The Intern Chronicles: A Young Man's On-the-Job Training, Part 1

We're focusing on education and employment this month at NCFY, so we're reposting some of our favorite articles on those subjects. Here, we revisit the first article in a three-part series following Craig, a former shelter resident working as a part-time intern to help his peers. The series first ran in spring and summer 2012.

Meet Craig, resident-turned-intern at Sea Haven for Youth, a runaway and homeless youth program in North Myrtle Beach, SC.

Craig’s a college student working on a degree in human services. In his spare time, he performs comedy. As Sea Haven’s transitional living program intern, he helps with the tasks needed to take in new clients, like filling out forms and telling youth about the program’s policies and procedures. Sometimes, he goes to local high schools to talk to teens about Sea Haven and how it can help them. He also does things like answering the phones and filing.

Finding—and keeping—a part-time or summer job can be stressful for young people, especially those who are learning to live independently after having been homeless. NCFY is following Craig’s experience over the next few months to give a snapshot of the ups and downs of summer employment for young people in runaway and homeless youth programs.

Benefits of Interning

Melissa McGrath, director of the transitional living program and Craig’s boss and mentor, believes she can do much more than give Craig a paycheck this summer.

Though the money will certainly help Craig out, he’s also getting on-the-job experience and the same training that a regular staff person would get: how to follow agency policies and procedures, how to maintain professional boundaries with colleagues and youth clients. He’s also hoping to find out whether human services is the right education and career track for him.

McGrath thinks there’s a good chance the answer will be yes.

“Craig was easily chosen for this position because of his accomplishments in the program, his maturity level and his experiences while being homeless,” she says. “He can tell a client how the program worked for him and how it can work for them.”

Showing Initiative

After only three weeks on the job, Craig has already come up with a roulette-style game that he and other Sea Haven staff can use to educate high school students about homelessness and the Sea Haven transitional living program.

So far Craig says of the internship: “It helps me feel better and allows me to give back to people who are going through the same things I have been through.”

Tips: Prepping Youth for Summer Jobs and Internships

1. Help youth write their resumes by holding a clinic or giving one-on-one instruction and feedback.

2. Prepare youth for job interviews by role playing and helping them think about what questions to expect and how to answer them.

3. Teach youth how to read a paycheck stub.

4. Set clear goals about being on time, having a professional demeanor and taking initiative on the job.

New Guidance on When Eligible Students Can Begin Receiving Free School Meals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new guidance on the effective date of free school meal or milk benefits (PDF, 61KB) for "directly certified" students, including homeless children and teens.

The guidance clarifies that school districts may consider the effective date of eligibility to be the date the students’ documentation of eligibility is received, rather than the date the documentation is processed.

School districts may refund money paid by or on behalf of the student for reimbursable meals or milk between the effective date of the student’s eligibility and the date the direct certification is implemented at the student’s school.

The USDA defines direct certification as follows:

[D]etermining a child is eligible for free meals or free milk, as applicable, based on documentation obtained directly from the appropriate State or local agency or individuals authorized to certify that the child is:

  • a member of a household receiving assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; or
  • a foster child, homeless child, migrant child, Head Start or Even Start Child, or runaway child.

Read More

USDA memo: “Eligibility Effective Date for Directly Certified Students” (PDF, 61KB)

National Center for Homeless Education food and nutrition resources

NCFY articles about food assistance

Bright Idea: Five Ways to Help Parents and Their Transgender Teens and Young Adults

As program coordinator for iTEAM (Treatment Empowerment for Adolescents on the Move), a drop-in center run by CODAC Behavioral Health Services in Tucson, AZ, Ian Ellasante often encounters transgender youth who’ve ended up homeless because their parents rejected their identities. 

“As a part of the intake we do, we talk about their coming out process,” says Ellasante. Rather than being directly kicked out of their homes, he says, young people face home environments so uncomfortable they feel they have no choice but to leave.

