Last fall I started learning more about the exciting realm of youth involvement in mental health services. I first learned about the practice from the California Adolescent Health Collaborative back in 2004, later spending time training folks at Olympia’s Community Youth Services agency. A few years later began volunteering with Partners in Prevention Education, and in each of these settings I met committed youth workers who focus on the idea that young people who are engaged in these “systems of care” shouldn’t just be subjected to adults making decisions about their lives without them; instead they should be completely engaged as partners and allies throughout the process.
For years local, regional and national organizations and the federal government have been promoting this practice, with folks like Lorrin Gehring [pdf] leading the way. The leadership of the Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP) at the American Institutes for Research brought me to Georgetown in January to help a group of 100 local practitioners from across the country move to the next level in their thinking and practice. It was there that I learned about Lorrin’s powerful book, Youth Involvement in Systems of Care, which carefully lays out a detailed agenda and guide to young people moving to the forefront of this work.
There has been a lot of local work in the area of youth involvement in Systems of Care. Communities like Westchestire County, New York [pdf], Aurora, Colorado [doc], and Seattle, Washington have had thriving programs. Find more examples here. Resources can be found on the HRWT National Resource Center website, as well as at the TAP website above. Also, Youth MOVE National is a youth-led organization “devoted to improving services and systems that support positive growth and development by uniting the voices of individuals who have lived experience in various systems including mental health, juvenile justice, education, and child welfare.”
In Georgetown I met many committed and wonderful people, including Dan DeLucey of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania)’s Youth Development Project. Dan connected me with the Youth and Family Training Institute, who invited me out for their youth leadership development conference whose theme is “Developing Youth-Professional Partnerships: From Tokenism to Meaningful Youth Participation.” Very exciting! So on Wednesday I’ll be presenting an extensive work session there for youth and adult professionals that examines youth involvement throughout our communities. I’m really excited to learn about Pennsylvania, as my research has shown me some spectacular activities that are happening there. Another exciting highlight of the trip includes meeting with Dana Mitra, a faculty and student voice researcher at Penn State University, and a group of local youth voice practitioners, as well. Good times.
In all of my workshops I strive to learn as much as I can from the participants. I am sure this group will prove a powerful muse, and I’m excited to soak it up and help it along. Wish me luck!