Nick Cervone


The Children’s Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released a summary of their Youth At-Risk of Homelessness (YARH) program. YARH is a three-phase grant program to determine new and effective ways of preventing homelessness among youth and young adults who have been involved in the child welfare system. YARH specifically looks at three populations of youth and young adults: adolescents who enter foster care between 14 and 17; young adults aging out of foster care; and homeless youth/young adults with foster care histories up to 21. The Youth Engagement in Child Welfare Service Planning issue brief highlighted three grantees innovative strategy in engaging young people in the services they received and solutions for improvement.

Colorado used 16 “youth advisory boards” across the state to gather information from local youth in foster care on their views and opinions of the foster care system. The state also organized focus groups made up of youth aged 14 to17, and each focus group dealt with a specific issue in the foster care system. Colorado also created the shark tank activity, where nonprofits, as well as county and state representatives, presented different ideas for youth services to the youth eligible for these services, and the youth then ranked the ideas based on which ones they would be most receptive to. This activity helped give Colorado a better sense of where its youth stood on the issues affecting them in foster care and child welfare.

In Washington, United Way King County (UWKC) worked with The Mockingbird Society, an advocacy group dedicated to improving Washington’s statewide foster care system, to create their individual comprehensive service model. UKWC also put a strong emphasis on focus groups made up of young people, and one of the significant findings of these focus groups was that a young person is more likely to participate in an activity or program if one of their peers recommends it to them. Since child engagement in the services that are ultimately created through YARH is so important, it is just as important to know how to get youth interested in actually being in the programs, just as it is important that they know what programs are offered.

Westchester County, New York created the BraveLife Initiative (BLI) as their YARH intervention plan. The group began as a focus group with 4 or 5 youth who were formerly in foster care, but it grew over time, incorporating more and more alumni of the foster care system. Eventually, the group members deemed themselves The Bravehearts, a Youth M.O.V.E. chapter of BLI focused on helping youth in the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system. As BLI grew, the Bravehearts, with 100 members as of 2015, became a primary voice in BLI’s mission and provided valuable input to BLI for the planning of Westchester County’s YARH intervention.

These programs demonstrate the value of youth involvement, especially when planning services that will directly affect the youth that are involved in the planning. Greater youth involvement, both in the data collection stage and the decision-making stage, are important, because consulting youths for these issues gives YARH-funded groups a more realistic view of the issues that they should be working to fix.

For more information and to read the brief, click here.