“There often are issues of acceptance--parents who won't accept it, who will downplay their children's gender presentation or who feel the children are deviating from their conceptions of what a family is or should be,” says Zuryanette Reyes, a case manager at the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

The trauma of parents’ rejection and homelessness can lead to depression, sexual risk taking, substance abuse, or partner violence.

Things don’t have to be that way, Ellasante and Reyes say. Here are five ways youth and family services professionals can support the families of transgender youth, help parents get past their initial fears and concerns, and ensure young people’s safety:

  1. Discuss harassment. Talk to parents about the higher incidence of harassment and assault, but clarify that being transgender in and of itself is not the risk factor. Emphasize that the risk is discrimination because of their identities, or even just their appearance. Focus first on the negative behavior of the bully or abuser. 
  2. Discuss and maintain safety. Help parents to see that young people will not feel safe if their gender identity is not validated. “What we hear from our youth is that they would rather be on the street, sleeping in an abandoned building or couch hopping” than in a home or shelter where they feel unsafe, says Ellisante. “As a parent, as a service provider, just try to provide a safe, accepting environment.”
  3. Provide culturally responsive sexual health education. Talk to parents and teens about pregnancy prevention and STIs and discuss safety and protection as a whole. Don’t talk about what men do and what women do, Ellasante says. Instead focus on body parts. If you’re using a curriculum, change the language to be more inclusive. If scenarios in the curriculum are gendered, try changing the language to be more gender neutral.
  4. Work to empower teens. Teach parents ways to empower, engage with and discipline their children. At the same time, make teens aware they have support networks beyond their biological families and that they do not need to stay in an abusive home.
  5. Respect preferred gender pronouns. Ask all youth, no matter how they appear, their preferred gender pronoun. Do your best to use the pronoun that a young person specifies. Check in every so often to see whether the preferred pronoun is still the same, or if it has changed. Ask young people what pronouns they would like you to use when talking to a parent or guardian. That may be different from their usually preferred pronoun. It’s possible they are letting the guardian adjust gradually to their new identity. 

If you would like to see an example of an inclusive intake form, contact iTEAM to ask for a copy of their sample supplemental questionnaire.

Recommended Reading

"Ask NCFY: Meeting the Needs of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth," January 2012.

Unsuitable Bodies: Trans People and Cisnormativity in Shelter Services,” Canadian Social Work Review, Vol 28, No 1, 2011.

Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth With Open Arms,” NCFY Reports, July 2010.

Make Your Organization More Culturally Competent

A new brief (PDF, 803KB) from the Administration for Children & Families' Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation provides an overview of cultural competence for organizations serving children and families from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, with a particular focus on Hispanic people.

"Enhancing Cultural Competence in Social Service Agencies: A Promising Approach to Serving Diverse Children and Families" (PDF, 803KB) highlights the importance of understanding how "failure to properly address cultural differences creates and maintains mistrust and other potential conflicts between service providers and potential clients, further contributing to low quality of care and poor health outcomes."

For organizations to achieve full cultural competence and effectively assist clients, the authors of the brief say, appropriate organizational policies, procedures, and staff training must be in place. Ultimately, they write, being culturally competent requires a commitment to understanding another's beliefs, morals, and values and being actively aware of what affects and holds value for your clients.

Read more from NCFY about cultural competence.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

Ask NCFY: How Can I Be a Grant Reviewer for the Family and Youth Services Bureau?

NCFY recently received this question on our live chat. Here, we share an expanded version of our response.

Q: How can I be a grant reviewer for Family and Youth Services Bureau? I am a school counselor—so I’m interested in issues relating to preventive programs or education.

A: We’re glad you’re interested in reviewing grant applications for the Family and Youth Services Bureau. FYSB relies on experienced youth and family services professionals to review applications for the discretionary grants offered by its Runaway and Homeless Youth, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, and Family Violence Prevention and Services programs. You can learn more about each of the programs on the FYSB website.

