In order to successfully engage youth in the Technical Assistance Meeting, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) employed the following practices:
Youth were not simply invited to the meeting as attendees; they were asked to participate as members of their states’ teams. This conveyed to youth attendees that they are valued members of the process. Including youth also showed state teams that youth can take active roles in discussions and provide valuable information and expertise based on their own experiences. While it was challenging for some states to identify youth representatives, ACF and its partners provided support and suggestions on possible youth attendees who previously had been involved in youth board development work and other National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) trainings. Learn more about the NYTD Technical Assistance Meeting and why it is important to involve youth.
While some youth attendees had been involved with youth boards and other federal meetings prior to the NYTD meeting, for many it was a new experience. Because of the variability, it was important for meeting staff to focus on ensuring that youth were prepared to participate in the meeting and felt comfortable in the environment.
Prior to and throughout the meeting, National Resource Center for Youth Development (NRCYD) staff provided training and support to the participating youth. Training included discussions about the expectations, purpose, and structure of the conference. Additionally, travel, per diem, and lodging was arranged for youth attendees in advance of the meeting. Without this planning and support, some state youth representatives might not have been able to attend the meeting, as cost and logistics could have been a barrier to participation.
NRCYD staff created opportunities for youth delegates to connect with one another prior to the meeting. For example, youth participants were invited to join a private Facebook group wherein they could connect with each other, learn about the meeting, and discuss a number of topics. NRCYD staff was able to use the Facebook group to disseminate information and create conversation among the youth and young adult designees. The Facebook group was a voluntary option for youth, and NRCYD staff used other methods to communicate with youth who elected not to participate in the group.
Also prior to the meeting, NRCYD staff worked with the youth participants to clarify their roles and responsibilities and to prepare them to engage in conversation and debate with federal counterparts. One of the areas of focus was how to strategically share stories and experiences with the foster care system within the context of the conference. NRCYD has developed a resource focused on strategic sharing that it uses to help youth think through how they want to share their stories.
NRCYD’s staff has substantial knowledge and expertise working with youth, particularly those who have been involved with the child welfare system. Included on the NRCYD staff were summer interns—also young adults—and adults who themselves had previous experience in the foster care and child welfare systems. The staff was able to connect with the youth and recognize how to create an environment where they were comfortable. Throughout the conference, NRCYD staff members were available to answer any questions and to provide around-the-clock support to youth attendees. For example, staff designated to work with youth attendees communicated with youth participants via phone and e-mail prior to and during meetings (NRCYD staff provided phone numbers to youth in case youth attendees had questions or problems).
Youth attendees were invited for a half-day pre-conference session designed just for them. This allowed the youth representatives to get to know each other, become familiar with the conference and with their roles, and ask questions in a safe environment. Youth were welcomed by the ACF’s Children’s Bureau staff and by Commissioner Bryan Samuels of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Commissioner Samuels emphasized the important role that youth play in the meeting and in effecting positive outcomes for youth in the foster care system.
During the session, the youth representatives were able to get a first look at the initial findings from the analysis of NYTD data and were provided time to ask questions and reflect on the findings in roundtable discussions with representatives from the Children’s Bureau. Children’s Bureau staff asked youth to think critically about the data that was presented and think about what it meant and how it could be interpreted. Specifically, the discussions focused on the types of questions that could be generated from the NYTD data; how states can use NYTD data to improve services for youth in foster care and transitioning out of foster care; the ways that youth can use NYTD data to improve outcomes for other youth in the foster care system; and the types of deeper research questions that can stem from the NYTD data. The questions and feedback youth provided helped create a presentation that a select group of youth representatives gave with federal staff and the Commissioner during the conference plenary session.
Throughout the morning session, youth were actively engaged in conversations about the data and in sharing how the data reflected or did not reflect their own experiences.
Youth were asked to play an active role in the conference, including the opportunity to present alongside the Commissioner and other federal staff during the plenary session. Encouraging youth to present and share their voices helped to prepare them to actively participate, first hand, in a meeting at a federal level–an opportunity that few youth in transition are able to experience. During the pre-session, the youth participants from each state worked to analyze and discuss the initial findings from the NYTD data and elected a group of representatives to work with federal staff to develop a PowerPoint presentation that represented their voice. The representatives then presented the youth perspective to all of the conference attendees during the keynote address. This provided youth with the opportunity to help develop the message, build their public speaking skills, and share their opinions and expertise with the conference attendees. Conference attendees were impressed with the youth speakers’ presentation.
Involving youth in the NYTD Technical Assistance Meeting provided an opportunity for youth to participate in a federally funded meeting as part of state-level teams. This opportunity is rare for youth, and ACF and its partners supported the opportunities for youth to develop skills, network with federal and state staff, and to present at a national conference. For some of the youth, this included presenting alongside the Commissioner and federal staff in a plenary session at the conference.
Youth also had the opportunity to develop their skills in understanding and looking critically at data. The roundtable discussions that were held during the pre-session provided an opportunity for youth to question the data, apply findings to their own experiences, and learn how to use data responsibly.
Developing a strong network is important as youth transition to adulthood. Through the meeting, youth participants were able to connect with
- other youth who are working to improve outcomes for youth in the foster care system;
- federal staff who work at the national level on programs and policies related to child welfare and foster care;
- technical assistance providers that can provide support and foster skill development; and
- state staff with whom they can develop ongoing partnerships to promote and advocate for NYTD and other programs and policies for youth in the foster care system and transitioning out of the foster care system.
The meeting team took care to ensure that presentations and materials were youth-friendly. Calls and webinars were held prior to meeting to ensure that the PowerPoint presentations and other handouts included youth-friendly language and were as free of jargon and acronyms as possible.
To ensure that the content was clear and understandable for youth participants, meeting staff developed signs for all attendees with the letters “IDK,” to stand for “I don’t know” on one side and a question mark on the other side. Participants used the paddles during discussions when they were unclear about what was being said or had specific questions about the content that was shared. Youth, as well as state and federal staff, utilized the paddles throughout the session.
See What is NYTD? for more about the purpose of NYTD.