How the Jim Casey Initiative Engages Young People

Posted March 1, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

At the Casey Foundation, we know that involving young people as active participants in decisions affecting their futures is life changing — not just for the young person, but for the lives of the people around them.

For this reason, in addition to helping local partners take an authentic youth engagement approach, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative takes an authentic youth engagement approach in all of its national work. This means staff forge caring relationships with young people, acting as true partners and empowering them to direct Jim Casey's efforts and their own futures.

Each year, the Initiative holds a Youth Leadership Institute that young leaders from our sites are nominated to attend. During the event, young leaders have opportunities to deepen their understanding of the Jim Casey Initiative’s Theory of Change, and to learn to use Jim Casey Initiative data and their life experiences with child welfare systems as advocacy tools. Because of the Youth Leadership Institute, young leaders are able to expand their knowledge of current policies that young people and partnering states have identified as being critical to galvanizing public will to better focus on need reforms. Upon completion of the Youth Leadership Institute, the young leaders can elect to become a part of the Fellowship, a group of young adults who have been professionally trained and are ready to give recommendations for improving child welfare systems.

By building effective partnerships with young people, the Jim Casey Initiative sees many benefits. First, Casey's work is of higher quality and is more effective because of their insights and guidance. They help us to ensure that the improvements sought will truly change their lives for the better.

The Initiative also ensures that Young Fellows’ experiences are those that help them achieve their goals, and that they are able to practice the problem-solving skills they will need in adulthood. Effective youth-adult partnerships also help young people build their self-esteem and leadership skills, and increase their influence and personal stake in the community.

Through Jim Casey's nearly 15 years of experience in authentic youth engagement, Casey has identified three core values and guiding principles that enable us — and any organization or individual working with young people — to develop successful partnerships between young people and adults:

Core Value #1: Preparation

Young people are effectively prepared and empowered to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives.

Guiding Principles

  • Effective preparation with and on behalf of a young person requires time, effort, patience, relationship-building, and awareness of a young person’s unique developmental needs.
  • Young people need to learn self-advocacy skills, including when and how to seek advice and counsel from professionals and other caring adults, in order to be confident in making decisions and charting their future.
  • Authentic youth-adult partnerships must undergird preparation activities and it is within this context of mutual trust that adults must help young people recognize their strengths, leverage their expertise, assess their level of understanding, address their knowledge deficits, and assert their leadership in reaching decisions.

Core Value #2: Support

Young people are provided with customized services and a network of supportive relationships that meet their needs and promote a healthy transition to adulthood.

Guiding Principles

  • Young people need access to a service array that is comprehensive, flexible, and capable of meeting their unique needs.
  • Support systems should include formal resources and services from public and private providers as well as informal supports from within a young person’s natural network of community relationships.
  • Service systems should provide young people with equitable access to services that are culturally competent, outcome-focused, and attentive to their overall well-being.
  • Family is critically important in the lives of young people and their definition of family and network of supportive relationships should be explored, respected, and appropriately included in life-planning efforts.
  • Young people should be monetarily compensated for their time, expertise, labor, and products that contribute to systems change, program implementation, policy development, and information sharing.

Core Value #3: Opportunity

Young people are provided with an array of opportunities that promote optimal growth and development; experiential learning; healthy risk-taking; and participation in normal everyday activities that contribute to social confidence and positive identity formation.

Guiding Principles

  • Young people need to learn how to be financially capable and have opportunities to practice their financial skills as they manage assets, participate in the workforce, and transact with mainstream banking institutions.
  • Young people need to be safe and assessments of their safety should be contextually relevant, developmentally appropriate, and free from variables that overstate risk and undervalue social experience.
  • Young people in foster care should be provided with the same normal life opportunities afforded to young people from intact families.
  • Young people need to experience positive reciprocity in relationships within their family, peer, and community groups and feel valued both in receiving supports and in giving back to their community.