Youth workers who routinely hear traumatic stories may take on their clients’ feelings of pain and hopelessness. Others feel overly stressed or tired. These symptoms may be signs of secondary trauma, and they can be prevented and managed through self-care—taking care of your physical, emotional and mental needs so you can better help others. Here are some resources we recommend for youth workers seeking to develop a self-care routine:
- “Release: Self-Care for Trauma Workers” tells the stories of three youth workers who deal with work-induced stress and trauma with arts and meditation. The 12-minute short film comes with a discussion guide.
- The University of Buffalo School of Social Work offers a series of self-care tools to help social workers examine their lifestyles, develop a self-care plan and overcome barriers to seeing that plan through.
- A fact sheet (PDF, 724KB) from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains the impact of secondary traumatic stress on child-serving professionals and provides tips for creating a supportive environment at your organization.
More from NCFY
“Bright Idea: The Sanctuary Model Makes ‘Trauma-Informed’ a Way of Life”
“Voices from the Field: Dr. Sandra Bloom on the Sanctuary Model”
“New Podcast with Sanctuary Model Co-Creator Dr. Sandra Bloom”
“Resilience Among Urban American Indian Adolescents: Exploration Into the Role of Culture, Self-Esteem, Subjective Well-Being, and Social Support.” (PDF, 447KB). American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2012).
What it’s about: Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University surveyed 196 Native American youth, ages 14-18, in an urban area in the south central United States. The researchers wanted to see what role culture, self-esteem, perceived mental and physical health and well-being, and social support played in fostering the teens' resilience. Young people in the study came from 20 different tribes.
Why read it: Although we know that more Native American young people are growing up in urban areas than in rural ones, a lot of the research we have on Native American health and well-being has focused on people living in reservations. This study aims to fill some of our gaps in knowledge about young Native people who live in cities, where they might get less exposure to native culture than do their peers living on reservations.
Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors define resilience as “a dynamic process that enables the individual to respond or adapt under adverse situations.” To measure resilience, they looked at how well the teens were doing in school. Questions on the survey included “Is it important for you to make good grades?” and “Do you put a lot of effort into school?”
Studies of youth on reservations have found that being connected to tribal culture promotes young people's resilience more than anything else. In contrast, this study of urban Native youth found that teens who felt strongly supported by their friends had the highest levels of resilience. In fact, social support was more than four times more influential than culture.
The authors say their finding may be a result of the smaller number of Native American people and resources in metropolitan areas, compared to those in reservations--there just isn’t as much Native Culture in the city to positively influence youth. While they write that further research is needed, the authors also recommend that people who work with Native youth look into the ways they can use both culture and friends to promote Native young people's well-being.
Additional references: Among the tools the researchers used to measure young people's health and well-being were the "Native American Community Health Survey: Youth" and the "Satisfaction With Life Scale."
Our article "NCFY Recommends: Connecting Native American Youth to Their Heritage" lists resources that help young adults embrace their heritage and connect with peers.
(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children & Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)
Three years ago, child welfare experts at the University of Minnesota met with staff members at Anu Family Services, a nonprofit with locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, to discuss a problem that concerned both parties. Research showed that youth aging out of foster care did worse when they weren’t connected to caring adults. The practitioners at Anu felt they couldn’t adequately address the problem because they didn’t have a consistent way to assess their clients' connectedness to others.
The two groups' conversations led them to create the Youth Connections Scale, a tool meant to measure how well youth think they are connected to an adult support system. Young people answer questions designed to reveal how supported they feel in their daily lives, and to identify adults they think they can count on in the long-term.
We talked to Annette Semanchin Jones, research project specialist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, about developing the scale and how it can support at-risk youth who don’t live in foster care.
NCFY: How did your collaboration with Anu Family Services influence the process?
Semanchin Jones: The practitioners in the field really drove the question of "now that we’re trying to identify and engage supportive adults for these youth, is there a way that we as practitioners can measure the impact of the work that we’re doing? Is there a way to see if we’re increasing the number of supportive connections or using the tools that will help youth feel connected?"
So really, it was driven by the field, to say that we would like to do something to evaluate the work that we’re already doing.
NCFY: Do you think other at-risk youth can benefit from these types of relationships?
Semanchin Jones: It really does seem that there are concrete benefits for all youth when they have those sustained life-long connections. In the literature, there were positive effects on self-esteem and increased social and relational skill-building, so being able to develop and maintain healthy connections with supportive adults can actually help youth develop relationships in other aspects of their lives.
I absolutely think that these concepts would apply to all youth, not just in the child welfare system, but really across the board.
NCFY: Youth who complete the scale end up with several scores that youth workers can compare over time. What other benefits have youth workers mentioned?
Semanchin Jones: The tool is designed to have the social worker and youth fill it out together. It’s not just a checklist that the youth is going through, but it’s really an opportunity for the social worker to ask questions of the youth about their level of connectedness and who they feel connected to. This can help them identify some folks that the social worker can use in service planning.
The scale itself is not highly complex, but I think just having an intentional tool and intentional space to talk about these things, some of the workers were really surprised at how in-depth some of the youth went. It really just opened up some different conversations and dialogues they had not had with the youth before then.
