This month's issue of CBX highlights the importance of including youth and parent voice when designing and implementing programs and services to meet their needs. Read a message from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner, that emphasizes the importance of committing to listening to parents and youth and treating them with decency and respect at all times. The issue also includes a variety of resources and publications for professionals and families that focus on youth and parent engagement.
- Importance of Engaging Youth and Family Voice in Systems Improvement
Written by Jeremy Long, policy advisor to the Children's Bureau Associate Commissioner
When you ask someone working for an agency that serves youth and families whether they feel it's a priority to have youth and family voice integrated into their system improvement efforts, more often than not their answer will be yes. When you ask them about the success of this integration or if they feel like youth and family perspectives are equally represented at the table, however, the response is overwhelmingly less positive. That leaves us asking the same old question: why? Why—if we know the value and positive impact that engaging the voices of those with lived experience has on improvement strategies and also have the data and research to back it up—do we continue to make excuses when identifying the underlying causes behind the unsuccessful engagement of those we need to engage the most?
There is no one individual, group, or agency that takes the blame. We know that although youth—and families—want to be engaged, that process comes with its own set of unique challenges. It's because we don't have standard practices across the board that allow them to be engaged in meaningful ways. The goals of the child welfare system for young people in foster care are to provide them with safety, permanency, and a sense of overall positive well-being, and sometimes those objectives are hard to achieve. Neither the stretched capacity of the social worker and agency nor the flooded docket of the juvenile court judge should be acceptable barriers for lack of active youth participation. It would be difficult to find a young person currently in or formerly in foster care who doesn't wish to have an opinion on the direction of their lives. The unfortunate reality is that all too often the agency decides what's in the best interests of that young person, with little to no input from the individual these decisions impact the most.
Harts Ladder of Young People's Participation provides a useful visual of how young people can be engaged. When visualizing a ladder, there are steps (literally) that must be taken to accomplish the task at the top (like changing a lightbulb). Many times, agencies are stuck in the middle of the ladder where youth are tokenized for their stories. Here they are more often informed about what's happening instead of finding themselves on the top step where they're seen as equal partners and are sharing in decision-making. We know where on the ladder we need to be, but we often find it easier to stay safe toward the bottom or in the middle.
The Children's Bureau strongly believes that the experiences of parents and youth are the ultimate metric of how well a child welfare system is performing and that it is the voice of parents and youth that should guide and inform our work. Parents and youth should be design partners in a reimagined child welfare system. They can be full participants in crafting the 5-year Child and Family Service Plans and the Child and Family Services Reviews Program Improvement Plans by helping identify what types of services and supports are most needed and helpful. The system and its workforce must be driven by a common vision of empowering and respecting youth and families and helping them to secure a pathway to well-being and success. Simply inviting youth to the table doesn't equal meaningful engagement, and if young people don't feel like they have a reason to be present or don't feel like their voice is making an impact, the odds of them remaining engaged are minimal.
Another contributing factor to full engagement that is often overlooked is who's extending the invitation to the young person. We know they're more likely to engage if invited by a peer versus an agency. The best recruiters of young people are other young people, especially when they can share the value and impact their voice has had on systems change. You've heard the saying "Nothing about us without us," and that's the absolute truth. If you want young people to be authentically receptive to change that directly impacts them and their families, their presence must be infused from the beginning, not as an afterthought when a box needs to be checked on whether decisions were influenced by those with lived experience.
We have a tendency to brush off the opinions of the young people we serve because of their age, their experience, or the perceived challenges of managing them. These are tendencies that must be eradicated within youth- and family-serving agencies. There isn't a single decision an agency makes that doesn't impact the families we exist to serve. Families rely on us to provide services and supports to reduce hardships they're experiencing and help eliminate barriers they face. If we continue to attempt this task without their input and direction, we will fail time and time again to equip them with the tools needed to become strong, healthy, and thriving families.
- Transforming Hearts and Minds Through Valuing Parent Voice
Written by Alise Hegle-Morrissey, advocacy lead, Children's Home Society of Washington
It has been an honor to incorporate birth parent voice in policy, practice, and program development for many years in Washington state through my agency, Children's Home Society of Washington. As a mother who was told that I should never have my child back, I have learned it is pertinent that my voice is at the table to shine a light on the fact that people change and families reunite. Equally important, we need to promote diversity in all that we do and be a voice for families and communities who are still in the midst of pain and unequitable practices.
Something powerful happens when the tone of the conversation shifts from one that refers to parents as "those people" to one that prioritizes listening, expressing compassion, and valuing partnerships with parents who have overcome such tremendous adversity to be where they are today. By utilizing the vast experience of families and reminding them that they have worth and that we care about their communities, we ensure policies and practices consider the needs of the populations they directly affect, which can also reduce unintended consequences. Incorporating parent voice into both the planning and implementation stages can lead to more effective policies, cost savings, and reduced trauma for children and families!
