Primary Sources: Adapting and Evaluating Family Group Decision Making in Tribal Communities

"Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) with Lakota Families in Two Tribal Communities: Tools to Facilitate FGDM Implementation and Evaluation" (abstract). Child Welfare, Vol. 91, No. 3 (2012).

What it’s about: Together, Sicangu Child and Family Services on the Rosebud Reservation, Lakota Oyate Wakanyeja Owicakiyapi on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Casey Family Programs, and the University of Minnesota Duluth adapted the evidence-based Family Group Decision Making model for use in Native American communities. FGDM is centered on a half-day group-decision-making meeting that engages families, as well as other important people in a young person’s life, in a youth's treatment plan. This article outlines the challenges and successes the partners encountered, particularly issues unique to Native communities, such as intergenerational grief and trauma and concerns stemming from past misuse of data gathered from Native American communities.

Why read it: The Family and Youth Services Bureau promotes the use of evidence-based practices such as FGDM. Oftentimes, practices need to be adapted to fit the cultural context in which they are being used. This article describes that process in two Native communities.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: At the two organizations that took part in this study, some staff resisted change and did not buy in to the use of FGDM, preferring other models they were already using. Their resistance may have reflected a tendency to underestimate families' ability to make decisions on their own, without the input of social service professionals, the authors write. Some staff were also confused because some FGDM referrals are voluntary while others are court-mandated. Staff thought mandated sessions clashed with the idea of FGDM as a voluntary forum.

Despite the challenges the project faced, the authors write that FGDM can be adapted by each community to meet its needs. They say that their acknowledging the historical factors that influence state and Tribal relations made staff more likely to accept FGDM. The authors conclude by noting that many tribal stakeholders believe FGDM and other forms of family engagement will lead to fewer child placements in out-of-home care. With proper implementation, the authors say, decisions about the future of a child's life can be made more efficiently and equitably.

Additional reference: Read "Bright Idea: Professionals Take a Back Seat in Family Group Decision Making" for an in-depth look at FGDM in practice. 

Share Your Advice on Keeping Young People Safe

Do you or the young people you work with have advice on how to keep youth safe and off the streets?  The National Runaway Safeline wants to hear from you!

To help build awareness for National Runaway Prevention Month in November, the Safeline is collecting tips from youth and adults about how to do things -- like improve family communication and manage conflict -- that might keep young people from running away.

Tips will be reviewed by an expert panel, and the best will be featured on the NRS website throughout the month of November.

Panelists include:

  • Sofia Katsaggelos, NRS Board Member and youth representative, and the entire NRS Youth Activist League
  • Cyndi Lauper, civil rights activist and Grammy, Emmy and Tony award-winning artist
  • Congressman David Reichert (R-WA)
  • Darla Bardine, National Network For Youth
  • James Garbarino, author and professor at Loyola University Chicago
  • Charlotte Latvala, columnist and magazine contributor on parenting
  • Christina Tynan-Wood, blogger for Momster on the Family Circle website
  • Maureen Blaha, Executive Director, National Runaway Safeline

Deadline: Sunday, September 8.

Learn more and submit your tip

Education Department Promotes Rights of Pregnant and Parenting Students

If you work with pregnant and parenting teens, you know the struggles they face to stay in school -- and the vital importance of furthering their educations for their futures and that of their families. Federal law protects young people's right to an education. As part of an ongoing effort to help more young people finish high school, the U.S. Department of Education has re-issued a pamphlet explaining the rights of pregnant and parenting students.

Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students” (PDF, 269KB), explains requirements tied to Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs and activities. The law applies to all secondary and postsecondary schools that receive federal financial assistance, although exceptions are made for schools operated by a religious organization.

The pamphlet lists actions schools and others who work with young people can take to meet the needs--and rights--of pregnant and parenting students. Here are four points to share with youth:

  1. It's illegal for schools to stop a pregnant student from taking part in classes, extracurricular activities or sports teams.
  2. Schools can create programs and classes designed for pregnant students, but they must be voluntary and comparable to those offered to other students.
  3. If a youth misses school because of her pregnancy or because she has given birth, schools are required to excuse any absences deemed by a doctor as “medically necessary.” If special services like tutoring are offered to other students with temporary medical conditions, those services must also be made available to pregnant students.
  4. Schools must address any harassment or hostility aimed at pregnant or parenting young people.

Read “Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students” (PDF, 269KB).

Primary Sources: Can Participating in Online Forums Improve the Well-being of Teen Moms and Moms-to-be?

Forging Friendships, Soliciting Support: A Mixed-Method Examination of Message Boards for Pregnant Teens and Teen Mothers" (abstract). Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29 (September 2012).

What it's about: Researchers at the University of California wanted to know whether and how peer support promotes the overall well-being of pregnant and parenting teens. The researchers collected data from four online message boards, each with a different focus: teen pregnancy, teen issues in general, pregnancy, and health.

Why read it: Many young people go to virtual communities for advice and support. And pregnant and parenting teens may need and want a lot of both those things. This study helps family and youth workers understand how online forums might help pregnant and parenting teens get support that helps them and their babies to be well.

Biggest take aways for family and youth workers: This study's qualitative findings show that yes, pregnant and parenting teens experience improved well-being as a result of peer support. Specifically, youth message boards that are focused on a specific genre or topic and representative of a certain age group provide a sense of belonging and support youth may not be able to receive offline. Online message boards can widen youth's network of peers with similar experiences, and they can give youth a place to discuss personal concerns they may not feel comfortable talking about in person.

