At Plummer Youth Promise’s fundraising dinner on June 27th, youth from each of our programs bravely got up and told their stories. One-by-one they collected their courage, overcame their anxieties and movingly shared with 300 strangers the things that made a difference for them.
We took a bit of a risk with this event in that none of us was privy to the comments of each speaker. In fact, one of our 18 year old young men spoke spontaneously, using no prepared remarks. Little did we know that, though these speakers had never met one another and had been served in different Plummer Youth Promise programs, they would focus in on a common theme.
The importance of truly listening to the Youth’s Voice.
Each speaker talked of the trepidation a young person feels when entering a new group home, moving to a new foster family or being ordered by a court into a detention diversion program. They spoke of the questions that inevitably ran through their heads. What do I need to do to survive here? What are the rules at this new place? Will they listen to me? Will I have any say in what happens in my life?
And they spoke of finding people who were genuinely interested. People who actively asked about their interests and responded with encouragement. People who understood that each child is different, and that rigid rules generally don’t serve anybody well.
A lot has been written about the importance of making young people partners in their own treatment. In child welfare lingo it’s called “Youth Guided Care.” It’s not rocket science really. It’s about giving them authentic opportunities to speak up, in big ways and small. It’s about helping youth understand their choices, and guiding them in their decision-making. It’s about taking their suggestions and feelings seriously and acting on them whenever possible. And it’s about treating each young person as a unique individual with their own strengths, hopes and dreams.
We could not have been more surprised (or proud) that these young people, unbeknownst to themselves or us, focused on the importance of being allowed to participate and guide their own treatment. It speaks volumes to the importance of making Youth Guided Care standard operating procedure in any program working with youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system.
For more information on Youth Guided Care in the context of residential programs, see Redefining Residential: Youth Guided Treatment.