Parents like myself have helped institute significant change in Washington state in just a matter of years by having stakeholders, legislators, and system leaders recognize that we cannot create policies and plan "perfect" programs without hearing from those who would be directly impacted. Parents are empowered to become leaders in their communities, to share their knowledge and stories, and to translate their ideas into action to help other families succeed.
Over the years, parent allies (i.e., parents who have been involved in the child welfare system who successfully resolved the safety issues that brought child protective services [CPS] into their family's lives and now serve their community) have educated lawmakers on a variety of bills and issues related to social justice, disproportionate impacts on people of color, poverty issues, rights for incarcerated parents, and child development. Their unique expertise is often sought in advisory committee roles within the systems they were formerly involved with.
Together, we can unite for positive systemic change, but we must first realize that the true experts are those who have been marginalized by daunting life circumstances and are further oppressed and stigmatized by a CPS system—and other systems—that are biased against them. The value of parent voice works to defeat this bias and create systems that help address the root causes of family instability and foster growth in the families they serve.
I am thrilled to be a part of the next generation of system reform, one that focuses on prevention and strengthening families while breaking down silos and bringing together a nurturing community around our children and families. I needed someone to believe in me and, today, I get to unite with others who recognize the potential behind every story. My daughter reminds me every day that life is precious and every journey of change is a gem.
For more on parent voice in Washington state, please see page 5: http://www.risemagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/RiseIssue_35_Parent-Advocacy.pdf#page=5 or https://www.childrenshomesociety.org/reunification/.
- Honoring Youth Voice
Written by Marc Cherna, director, Allegheny County, PA, Department of Human Services
While those of us in child welfare all strive to be respectful of the individuals we serve, we often struggle with how to best do right by them, be respectful of their unique stories and circumstances, and work alongside them to help them achieve their goals. In Allegheny County, we deeply believe that youth (and families) often know best what they need, and our job is to assist them with sufficient supports and resources. Over the course of our 20-plus-year history, this input has not only secured individual successes but also has led to systemic improvements in the array and quality of programs and services offered.
In 2008, we were so committed to listening to our youth, engaging them on their own terms, and improving their outcomes that we embarked on a grand experiment: we hired four young adults who were recovering from their own traumatic pasts—having had lived experience in child welfare and/or behavioral health—and paired them with challenging teens. The approach was unprecedented in the country and, while the early years were not without many bumps and lessons learned, it proved incredibly successful. It was so successful that we now have more than 40 youth support partners (YSPs) working with more than 400 youth per year. They ensure that—both individually and collectively—youth voices, values, and preferences are heard and represented; youth are supported to become self-reliant, self-advocating, and responsible for their own actions; those involved understand legal mandates, court sessions, and respective roles and responsibilities; and youth are appropriately connected to resources and natural supports. YSPs serve as a voice and advocate for youth involved in the child-serving systems at the county, state, and federal levels and have themselves benefited from meaningful professional development that has helped them learn to be punctual, follow dress codes, understand boundaries, work within a structure and in a team, and manage caseloads.
The benefits of YSPs are recognized by judges (who often insist that a YSP be identified for a youth appearing before them), legal advocates, human services professionals, parents, caregivers, and youth. Our YSPs have provided critical mentoring and advocacy for thousands of young people facing the demands of adulthood.
We also have a youth advisory board, Systems Improvement Through Youth, that was established in 2009. It assists with our planning processes and provides us with a youth-centric sounding board for program ideas, methodologies, and public relations campaigns.
More recently, we've formalized and accelerated the surveying of our youth by using a wide array of platforms and technologies that appeal to them. This has helped us gauge their perspectives—both quantitatively and qualitatively—on important areas, such as out-of-home placement, their challenges regarding participation in typical youth activities, and youth who identify as LGBTQ. These surveys not only assist us to better understand the experiences of the youth we touch, they help guide future planning and program development.
Honoring youth voice has had immeasurable benefits for the young people we serve. To have one's perspectives, opinions, and preferences valued and sincerely heard is something we can all appreciate. Collectively, these perspectives have been invaluable in assisting us to improve our ability to help our youth transition more securely into the future.
- It's Time to Listen to Parents and Youth and Act on Their Words
Written by David Kelly and Jerry Milner
For the last 2 years, we have had the opportunity to meet and speak with parents and youth who are or were involved with the child welfare system—or are at risk of involvement—all across the country. We make a point of meeting with groups of parents and youth wherever we go. Having this opportunity is the single greatest joy of our work with the Children's Bureau. There is not a week that goes by that we do not have direct interaction with parents or youth in some way—It is a connection that is absolutely critical to understanding how well we are doing as a system and what we need to do to improve.
