lives, build resilience, and thrive. These connections can take many forms and may occur with family, in the classroom, in youth programs, and in faith communities. A recent guide from Search Institute, Developmental Relationships Help Young People Thrive, highlights the importance of these relationships and outlines strategies to intentionally create them within schools, families, programs, and communities.

    The guide provides an overview of a developmental relationships framework, which is made up of five elements:

    1. Express care
    2. Challenge growth
    3. Provide support
    4. Share power
    5. Expand possibilities

    It also includes tools and links to resources to help organizations, leaders, and practitioners learn about young people’s experiences and create pathways to intentionally build relationships. Explore the guide for more information.


In this section, we present interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Getting to Know the National Runaway Safeline

    Getting to Know the National Runaway Safeline

    The National Runaway Safeline (NRS), a service funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the Administration for Children and Families, provides crisis intervention services to young people who are experiencing crisis, have run away or are at risk of running away, or need someone to talk to, as well as to their families. It also offers prevention and education tools and programs to build the capacity of service providers, educators, law enforcement, and communities to directly support runaway and homeless youth and raise awareness about the issues they face.

    A colorful and engaging website connects youth and young adults to free and confidential 24/7 support via a variety of methods, including the 1.800.RUNAWAY hotline, live chat messaging on the website, text, email, and a discussion forum moderated by the NRS crisis services team. While the website is geared toward younger users, web sections are also dedicated to concerned adults, service providers, and prevention and education. Visitors to the website can also access the Let's Talk podcast and the NRS blog.

    A recent NRS video presentation provides an introduction to NRS and its programs, services, and resources. The presentation provides an overview of the issue of youth homelessness, citing a Chapin Hall study that indicates more than 4 million young people will experience homelessness in the United States each year. It also explores the challenges and negative outcomes associated with homelessness and housing instability, such as inconsistent access to food, inability to attend or graduate from school, struggles with mental and physical health, substance use, unsafe or violent situations, and more. The presentation centers on the many services and programs NRS provides, including its crisis support services, prevention curriculum, education and outreach materials, National Runaway Prevention Month, Youth Ambassador program, Home Free program, and more.

    Learn more by watching the hour-long NRS video presentation and visiting the NRS website.

  • Mental Health Fitness for Children and Youth

    Mental Health Fitness for Children and Youth

    Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, so it's imperative that we, as caring adults, help the kids in our lives build the mental health skills they need to thrive. With this goal, the Child Mind Institute developed a series of tip sheets that provide ways to help grow and nurture the emotional well-being and mental fitness of all children.

    One-page mental health skills sheets are available for children and youth in elementary school, middle school, and high school, and each is organized into the following sections:

    • Understanding feelings
    • Understanding thoughts
    • Managing emotions

    These resources were made available as part of the Mental Health Fitness campaign in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, which occurs every May. To learn more about the campaign and to access the tip sheets, visit the Child Mind Institute website.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.