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November 2021Vol. 22, No. 10Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Permanency

Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

In honor of National Adoption Month, let's take a moment to consider the more than 120,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted and the very real promise of achieving permanency through authentic partnership with youth and families. Engaging families and youth in individual permanency plans, as well as in larger agency or systemic permanency-planning efforts, brings vital voice, choice, and expertise into the process and is more likely to lead to permanent families for youth (Children's Bureau, 2021).

The information below is adapted from two Center for States publications: The Role of Leaders in Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted and Supervisor Toolkit: Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted. These publications offer tips and concrete strategies that leaders, supervisors, and caseworkers can implement as they work to embrace a permanency-driven culture of youth and family engagement. 

Do Agency Policies, Procedures, and Values Support Authentic Partnership?

Are you an organizational leader responsible for setting the tone and expectations for family and youth partnership? Consider asking yourself the following questions as you reflect on current practice and emerging priorities:
  • How does our organization reflect (and how do I model) a "culture of curiosity" in which staff at every level are motivated to actively seek information from and tap into the expertise of families and youth with diverse experiences and perspectives?
  • How am I facilitating the development of authentic relationships with youth and families at every level of the organization? Do staff have the time and support to intentionally partner with families? Is family and youth engagement an expectation that is built into position descriptions and performance evaluations?
  • What am I doing to share power and decision-making with youth and families in agency- or system-level permanency efforts? How am I ensuring that the partnership is mutually beneficial as opposed to transactional?
  • How do I demonstrate that I value, encourage, and expect youth and family involvement at every stage of the permanency process?
  • How am I supporting supervisors working to strengthen their team's capacity to partner and share decision-making with families and youth in permanency planning? 

Are Youth and Families at the Center of Individual Permanency Planning?

Are you a supervisor supporting caseworkers in their efforts to partner with youth and families in permanency planning? Consider pulling your team together to brainstorm the agency and team supports needed for caseworkers to strengthen their practice and reviewing the following questions: 
  • If workloads are impeding staff's ability to authentically engage youth and families, what could be eliminated to make time for prioritizing relationship building?
  • How has your agency's and your team's work been informed by youth and families with lived experience? Are you seeking out youth and families with diverse experiences and perspectives?
  • What kind of training does your agency offer to support the development of staff skills in youth and family engagement and empowerment, cultural humility, and culturally responsive practice?
  • How are staff supported and expected to create meeting agendas with youth and family members of their choosing?
Check out Supervisor Toolkit: Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted for additional questions for consideration, ideas for team activities that promote reflection about meaningful youth and family involvement in permanency planning, and worksheets for caseworkers to reflect on their own practice in building trusting relationships, developing a youth- and family-centered permanency-planning process, and leading meaningful permanency meetings.

Authentic partnership with youth and families is a key element of effective casework and policy development. Consider using and sharing these new resources as you and your colleagues identify your best next steps to engage youth and families in your agency's permanency efforts.


Children's Bureau. (2021). Quality improvement center: Engaging youth in finding permanency, HHS-2021-ACF-ACYF-CO-1911. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.