Although these interactions are deeply meaningful, and always instructive, they are also deeply troubling. While we do hear stories of success, that is not the typical experience. Most of the accounts are not positive, or certainly not as positive as any of us would like to hear. The words parents and youth often use to describe their experiences in or with the child welfare system include "scared," "confused," "intimidated," "alone," "overwhelmed," "sad," "ashamed," "powerless," and "judged."
The frequency with which these words are used, regardless of where we are, is jarring.
No one in the workforce wants these to be the words that describe how youth and parents feel. It's not what any of us who entered the field hope or intended to achieve, but the hard truth is that far too many parents and youth are experiencing the system in the same unsatisfactory ways. We can replace words like alone, disempowered, and judged with supported, empowered, cared for, and helped. These are the words that we all aspire to promote and the ways we would like parents and youth to feel.
We can get there, but it will require all of us to think of our work and the larger system in radically different ways. Rather than waiting to offer help until after something happens and perpetuating a system of response and blame, we need to retool and reorient child welfare to be seen, felt, and known as a system of support that strengthens families, a system where seeking help is a sign of strength, and help is universally available at the community level in nonstigmatic ways.
Parents and youth often say things such as, "If only this service or this resource was available sooner;" "I needed someone who would listen;" "My mother was a victim to this drug and she was demonized;" "Prevention services would have been so helpful;" "I knew I needed help, but I was afraid to ask for fear of a report being made;" "I felt that I had no control over what was happening to me;" "I felt alone and needed to know someone cared about me;" and "I was not prepared to be out in the world on my own."
Creating a system to change these experiences will require a change in mindset, a change in our funding structure and the use of tools, such as community-based family resource centers to keep families connected and enhance parental protective factors, ensuring that all parents and children have high-quality legal representation to advocate on their behalf and ensure reasonable efforts are made; conceptualizing foster care as a service to the entire family instead of a substitute for parents to minimize trauma; progressive family time/visitation approaches that begin with a presumption that visitation should be unsupervised and in a natural environment to protect the parent child relationship; and the ability to place children with their parents in residential substance use treatment facilities.
Above all else, we need to commit unyieldingly to listening to parents and youth, involving them in all aspects of how we design and operate the supports we offer and treating them with decency and respect at all times. As Benjamin, an incredibly insightful young man, recently told us, "Life is hard sometimes and we cannot always go through it alone—everyone needs some help sometimes."
It simply cannot be said any better: It's time to listen to parents and youth and act on their words.
Spotlight on National Adoption Month
Spotlight on Creating a More Equitable Child Welfare System
News From the Children's Bureau
Read about strategies to involve youth in service planning to reduce homelessness among their peers previously in foster care, eight youth engagement approaches agencies and organizations can implement to help youth advocate for themselves, and a list of the latest additions to the CB website.
- CB Website Updates
The Children's Bureau website hosts information on child welfare programs, funding, monitoring, training and technical assistance, laws, statistics, research, federal reporting, and much more.
Recent additions to the site include the following:
- Letter to Update Child Welfare Directors on the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/letter-title-iv-e-prevention-clearinghouse
- Housing's Critical Connection to Child Welfare, Part 2 [podcast]: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-welfare-podcast-housings-part2
- Tribal Courts and Child Welfare: Revising Your Children's Code [podcast]: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-welfare-podcast-tcip2
- Tribal Federal Medical Assistance Percentage Look-Up Table for Fiscal Year 2019: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/tribal-fmap-look-up-fy2019
- PI-19-01: Federal Fiscal Year 2019 Title IV-B, Subpart 2 Funding Available for Developing, Enhancing or Evaluating Kinship Navigator Programs: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/pi1901
- Child Maltreatment 2017: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2017
- Formative Evaluation Toolkit: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/formative-evaluation-toolkit
Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.
- Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches
The important job of engaging youth in creating their own future can take many forms. Not only does it work toward making sure youth have a say in their communities, it helps them reach their full potential by teaching them the skills to be their own advocates and make their voices heard. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collected successful approaches to youth engagement that organizations can implement into their own practice and provides resources and examples of these approaches in practice. The approaches include the following:
- Youth councils—These are formal bodies made up of youth who advise decision-makers on matters pertinent to young people. The American Red Cross, for example, has 13 youth members who represent the youth volunteers and work to recruit more youth to get involved.
- Youth governance—This approach supports young people in leading an organization. Colorado 9to25, for example, is a collective, action-oriented group of Colorado youth and adults working together to help all youth ages 9-25 in the state reach their full potential and achieve positive outcomes.
- Youth serving on boards—This approach ensures that youth voices are heard in organizational decision-making. America's Promise Alliance, for example, has two positions on its governing board reserved for young people.
- Youth voice—This approach calls for giving youth the opportunity to express themselves, voice their ideas, and provide input for projects or programs. Youth in Focus, for example, empowers urban youth to find their voice using photography.