When you apply, you enter a pool of potential reviewers. If you’re selected as a grant reviewer or review committee chairperson, you will be responsible for evaluating grant applications and assisting FYSB in selecting the best programs for funding. Former grant reviewers say the experience has benefitted them personally and professionally.

You can submit your application any time.

One thing to remember: You can’t become a reviewer if you’ve submitted an application for FYSB funding in the same year. FYSB grant reviews usually occur during the summer, so if you miss this year’s cycle, you can reapply next spring.

Other federal agencies and offices also recruit grant reviewers, and have their own processes for doing so. Go to the website of the federal entity you’re interested in and search for “grant review” or “peer reviewers.”

To contact us via live chat, go to our home page and click the Ask NCFY promo at the top. You can also read more Ask NCFY articles in our archives.

Working With Schools to House and Serve Homeless Students

We're focusing on education and employment this month at NCFY, so we're reposting some of our favorite articles on those subjects. Here, we revisit a report showcasing how educators and school administrators can partner with district McKinney-Vento liaisons to support students experiencing homelessness.

When it comes to helping homeless youth finish high school, research has shown that stable housing plays an important role. But helping students who are on their own find and maintain safe, appropriate housing is easier said than done.

In a number of school districts across the country, educators, youth workers, policy makers and continuums of care for people experiencing homelessness are working together to make housing a reality for unaccompanied young people. The October 2012 update to “Housing + High School = Success,” a report first released by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in 2009, showcases the successes and illuminates the struggles of several of these partnerships.

Of course, we like to see public and private organizations joining forces to help homeless young people. And organizations that receive funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs are required to work closely with their local McKinney-Vento liaisons, who are federally mandated to protect homeless youths’ educational rights.

So we were interested to see some of the ways the seven partnerships included in the NAEHCY report collaborated to build relationships among local school boards, administrators, teachers and the district’s McKinney-Vento liaison in search of more stable housing options and better learning experiences for young people. For example:

  • Youth workers at a Virginia-based program invite students and teachers to the youth’s intake meeting to help them figure out what services may be the best fit.
  • Several programs ask trusted teachers and school personnel to help youth become more comfortable living in a host home (similar to a foster home) and to keep an eye out for any problems adjusting.
  • One school district leased a home it owned near a high school to a housing program at no charge.
  • After one Washington organization closed its doors, the nearby school district began a search for funding that is expected to lead to the reopening of two youth homes.

If you’re interested in building or strengthening your own community partnerships in the interest of housing homeless students, you can find sample documents used to design and implement these programs on the NAEHCY website.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

Primary Sources: Examining the Connection Between Sexual Orientation and Suicidal Behaviors

“Sexual Orientation and Suicide Ideation, Plans, Attempts, and Medically Serious Attempts: Evidence From Local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, 2001-2009” (abstract). Deborah M. Stone, Feijun Luo, Lijing Ouyang, Caroline Lippy, Marci F. Hertz, and Alex E. Crosby. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 104, No. 2 (February 2014).

What it’s about: Researchers Stone, Luo, Ouyang, Lippy, Hertz and Crosby wanted to see how young people’s sexual orientation might impact a range of suicidal behaviors. Specifically, they wanted to know: Do young people’s sexual identities and past sexual experiences affect their likelihood of having suicidal thoughts, planning or attempting suicide, or needing to be hospitalized because of a suicide attempt?

To answer the question, the researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. The YRBS surveys, administered from 2001 to 2009, asked high school students a variety of questions about their health-related risks and behaviors. For this study, the researchers focused on five cities in which teens were asked to choose terms that best described their sexual orientation and with whom they had experienced sexual contact (same sex, opposite sex, both sexes, no contact).

Experiences of transgender youth were outside the scope of this study.

Why read it: Prior studies show that youth who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more likely to consider and attempt suicide. These suicidal behaviors may be linked to risk factors such as depression, isolation and alcohol dependence that often stem from discrimination and stigma.

