Facilitating Change for Youth and Young Adults
The process by which young people move from a focus on immediate needs or challenges to self-discovery and a more a more adult approach to life is facilitated by some key components. These components have been or will be discussed in other sections of this website. They include the tasks described as “scaffolding,” skills that assist staff in effectively recognizing and addressing developmental and executive functions, and the Engage, Equip and Empower process.
A range of other approaches and activities are instrumental in facilitating the transition of young people toward young adulthood. This section provides a brief introduction to some of these.
Role of Transition Facilitators This term is roughly equivalent to “CCS Service Facilitators” but refers to staff who have had additional training/experience regarding the provision of services to youth and young adults. Usual practice in CCS is that a service facilitator functions as the primary support for a CCS participant, regardless of the participant’s age. In some settings that serve youth and young adults, a small pool of transition facilitators work in a model in which each facilitator provides primary support of a number of young participants, and, in addition, provides supplemental support to any or all of the young people served within that CCS program. This enables young people to access multiple staff with a range of perspectives and skills—and assists young people who need more opportunities to learn to make interpersonal connections. It also benefits staff who can use their particular skill set with more youth, to work in group settings and to benefit from the resulting shared experiences and perspectives among their peers.
Where this kind of arrangement exists, the feedback from young people is that they feel greater acceptance and benefit from being able to get support from a variety of people or in the absence of their assigned transition facilitator. They often speak of “belonging” to such a program.
Relationships Young people and transition facilitators view their relationship as a partnership or coach/mentor relationship. There is clarity about the official responsibilities, but the intent is to honor the concept of youth-driven services. Both participate by seeking ways that the young person can safely move toward their long term goal of becoming their best selves.
Partnerships The partnership between the service facilitator and the young person provides the core vehicle for exploring the young person’s challenges and visions, planning together how they will be addressed and regularly debriefing how progress is going and what the next steps are (Walker, 2015).
Addressing Challenges The extent to which the service facilitator or other staff will participate in addressing life challenges varies upon the stage of treatment, the current vulnerability that the young person is feeling, etc. Typically, however, in early stages of treatment, if the young person agrees to it, staff will accompany young people into the community to assess or assist with handling challenges. This is not only supportive to young people. It is also a vehicle to assessing strengths and challenges of the young person. The outcomes of such activities are discussed, alternative approaches considered, if appropriate or, if appropriate, the outcome celebrated. Over time, as youth become less vulnerable, careful planning, debriefing and peer support take on more robust roles.
Experiential Learning Experiential learning and in vivo approaches are perfect matches for the developmental capacity for youth and young adults. This can occur across settings, whether an individualized activity or one involving others, whether the others are peers, family or community members. Variations in who participates should be respectful of youth preferences, but ongoing participation with others enhances the benefits of many activities. The importance of connecting with others and experiential learning are well researched approaches to replicating and supplementing the scaffolding processes that are effectively support typical development.
Less Formal Settings Young people prefer “less formal settings.” To the extent that this can be accommodated, it’s good to know. It is an easy way to honor their preferences, as appropriate. Combine this preference with transportation challenges and the complicated nature of their lives and it often just makes sense to meet outside of traditional office space. Since the focus is upon challenges that happen within community settings, opportunities for most effectively addressing these challenges often occur in the community.
Peer-to-Peer Experiences Young people are developmentally programmed to want to share experiences with peers. They benefit from opportunities to be accepted for being themselves, try out new skills and perspectives, learn from peers or from speakers from the community, bask in opportunities to be a model for others, participate in planning groups for future get-togethers, volunteer in the community as a group, learning self-advocacy skills, etc. Community-based approaches that use positive youth development approaches have been described in the literature for ten years or more. (Walker & Gowen, 2011).
Youth Coordinator A youth coordinator who is perhaps a college student, a social work intern, etc. can function as a coordinator of activities that involve multiple young people. Such a person can also be a support to a young person who is tentative about functioning in the community but for whom bringing along a transition facilitator might not be a viable alternative. Supervision of such a person has unique challenges, but with the right person/situation can be extremely valuable. One of the YES! youth coordinators, for example, created a clothes closet that served the purpose of helping with wardrobes, and also provided opportunities for young people to socialize and support one another. Several of the youth coordinators from YES! sites became certified peer specialists and became more effective, better paid and more identifiable as role models.
Informal Services A youth coordinator can do more than support the goals identified on the young person’s service plan. Young people prefer “informal services.” This is a concept that has broader implications, but which can make it possible for young people to participate in planning group projects, fund raisers, game nights, bringing in speakers that inform their skill sets but which might not be imperative to their current challenges or services but further their overall functioning. Youth coordinators have been great champions for organized consumer satisfaction surveys, reporting to the Coordinating Committees and even having youth represented on Coordinating Committees.
Engagement Strategies Three strategies have been proposed to strengthen the way systems of care work with youth.
• “Create a welcoming space that attracts young people in.
• Make formal services accessible following informal engagement
• Have peers be the ‘face’ of the system of care.” Research and Training Center for Pathways to Positive Futures. (2019) Emerging Strategies for Engaging Young People in Systems of Care.
These strategies might be a “stretch” for a CCS program that is just starting to contemplate becoming more responsive to young people. The strategies are, however, thought provoking and might, at least, give context to some of the other approaches and activities included here.