- Youth leadership programs—This approach emphasizes providing leadership training to young people and giving them opportunities to develop important life skills. FosterClub's All Stars program, which is featured in the Resources section of this issue, provides a group of young people formerly in foster care with intensive leadership and public-speaking training.
- Youth advocacy—This approach encourages youth to speak out on issues affecting them and to advocate for themselves and their needs. SparkAction.org, for example, organizes opportunities to help young people advocate for different and better policies affecting them.
- Youth service—This approach gives youth the opportunity to nurture community connections, become more engaged in school, and be better prepared for the workforce. The National Youth Leadership Council, for example, develops young leaders through service-learning opportunities, such as their recent Project Ignition, which focuses on teen driver safety.
- Youth organizing—This approach encourages youth to develop and implement a project or initiative that brings together their peers for a cause important to them. Young Invincibles, for example, was formed by young people to bring youth voices to the health-care reform debate.
To read more about ways to engage youth, visit the Eight Successful Youth Engagement Approaches webpage at https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/tag/game-plan-for-engaging-youth/eight-approaches/index.html.
- Engaging Youth in Strategies to Reduce Homelessness Among Child Welfare-Involved Youth
The Children's Bureau is funding the multiphase Youth At-Risk of Homelessness (YARH) grant program to build the evidence base for what works to prevent homelessness among youth and young adults who have been in foster care. YARH is focused on the needs of three populations: (1) adolescents entering foster care between the ages of 14 and 17, (2) young adults aging out of foster care, and (3) homeless youth 21 or younger who have been involved with foster care.
A recent brief, which was produced by Mathematica Policy Research for the Children's Bureau and the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families, looks at the first and second phases of the YARH program. The first phase funded a 2-year planning grant for 18 organizations between 2013 and 2015, during which grantees analyzed data to understand the local population and developed a comprehensive service model to improve outcomes in housing, education, job training, social well-being, and permanent connections. The second phase, a 3-year implementation grant awarded to six organizations, took place from 2015 to 2018, with grantees testing and refining the service model. (The brief looks at the work conducted through 2017.) If funded, a third phase would involve evaluations about how to support youth with child welfare involvement and prevent their homelessness.
Grantees engaged youth in developing service models by having them weigh in on risk factors (e.g., the number of foster care placements, substance use, teen pregnancy) and service needs (e.g., housing, permanent connections, life skills) and by including them in the decision-making process. Youth were engaged to ensure any proposed solutions reflect their experiences with the child welfare system and result in greater service enrollment and quality. Grantees collected data from youth through surveys, focus groups, and community events.
The brief profiles three grantees with particularly innovative strategies for engaging youth in service planning. One of these is Colorado's "shark tank" approach to having youth weigh in on proposed solutions to service needs (premised on the popular television show where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to investors). In this activity, youth identified their top priorities as safe and stable housing and access to long-term mentoring. Another grantee, United Way of King County (UWKC) in Washington state, learned that youth are most likely to engage in services when recommended by peers and is proposing that youth with child welfare experience be recruited and trained as peer navigators. UWKC developed a risk model for predicting youth homelessness. The Westchester County, NY, Department of Social Services also learned that youth peer navigators can make a big difference in helping youth advocate for the services they need. Their work led to the formation of Bravehearts M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience), a local chapter of Youth M.O.V.E. National, a youth-led advocacy organization. The Bravehearts group developed an independent mission of empowering youth with child welfare experiences to become active leaders of their own lives and in their community.
The brief, Youth Engagement in Child Welfare Service Planning, is available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/youthengagement_in_cw_planning_508.pdf (499 KB).
We highlight a study that looks at parent and child perspectives on a collaborative school-based program that seeks to prevent substance use, juvenile delinquency, school failure, mental health problems, and violence and a study that focuses on parent's viewpoints on the challenges they face during the early years of their children's lives in order to inform policies and programs.
- Raising Parent Voice to Guide Early Childhood Policy
The early years of a child's life are the most formative. They are the foundation for a child's development, and good physical and emotional health directly contributes to positive outcomes, such as reading at grade level and educational success. Parents want to help their children succeed but often face barriers and challenges that can hinder their efforts. In an effort to identify, prioritize, and detail strategies to improve early literacy, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation conducted a meta-analysis of 18 parent surveys, focus groups, and meetings conducted by child- and family-supporting organizations across the state. They drafted a report that calls attention to the following:
- Obstacles to accessing formal child care, such as costs and availability
- Barriers to community support, such as time, transportation, and waitlists
- Knowledge of what specific skills children need for school
This report, Not About Me, Without Me: Raising Parent Voice to Guide Early Childhood Policy, aims to be a starting point for organizations in the hopes that they can use the information collected to inform their own work and begin to fill the gaps in their own communities. It utilizes the voices of parents to offer policy and program makers a unique insight.