But researchers haven't always looked at the full range of behaviors associated with suicide, particularly suicide planning and suicide attempts that result in near-fatal injury. Many studies have also looked at sexual identity and behavior interchangeably, despite concerns that some young people engaging in same-sex contact do not identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other non-heterosexual orientations.

Understanding the full scope of suicidal behavior can help family- and youth-serving agencies implement policies and programs that better address suicidal risk factors. The findings of this study could be used to train staff on providing safe, inclusive environments for young people regardless of their sexual orientation and behaviors.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: Compared to their heterosexual peers, youth who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning were approximately 2 to 3 times more likely to report the suicide-related behavior and outcomes that the researchers were studying. Youth who said they had sexual contact with both males and females reported the highest levels of suicide risk, while students with no sexual contact reported the lowest.

Interestingly, when researchers accounted for other variables such as dating violence and hard drug use, the relationship between sexual orientation and suicidal outcomes became less clear for boys. But girls who had had same-sex and both-sex contact still showed increased odds of suicidal thoughts, planning and non-medically serious attempts after those factors were taken into account.

These varying results show that lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth—and youth who have same-sex contact—face a wide array of experiences. Still, the authors write, their findings reveal enough of a link between the range of sexual orientations and myriad suicidal behaviors to justify fostering greater awareness of suicide prevention among families, schools and social service providers. Further research is also needed, they say, to examine how factors like how supportive youth's communities are and how hopeful young people feel about their lives impact the connection between sexual orientation and suicidal risk.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on sexual minority youth and suicide prevention in our digital library

Previous studies have looked at suicide risk and prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth (418KB, PDF). The Trevor Project offers suicide prevention training with a focus on LGBTQ youth for young people, college students and adults.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.


Q&A: Community Gardening Helps a Portland, Oregon, Neighborhood—and its Families—Grow

This story is first in a two-part series about the Village Gardens project in Portland, Oregon.

Finding healthy food in the St. Johns Woods community of Portland, Oregon, used to be a difficult task—particularly for low-income residents who got around on foot or stretched their dollars at corner stores. To improve community members’ access to fresh produce and encourage positive change in the neighborhood, St. Johns Woods’ leaders approached Janus Youth Programs in 2001 and pitched the idea of starting a community garden.

Janus had started out as a residential program for homeless and substance-addicted youth. The organization saw the garden as a seed of change—a chance to address communitywide issues that limit young people’s ability to thrive. The resulting project, Village Gardens, has become more than a place where fruits and vegetables grow. The initiative provides tools and expertise to gardeners of all ages, and includes a market where neighbors can pick up healthy prepared foods and swap family recipes.

Village Gardens Program Director Amber Baker spoke with us about community engagement, youth leadership development and the positive impact of gardening.

NCFY: Can you talk about the community empowerment approach behind Village Gardens?

Baker: For those of us who don’t sleep in the community every night, we know that those who are most affected by the project should be the ones leading it. All of the work that we have taken on, all of our project priorities, have really been defined by members of the community. That, in and of itself, is the main goal of [Village Gardens]—community empowerment and community building—and we’ve found that food is a really good tool for doing that.  

NCFY: Food Works was created as a youth leadership program for young people ages 14 to 18, and some teens can earn school credit for participating. How can gardening translate to leadership or academic success?

Baker: What we see with the Food Works program is that we’re really helping young people build confidence. We really take our young people seriously and ask them to make decisions, and then we support those decisions. That helps young people learn that they have something to say and that they have a role to play in the world and that they are valued by adults.

In terms of healthy food, there’s a lot of research around nutrition and its impact on young people’s ability to focus and work in the school environment. But we’re also addressing food issues in a community that really does struggle with hunger and food insecurity. Helping households to meet some basic needs through income and food support really helps them to focus on other parts of their lives, not just surviving.  

NCFY: Have you seen any benefits working with children, teens and adults simultaneously?

