Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

July/August 2024Vol. 25, No. 6QIC-EY Lessons Learned: Fundamental Insights to Engage Children and Youth

Written by the Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency

Launched in October 2021 and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, the Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY) is charged with advancing child welfare programs and practice to ensure they are authentically engaging and empowering children and youth in child welfare throughout the United States, especially concerning permanency decisions.

To share fundamental insights, QIC-EY created a series of Lessons Learned, which bring to life the knowledge gained as the project progresses with practical applications for advancing the authentic engagement of children and youth. 

Lesson #1: Defining Authentic Engagement

The journey had to begin with a clear definition of authentic engagement. QIC-EY found significant variance in how youth engagement is defined across different child welfare systems and developed a comprehensive definition that emphasizes actively and intentionally partnering with children and youth in ways that resonate with them. This involves commitment, flexibility, strong communication skills, knowledge of development and trauma-informed care, a strengths-based approach, and cultural humility. We encourage agencies to review QIC-EY's definition and reflect on their definitions of youth engagement.

Lesson #2: Leadership's Role in Engagement

Senior-level leaders play a crucial role in fostering an environment that prioritizes relationship building. Although they may not engage directly with clients, their commitment to valuing and modeling authentic engagement creates a supportive culture. This leads to better decision-making processes where children and youth are central, ultimately benefiting the entire system.

Lesson #3: Key Characteristics for Engagement

A literature review by QIC-EY identified three critical characteristics for child welfare workers: commitment, self-awareness, and flexibility. These traits are essential for building deeper connections with children and youth. Leaders must prioritize these characteristics within their workforce to remove barriers that hinder authentic engagement.

Lesson #4: Essential Competencies

QIC-EY outlines nine competencies vital for relationship building and partnering with children and youth. These include partnering, using a strengths-based approach, communication, cultural humility, building trust, informing and preparing children and youth, understanding development, advocating, and using a trauma-informed approach. To support ongoing skill development with on-demand content, QIC-EY NOW! offers multimedia tools featuring real-life stories, insights, and practical tips.

Lesson #5: Engaging Youth With Lived Expertise in System Change

Lesson #5 is particularly significant as it focuses on the inclusion of youth and young adults with lived expertise in system transformation efforts and underscores the value of personal experience in driving effective change at practice, program, and policy levels. By valuing their experiences and supporting their participation, child welfare systems can create more effective and compassionate practices that truly prioritize the needs and voices of children and youth. This lesson delineates key points to consider for engaging youth and young adults in these efforts.

Lesson #6: Enhancing Engagement With Children and Youth Requires Assessing Agency Capacities and Practices

To enhance engagement with children and youth, a child welfare agency must thoroughly assess its organizational capacities and practices. System change aims to improve engagement and begins with evaluating concrete resources, organizational structure, knowledge and skills, culture, and partnerships. This process involves multiple partners—including professionals, youth with lived expertise, and agency partners—to identify strengths, gaps, and opportunities. Key areas for assessment include resources for engagement activities, policies supporting authentic engagement, training for professionals, and the agency's culture and climate. Additionally, meaningful involvement of youth in policy development and decision-making is crucial for fostering authentic engagement and ensuring children and youth have a voice and choice in permanency planning.

Find all the Lessons Learned on the QIC-EY website.