The report is organized to align with the North Carolina Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success Framework, which includes the following:
- Health and development on track, beginning at birth—Parents reported they routinely take their children to the doctor, but they need more information about specific health issues relating to child development, child mental health, and supports for parents. Parents also were concerned about accessing medical services (e.g., transportation to and from services, time away from work, cost); self-care and stress management; and their children's social-emotional development.
- Supported and supportive families and communities—Parents reported they made use of community supports when they could access them; however, they had unmet needs that could be met in the community, such as information about resources and informal social supports. They also reported they had barriers to services, such as transportation, lack of trust, waitlists, and cultural bias.
- High-quality learning environments for birth through age 8, with regular attendance—Parents reported they believed education is important for their children's long-term outcomes; however, there were barriers to their children's kindergarten readiness, including lack of parent awareness about what skills children need to be ready for school, insufficient communication with parents, and lack of access to formal early learning opportunities.
- Children's living conditions—Parents reported they struggle with job training and finding a job and affordable housing and had concerns about neighborhood safety, which influence their abilities to adequately provide for their families.
Not About Me, Without Me: Raising Parent Voice to Guide Early Childhood Policy is available at https://files.buildthefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/ncecf_reports-parents-121017-digital.pdf (535 KB).
- Study Assesses Child, Parent Viewpoints on School-Based Prevention Support Program
An article in School Community Journal looks at both the child and parent perspectives of Families and Schools Together (FAST), a collaborative school-based program that seeks to prevent substance use, juvenile delinquency, school failure, mental health problems, and violence. The program provides multifamily prevention support to families of children ages 5-12 who have been identified by their schools as at risk of academic failure or social problems. The study, based on implementation in two communities, is the first to assess the child and parent perspectives of the program. The program involves schools, families, and community-based partners. It consists of 8 weeks of family sessions with a 2-year follow-up program to help improve family functioning, parent-child relationships, child behavior, and social connections while preventing substance use and school failure.
The first goal of the study was to look at child feedback on the "special play" aspect of FAST, and the second goal was to assess parental satisfaction. Special play is a core component of FAST where target children participate in one-on-one parent-mediated play during a 15-minute play period and their siblings, designated as nontarget children, have a supervised free-play period. Parents of the children designated as target children are instructed to pay attention to the child-initiated play without criticizing or controlling the play and to continue the special playtime between FAST sessions and over the subsequent 2 years. The authors were particularly interested in the child perspective on the special playtime, expecting that the siblings designated as nontarget children would react negatively to their exclusion. Instead, both the children designated as target and nontarget children reported benefits from participating in FAST.
The study is based on qualitative data from two central Virginia school communities, one urban and one rural. Results indicate that children designated as target children enjoyed most aspects of FAST, and they reported having better communication with their family, feeling closer, getting along better, and doing more together. They also reported having better relationships with their peers, choosing friends more wisely, and being better able to stand up to bullies. The siblings designated as nontarget children for the most part reported having closer relationships with their parents since participating in FAST, better family communication, and improved capacity for making and keeping friends. Parents reported having improved family relationships and a heightened awareness of the importance of family time and the availability of community resources. They cited special play, meeting new parents and families in similar circumstances, and spending quality time with family as the greatest benefits of FAST.
The study found that parent relationships with school personnel surprisingly remained unchanged after participating in FAST. The authors attribute this to the fact that the school partner, not teachers, carried out the administrative duties, such as sending reminders, collecting surveys, and assisting with the children while parents attended the parent group meetings. Local FAST team members noted that teachers were not integrated in a way that would affect the parent-teacher relationship, school involvement, or academic performance and classroom behavior. The authors suggest that since parental involvement at school has been linked to improved student outcomes, the program developers might want to consider how to engage school personnel with parents during the weekly FAST sessions.
"Child and Parent Voices on a Community-Based Prevention Program (FAST)," by Melodie Fearnow-Kenney, Patricia Hill, and Nicole Gore (School Community Journal, 2016) is available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1104394.pdf (3,087 KB).
This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide either evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.
- Come Together: Partnering With Stakeholders for Better Strategic Planning
Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States
Integrating federally mandated strategic planning and program improvement processes (e.g., Child and Family Services Plans [CFSPs], Annual Progress and Services Reports, Child and Family Services Review [CFSR] Program Improvement Plans) with continuous quality improvement (CQI) efforts and change initiatives can help a state do the following:
- Align priorities
- Establish and implement a shared vision
- Make connections between processes
- Share information among teams
- Realize efficiencies
By engaging stakeholders in these activities, an agency can access the information necessary for planning and decision-making and ensure agency services meet community needs.
The Capacity Building Center for States' (the Center's) new series, Strategic Planning in Child Welfare, presents practical information and tools for coordinating strategic planning, program improvement, and reporting activities and ways to engage stakeholders in these processes. Some ideas from the series are highlighted below.
Periodic and Ongoing Stakeholder Engagement
Engaging stakeholders in strategic planning and program improvement should be both an ongoing and targeted, episodic activity.