Baker: Intergenerational connection has been a huge strength and a huge value at Village Gardens. Our teenagers help support the younger children by gardening with them and mentoring them. Then, they become known as safe, approachable teenagers in the community. We’ve also heard adults from the neighborhood say, ”We can recognize who the Food Works youth are in our community. They address us; they’re friendly and approachable.” On the flipside, our young people have said it’s really important for them to be able to identify who are the safe adults in the neighborhood beyond their own households.

One of our Food Works crew leaders, she’s been involved in our programming since she was probably three. Her mother is now part of our program and is doing a lot of health promotion work as a community health worker. So it’s been great to see that intergenerational connecting broadly, but also within families. I think it inspires both age groups to see the other really involved.

View a slideshow about the Food Works Summer Crew.

Listen to a NCFY podcast about another youth gardening program, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

New York City's New Guide to Working With Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Children and Youth

The New York City Administration for Children’s Services recently released "Safe & Respected: Policy, Best Practices, and Guidance for Serving Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Children and Youth Involved in the Child Welfare, Detention, and Juvenile Justice Systems" (PDF, 2MB). It's the nation's first guide to best practices for working with transgender youth and young people who don't conform to gender norms (the ways boys and girls are expected to think, dress, behave, and be).

And though it's specific to New York in some places, we think "Safe and Respected" is a great primer for anyone who may come into contact with transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth.

The guide includes an overview of the challenges these children and youth face in the child welfare system, a glossary of terms, and a look at resources, policies, and promising practices especially useful to youth workers.

Importantly, each chapter includes practices to avoid in the interest of respecting and affirming transgender and gender non-confming young people.

You'll also find sample reporting and assessments forms and a full list of New York resources that support transgender and gender non-conforming youth. Other localities may want to consider recreating this comprehensive guide.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

Primary Sources: Can Mental Health and Housing Services Help Youth Hold Down a Job?

We're focusing on education and employment this month at NCFY, so we're reposting some of our favorite articles on those subjects. Here, we revisit a study on how a workforce development model may impact homeless youth.

Adapting the Individual Placement and Support Model with Homeless Young Adults” (abstract). Child and Youth Care Forum, Vol. 41, No. 3 (June 2012).

What it's about: Researchers wanted to test whether the Individual Placement and Support, or IPS, model, an approach to workforce development, helps homeless young adults with mental illness hold down a job. The researchers followed 36 homeless youth ages 18 to 24 for 10 months. Youth had been diagnosed with a mental illnesses in the previous year. Twenty of the youth participated in an IPS program with a drop-in center as well as counseling, housing and other services. The other 16—the control group--were in a program that only had drop-in services.

Why read it: Studies show that many homeless young adults suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, conduct disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. These conditions, combined with lack of stable housing, make it difficult for youth to find and keep a job. Unfortunately, traditional vocational programs do not typically speak to the mental health needs of young adult participants. This study is among the first to look at an evidence-based model that combines employment services with other supports tailored to the needs of homeless young adults with mental illness.

Biggest take away for youth workers: Compared to their peers in the control group, the IPS group was nearly twice as likely to have worked during the 10 months of the study. The researchers say that having access to permanent housing may be one reason IPS youth did better. Other ingredients may have played a role as well. The IPS model has seven principles that guided the researchers’ implementation of the model among homeless young adults:

  1. Any English-speaking homeless young person between 18 and 24 with a diagnosed mental illness who expresses desire to work is eligible.
  2. IPS experts and agency staff meet weekly to discuss participants’ case files and progress in all areas, including mental health.
  3. An employment specialist helps youth get community-based jobs at competitive wages.
  4. Case managers work closely with the state and local public social services agencies to educate youth on the impact that paid employment will have on disability benefits, food stamps and other forms of public assistance.
  5. Within one month of the initial vocational assessment, participants work with the employment specialist on a job search.
  6. Staff provides individualized assistance to working participants for as long as needed.
  7. Staff considers what type of employment participants are interested in and guides them in that direction.

Additional reference: The researchers in this study used the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (PDF, 142KB) to screen homeless young adults for mental illness.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)


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