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June 2020Vol. 21, No. 5The Essential Voices and Experiences of Youth Formerly in Foster Care

"Young adults with lived experience are the experts in the child welfare system. Any meaningful change in the child welfare system must happen with youth and young adults as our partners. Our consultant programs at the Children's Bureau represent one method to support this partnership." —Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau      

The Children's Bureau prioritizes integrating the voices and experiences of youth and families involved with child welfare into every aspect of case planning and service improvement to help tailor services to their specific needs, empower youth to make decisions about their own lives, and expedite safe reunification, if that is part of the youth's case plan. Youth with lived experience in foster care can also be called upon to lend their voice to system reform aimed at preventing unnecessary removals and supporting safe and expeditious reunification or other means of permanency. To this end, the Children's Bureau released a white paper, Children's Bureau's Young Adult Consultant and National Youth in Transition Database Reviewer Programs, that describes two youth engagement programs—the Young Adult Consultant (YAC) program and the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) Reviewer program—through which young adults provide technical assistance to states about child welfare issues.

The YAC program involves youth aged 18 to 26 who were previously in foster care and believe in the Children's Bureau's mission. There are five levels in which youth can be engaged on a project:

  • Inform. YACs can be panelists or speakers who provide information to a wide audience about an issue, practice, or policy.
  • Consult. YACs can share their expertise and experiences to inform or develop priorities as well as help conceptualize products, publications, or tip sheets.
  • Involve. Capacity Building Center (CBC) for States staff work directly with YACs to develop a scope of work, plan, and/or inform the design of a specific project. This may include engaging a YAC as a member of a planning committee.
  • Collaborate. YACs partner with CBC for States staff as cofacilitators or copresenters on a specific project.
  • Empower. A YAC may have some decision-making authority and may lead a planning team, lead the development of a training or curriculum, or serve as a subject-matter expert on an intensive, tailored service project.

NYTD reviewers are young adults aged 18 to 26 who have lived experience in the child welfare system and are interested in the use of data to inform system improvements. Three to four NYTD reviewers participate as members of the federal monitoring team for each onsite review. Reviewers undergo 2.5-day, in-person training that includes simulations of multiple aspects of an actual NYTD review.

The white paper discusses strategies for engaging youth in these programs, such as maintaining ongoing contact with youth; offering compensation, logistical support, and opportunities for peer leadership and professional development; and being upfront and transparent about tasks, roles, and expectations. Additional resources are included for more information.

Related Item

During National Foster Care Month 2020, the Children's Bureau, in partnership with the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative and Child Welfare Information Gateway, hosted the virtual event "Collaborating With Courts to Promote Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents." The virtual event featured interviews with Children's Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner, Judge Trent Favre, and other special guests who shared their perspectives on reunification successes attributed to child welfare and court collaboration in Hancock County, MS.

The event also highlighted digital stories and videos featuring family and court perspectives on how these partnerships can create systemic change and how foster care can be used to support family well-being. The event also discussed strategies for implementing cross-system collaboration with the legal community and how to enhance connections with families through legal procedures.