Agencies need to engage stakeholders year round in ongoing processes, such as CQI, while also asking them to participate in specific processes with defined start and end dates, such as the CFSP, the CFSR, and agency change initiatives. Regular stakeholder engagement builds familiarity with agency work and relationships with agency staff, which can then be used to facilitate work on specific, time-limited processes.
Team Building and Stakeholder Engagement
The most productive teams engaged in strategic planning, program improvement, and reporting bring together agency personnel and stakeholders with different roles, perspectives, and skill sets. When feasible, teams should involve individuals representing the diverse characteristics of the communities served by the agency.
Team membership will vary depending on the needs of a particular initiative but may include the following:
- Child welfare agency staff
- Legal and judicial representatives
- Tribal representatives
- Youth, family, and resource family representatives
- Representatives from state and local governments and professional and advocacy organizations
- Representatives from racial, ethnic, and cultural community groups
- Formal and informal community leaders and representatives
Agencies can also reach out to federal and nonprofit organizations and universities to help provide current research and technical expertise in child welfare topics, as needed.
Culture and Climate for Stakeholder Engagement
To effectively engage stakeholders in agency work, agency leadership and staff need to work at building an agency culture that supports meaningful stakeholder participation. The following are qualities of an agency culture that supports stakeholder engagement:
- Responsive and reciprocal
- Impartial and objective
To work with diverse stakeholders, agencies need to "level the playing field"—that is, develop partnerships based on equal participation and shared responsibilities. Agencies should not only ask stakeholders to provide feedback or comment on data or documents; they should also offer real responsibilities and leadership roles, as appropriate. Giving stakeholders ownership of specific parts of a project not only creates shared responsibility for success but also confirms the value of an agency's stakeholders and the belief that serving children and families is the work of a holistic support system.
Child welfare systems are more likely to achieve their goals and improve outcomes when stakeholders have a seat at the table and help inform system improvement efforts. The strategies, considerations, and tools presented in the Strategic Planning in Child Welfare series encourage agencies to consider new ways of implementing ongoing, regular stakeholder participation in federally mandated and other processes.
More information is available on the Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare webpage, as well as in an upcoming Children's Bureau Express article on family and youth engagement.
- Strategic Planning in Child Welfare: Integrating Efforts for Systems Improvement (Capacity Building Center for States, 2019)
- Strategic Planning in Child Welfare: Strategies for Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement (Capacity Building Center for States, 2019)
- Change and Implementation in Practice: Teaming (Capacity Building Center for States, 2018)
- Capacity Building Center for Courts: Child and Family Services Review webpage
- Capacity Building Center for Tribes website
- A Guide for Implementing Improvement Through the CFSP and CFSR (Children's Bureau, 2014)
- Quality Parenting Initiative
The Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) is a strategy of the Youth Law Center that focuses on improving foster care by emphasizing excellent parenting, supporting caregivers, and using caregiver experience and input as the best means to implement change and improve the foster care system. Since its launch 2008 in Florida, QPI has been implemented in over 75 jurisdictions in 10 states (California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin).
QPI centers on five core principles:
- Excellent parenting is key to providing children with the best care to ensure their well-being.
- Children need constant, consistent, and effective parenting to grow and reach their full potential.
- Each community must define excellent parenting for itself.
- Policy and practice must be changed to align with that definition.
- Participants in the system are in the best position to recommend and implement change.
Implementation of QPI includes holding listening sessions with various sectors of the community, including youth, birth and foster families, child welfare staff, courts, and community partners. Through these sessions, participants aim to increase the percentage of children living in family-type situations; increase placement stability and permanency; help ensure foster parents and birth parents maintain a relationship with each other after permanency is achieved; help ensure children maintain relationships with significant adults, such as foster and birth parents; and help ensure siblings maintain continuous meaningful contact.
To learn more about QPI and to access additional QPI resources, visit http://www.qpi4kids.org/.
This section of CBX provides a quick list of interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials that can be used in the field or with families.
- Short Film Features Rise for Youth
While the rate of incarcerated youth has fallen over the past decade, there are still over 48,000 youth residing in juvenile correctional facilities, and minorities are disproportionally represented. Brave New Films released a short film that highlights the work that RISE (Reinvesting In Supportive Environments) for Youth, a Virginia-based organization, is doing to end youth incarceration. For example, through media events and meetings with legislature, this group was instrumental in closing the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center and reinvesting millions of dollars into community-based services as well as stopping the construction of another youth prison.
Youth can play a pivotal role in community change. RISE for Youth provides an opportunity for youth to improve their public-speaking skills and learn how to be confident in crafting and delivering their messages as advocates.
The film, "Following Their Lead: Youth in Action," is part of a series that highlights youth advocacy groups across the nation that are working on effecting change in social and political issues. Watch the film at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNpaP0khfq8&feature=youtu.be.