Researchers found that many youth who participated in the forum wanted to stay in touch with other members--keeping a permanent connection. The researchers also found that relationships formed in the forum helped the pregnant and parenting teens' overall wellbeing. Teens in the forums felt strongly connected to one another. When one young woman didn't post for a while, other members wondered where she was. When she returned, she posted this message: "I am sorry if I made you guys worry! I am here and still love you all!"

But the authors also caution that support-driven message boards have their drawbacks. If youth workers encourage youth to use online forums, they should also build in some monitoring or follow-up, the authors say, to make sure youth aren't getting incorrect medical advice or being cyber-bullied.

Additional Reference: For more information on helping youth use social media in a positive way, read "Research Roundup: Online Social Networks May Protect Homeless Youth From Negative Influences" and "Q&A: How to Help Youth Make Positive Use of Social Media."

32 Fresh Starts: Graduation Day at a Boston GED Program

In June, 32 Boston young people in took a big step forward. After passing the GED high-school equivalency tests, they were honored at a graduation ceremony held by their GED program at youth-serving agency Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

“This graduation means better jobs, college, the possibility of owning a home one day,” says instructor Jennifer Cale. Many of the young men and women will go on to Bridge’s college prep course.

Open Enrollment: The Affordable Care Act Helps a Vermont Drop-in Center Connect Youth to Health Insurance

With the October 1 launch of a new national health insurance marketplace put in place by the Affordable Care Act, Americans will have a new way to find affordable health care.

But they won’t be left to their own devices. The Act requires states to fund a system of “navigators,” organizations that help people understand their health care options under the law. And in Vermont, one of those navigators will take a decidedly youth-friendly approach.

Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington, VT, is one of 18 organizations awarded funding by the state’s health department to help people understand their health care options and find insurance. The runway and homeless youth organization and Family and Youth Services Bureau grantee plans to expand its drop-in center to educate young people ages 18 to 24 about coverage options and provisions of the Act that may affect them. Bridget LaRoche, Spectrum's drop-in and outreach coordinator, says the organization aims to enroll 300 young people in insurance during the first year.

“It just seemed like a really easy fit for us because we were already doing this work of helping people navigate the state benefits website and figuring out how to get health insurance,” LaRoche says. “We’ve been helping people do that for years.”

Translating the Legislation

LaRoche says Spectrum staff will be trained to understand as much as possible about the Act and the marketplace and translate that information into youth-friendly language. For example, an upcoming expansion of Medicaid eligibility may be especially useful for youth with no stable income. Homeless youth may be less likely to benefit from a provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

“Everything's up to the person as far as what they want to choose for their plan. We just help them understand all the options and then it’s up to them,” LaRoche says.

Getting the Word Out

To educate the community about the health insurance marketplace and Spectrum's services as a navigator, staff plan to set up an information booth in a popular pedestrian mall near their office and to get the word out through social media, email distribution lists and recurring community meetings. Spectrum is also collaborating with other state navigator organizations, LaRoche says, to expand their collective reach rather than duplicating efforts.

“We’re trying to get the word out that we can help with this. If you’re a youth between 18 and 24 who needs help with this health insurance stuff, we’re the people to talk to.”

Learn more about your state's health insurance marketplace and how to access a list of local navigator organizations. The Administration for Children & Families is also establishing an Office of the Chief Medical Officer listserv to help communicate up-to-date information about the Affordable Care Act. Email kevin.powell@acf.hhs.gov if you'd like to be added to that list.

Lessons Learned From the Youth Count! Project

A new report published by Urban Institute shares lessons learned from Youth Count!, a federal demonstration project meant to improve the way communities count the number of young people experiencing homelessness. Released in July, “Youth Count! Process Study” (PDF, 1837KB) shares challenges and best practices gleaned from nine pilot sites that conducted youth point-in-time counts last winter. The report shares participants’ efforts to identify the scope of the problem in their local communities, as well as strategies that can be adapted on a larger scale to produce more accurate, useful data.

For key takeaways, we recommend reading Chapter 10, which includes recommendations related to promising practices and areas for improvement. Recommendations include:

  1. Expanding coverage. Many of the participants' street counts occurred in “hot spot” areas where youth are already known to congregate. Randomly selecting blocks across the area may uncover additional youth wishing to fly under the radar.
  2. Engaging schools. Although some sites used schools to promote Youth Count! events, others made little effort to engage schools as partners. Prioritizing this relationship and cultivating it earlier in the process may help communities overcome pushback by schools administrators and reach an audience of homeless youth not already receiving services.
  3. Surveying everyone, not just youth who “look homeless.” Because homeless youth often look like their housed peers, it can be difficult to identify which young people should be included in the count. Talking to all young people they see on the street, or at least a representative sample, will help providers count beyond those youth they (or homeless youth participating in the survey process) recognize.
  4. Improving survey formatting and administration. Factors such as survey length and questions asked varied widely from site to site, and protocols for distributing the survey were often overlooked in practice. Pre-testing can help participating areas identify uniform best practices for creating and administering reliable, valid surveys.

Read the report (PDF, 1837KB), or watch a short video (also embedded below) explaining why it's important to count youth experiencing homelessness. You can also watch the Urban Institute's recent panel presentation highlighting findings from the report.

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