- Modeling Youth and Family Engagement Through Capacity Building
Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States
On behalf of the Children's Bureau, the Capacity Building Center for States (the Center) provides support to states and jurisdictions to:
- Strengthen, implement, and sustain effective child welfare practice
- Achieve better outcomes for children, youth, and families
The Center recognizes youth and family engagement as an integral part of successful and sustained organizational and systems change in child welfare and, to this end, incorporates parent, caregiver, and youth voice in every aspect of its service delivery. The Center recruits, trains, and supports pools of highly skilled family and young adults. In many cases, the Center utilizes family and young adult consultants (YACs) to help build the capacity of states and jurisdictions to meaningfully engage youth and families.
The Center's family consultants are experienced in leading family empowerment efforts and representing family voice at the state and national levels. They include biological parents, relative caregivers, and foster parents with personal and professional experience in the child welfare system.
YACs, all of whom are between 18 and 26 years old, have lived experiences in the foster care system. In addition, each YAC is proficient in one or more child welfare topic areas, including, but not limited to, youth engagement, youth development, independent living services, extended foster care, congregate care, the National Youth in Transition Database, maintaining family and sibling connections, and developing youth advisory boards.
The Center's family consultants and YACs share, and train others to share, their lived experiences in ways that can inform and improve child welfare policies and practice. Both family consultants and YACs have experience providing analysis, recommendations, feedback, and training to the child welfare field. They lend their lived experience and professional expertise to respond to the needs of jurisdictions. Family consultants and YACs are competitively compensated for their time, effort, and participation in projects and consultation, and the Center provides ongoing training and support to further develop their skills.
Since 2015, family consultants and YACs have contributed to nearly 100 center and federal projects, including the following:
- Developing products and publications
- Engaging Youth in NYTD (PDF - 369 KB)
- Quality Worker-Parent Visits: A Tip Sheet for Supervisors and Managers (PDF - 202 KB)
- Supporting Transgender Children and Youth Involved in the Court System (PDF - 107 KB)
- Parent Partner Program Manual: Sample Policies and Procedures (PDF - 536 KB)
- Building and Sustaining Collaborative Community Relationships (PDF - 648 KB)
- Affirming and Supporting LGBTQ Children and Youth in Child Welfare (PDF - 236 KB)
- Buzzwords: Moving to Behavioral Descriptors (PDF - 371 KB)
- Serving on expert panels and presenting at national meetings and webinars
- Providing direct support to states and jurisdictions
- Developing youth and parent advisory boards
- Improving sibling connections
- Enhancing organizational youth and father engagement strategies
- Supporting National Youth in Transition Database program improvement
- Implementing provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183)
For more information about the Center's family consultants and YACs, contact the Center at email@example.com.
- FosterClub Encourages Future Leaders Through Its Summer All-Star Internship Program
FosterClub hosts an annual All-Star internship program to encourage youth with child welfare experience to become peer leaders and advocates.
The internship consists of a 6-week leadership training program at FosterClub's headquarters in Oregon. Responsibilities consist of, but are not limited to, the following:
- Prepare and facilitate workshops and activities at conferences and other events
- Provide guidance and information to peers in the system
- Produce web content, publications, audio and video recordings, etc.
- Research child welfare topics
- Provide youth perspective content for supportive adults
- Write about their internship experiences
FosterClub emphasizes the following areas as goals for interns' personal growth:
- Gain a better understanding of their personal narrative to protect themselves and influence positive change in others
- Develop meaningful self-purpose (to help others and not merely be a recipient of services)
- Understand how to set healthy relationship boundaries and trust others
- Develop greater self-regulation and an understanding of the impacts of past trauma, how to maintain relationships after conflict, and how to manage stress and well-being
- Gain knowledge of the system and resources available to young adults who have been in foster care
For more information on the FosterClub All-Star internship program and to read about past interns, see https://www.fosterclub.com/what-we-do/young-leaders/all-star-internship.
- Curriculum to Support Youth-Led Organizing
Foster Youth in Action (FYA) released a curriculum intended to support youth-led organizing, which is a key strategy in youth engagement. Youth-led organizing builds on community collaboration led by young people and is bolstered by research and the support of national organizations and stakeholders. An essential part of this approach to youth engagement is youth development, healing, community building, and action that is directly informed by young people most impacted by the child welfare system.
The curriculum, developed by SOUL School of Unity and Liberation in collaboration with FYA and California Youth Connection, focuses on deepening the critical analysis skills of staff and leaders, providing an introduction to organizing theory and practice, and building capacity for base building and campaign and leadership development.
The free 3-day curriculum includes the following components:
- Collective Storytelling—This segment allows participants to gather and get to know one another. Participants are encouraged to discuss personal topics, such as where they are from, and to reflect on defining moments and events that have impacted their lives.
- Political Education—This segment focuses on the history of the foster care system and efforts to improve it, a shared analysis of the foster care system and connecting individual experiences to the institutions that impact them.
- Organizing 101—This segment explores organizing as a distinct method of social change and how to apply organizing principles when working to change the foster care system.
- From Me to We: Listening to Your Community—This segment focuses on exploring ways to listen to youth in the community, practicing methods of listening and gathering information about problems impacting the community, and exploring ways to select a problem to change.
- Campaigns 101—This segment focuses on campaigns as a vehicle for exercising collective power to accomplish immediate improvements that lead to systemic change, exploring the basic components of campaign strategy, and learning to use root cause analysis and power mapping as effective campaign tools for improving conditions of youth in foster care.
- Base Building 101—This segment focuses on exploring base building as an essential component to growing the collective power of young people impacted by the foster care system and using base-building tools and strategies to recruit youth into active membership.
Each segment includes activities, handouts, and additional resources.
To access the FYA curriculum, visit https://www.fosteryouthaction.org/stories/fya-soul-and-cyc-collaborate-to-create-a-innovative-new-foster-youth-organizing-curriculum.
- Internship Program Teaches Youth in Foster Care to Prepare Congressional Reports
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute has an internship program for youth who have spent time in foster care. The Foster Youth Internship (FYI), which began in 2003, aims to raise the awareness of federal policymakers about the needs and perspectives of children and youth in foster care. During their time in the FYI program, interns participate in retreats, advocacy trainings, and various networking opportunities with experts in the child welfare field.
FYI also gives interns the opportunity to write a policy report using their newly acquired knowledge of federal policy. The interns write the reports on subjects they are personally passionate about and use their experiences of being in foster care to make recommendations to improve the foster care system. This report is published annually and presented at both congressional and White House briefings.
To learn more about the FYI program, visit http://www.ccainstitute.org/programs/view/foster-youth-internship-about. To read past congressional reports written by interns, visit http://www.ccainstitute.org/programs/view/foster-youth-internship-congressional-report.
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.
- Webinar: Engaging Youth in Permanency Planning
AdoptUSKids held a webinar for child welfare agency staff that focuses on encouraging and implementing youth engagement in program planning, training, and service delivery. The webinar features agencies that have experience in engaging youth in promoting permanency.
The webinar features best practices, lessons learned, tips, and key considerations for effective youth engagement, including the following:
- Have sufficient preparation and support for youth, such as taking into consideration what is developmentally appropriate, helping youth set boundaries when sharing in order to keep them safe, and preparing for trauma triggers
- Explore ways to engage youth that helps them to have a voice in permanency issues, such as giving youth a chance to be involved in their own recruitment, speaking to and training parents, allowing them to use multimedia to share their views, and public speaking.
- Commit to listening to and honoring youth perspectives.
According to the webinar, for agencies to establish a youth-specific recruitment plan, it is essential to have the proper agency infrastructure in place that includes staff and leadership; be open to honest feedback from youth without being defensive; and try to create opportunities for youth to come together and advocate.
The webinar, "In Their Own Words: Lifting Up Youth Voices to Promote Permanency for Older Youth," is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk_ExMscX7s&t=816s.
Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:
- 32nd Annual Research & Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Behavioral Health
University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Sciences
March 3-6, Tampa, FL
- Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference
March 9-12, San Antonio, TX
- 2019 Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors Annual Conference
Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors
March 13-16, Jacksonville, FL
- 2019 National Conference on Juvenile Justice
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
March 17-20, Las Vegas, NV
- Annual National Summit on Youth Homelessness
National Network for Youth
March 18-19, Washington, DC
- 35th International Symposium on Child Abuse
National Children's Advocacy Center
March 18-21, Huntsville, AL
- 8th Annual Strengthening Families Summit
New Hampshire Children's Trust
April 1, Concord, NH
- 18th ABA National Conference on Children & the Law
American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
April 9-10, Tyson's Corner, VA
- National Conference on Parent Representation
American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
April 11-12, Tyson's Corner, VA
- Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) 2019 National Conference
April 9-13, Washington, DC
- CWLA Post Conference Special Session
Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)
April 12-13, Washington, DC
- 2019 National Children of Incarcerated Parent Conference
Arizona State University Center for Child Well-Being
April 14-17, Phoenix, AZ
- Adoption Exchange Association National Conference
Adoption Exchange Association
April 29-30, Orlando, FL
- 26th Annual National Foster Care Conference
May 15-17, St. Petersburg, FL
- 2019 National Human Services Training Evaluation Symposium
California Social Work Education Center, National Staff Development and Training Association, & University of Maryland School of Social Work
May 21-23, Baltimore, MD
- 2019 National IV-E Roundtable for Child Welfare Training and Education
Stockton University, Child Welfare Education Institute
May 21-23, Atlantic City, NJ
- 32nd Annual Research & Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Behavioral Health