NCFY wrote about a study of the Youth Connections Scale in “Primary Sources: New Tool Measures Youth Connections to Adults.”
You can download the Youth Connections Scale and information about how to use it for free by visiting the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare website.
Q: We are beginning to implement an evidence-based practice in our transitional living program, and we’re having some resistance from staff. How should we handle this?
A: Introducing an evidence-based practice can be tricky. Staff may feel uncomfortable with change, or they may think that management is discounting all the good work they’ve done in the past. There are a number of things you can do to bring them along for the ride, rather than imposing the new system on them.
“Before introducing a model in its entirety to staff, it helps to highlight the things they are already doing successfully and then tying it into that model,” says Shemeka Frazier-Sorrells, program director of Transitionz, a transitional living program for runaway and homeless youth run by CHRIS Kids, a social service agency in Atlanta, GA. Transitionz has been using the evidence-based Transition to Independence Process, called TIP, for 6 months.
Sarah Ziegler, performance and quality improvement director at CHRIS Kids, also recommends translating the evidence-based approach into laypersons’ language.
“Terms that only a clinician would understand can be alienating to staff, families and youth,” she says. “We start talking about it in very simple terms, and then we can build upon it with philosophy and the technical aspects of these approaches.”
Zeigler says to emphasize the specific ways the new approach will strengthen staff’s interactions with youth. “When staff are empowered with many ways to develop, strengthen and engage youth, it really leads to better outcomes and more job satisfaction,” she says.
Seeing is believing, so once you start putting the model in place, make sure to point out the ways it is improving outcomes for youth.
“When the staff is able to see changes happening more quickly in the youth, they get a greater sense of accomplishment because they are helping the young people achieve goals,” Frazier-Sorrells says.
“Measuring Youth Connections: A Component of Relational Permanence for Foster Youth” (abstract). Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 35, No. 3 (March 2013).
What it’s about: Researchers at the University of Minnesota evaluated the validity and reliability of the Youth Connections Scale, a tool designed to measure how strongly youth in out-of-home placements are connected to caring adults. The authors tested the scale on 53 foster youth ages 15 to 20, who completed the instrument with the help of a social worker two different times. The same youth were then evaluated using another tool that also looks at supportive relationships.
Why read it: Youth living away from home often lose their connection to adults who can provide an emotional and financial safety net. Recognizing that such support does not always come from biological family members or legal caregivers, researchers have begun emphasizing “relational permanence,” the idea of a lifelong connection to at least one caring adult. Prior to this study, youth workers lacked a consistent, effective way to gauge whether a young person has that kind of a connection.
Biggest takeaway for youth workers: The pilot study results suggest the Youth Connections Scale is a promising new instrument for measuring youth connectedness, and for guiding youth workers as they help young people build and maintain relationships. Specifically, researchers found strong similarities in participants' scores between the first and second times they took the test and compared to results from another scale that had already been validated. Because the study focused on youth in foster care, further tests are needed to see if the Youth Connections Scale can help other youth living away from their families, such as runaway and homeless young people.
Because the scale is designed as a collaborative process between a youth and his or her case workers, the authors write, it can help social workers build trust. Program administrators may also find the scale helpful, they say, because it gives them a concrete way to address the Administration for Children and Families’ emphasis on emotional and social well-being.
Additional references: Learn more about the Youth Connections Scale in materials created by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare.
(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 these and other publications.)
Last week, NCFY shared several ways for youth-serving organizations to participate in National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10. In the spirit of the day, we’ve rounded up some resources geared toward young, HIV-positive women who find themselves pregnant.
- AIDSinfo, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers a series of pregnancy fact sheets with topics ranging from anti-HIV medications to reducing the potential transmission of HIV during labor and delivery.
- The Center for HIV Law & Policy compiled a two-page list detailing the rights of HIV-positive women seeking medical treatment for their pregnancy.
- Youth workers can order posters sharing a toll-free number for information on HIV and pregnancy through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s One Test, Two Lives campaign.
Programs looking to prevent HIV among teen girls, including expectant mothers, can find evidence-based interventions via the Office of Adolescent Health’s National Resource Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention Among Adolescents.
More from NCFY
"Research Roundup: Helping Minority Youth Avoid STDs, HIV and Unplanned Pregnancy"
"NCFY Recommends: World AIDS Day Resource Roundup"
"Ask NCFY: Providing Support and Respect for Young People Living with HIV
Sarah Jo Schilling serves on the executive committee of UNITY, a national coalition of Native youth councils. In our latest podcast, she tells us why leadership opportunities are so important for Native youth.
"I think it's important to have our Native youth out there in the public eye because they’re doing good things and then other youth can recognize that and that might inspire them," Sarah says.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness this month released a detailed outline of its framework for ending youth homelessness, first unveiled as part of last fall’s amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategy for ending homelessness.
“Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action” (PDF, 803KB) sets out the steps necessary to end homelessness among young people by 2020. The framework, developed over more than a year by a federal interagency youth homelessness workgroup co-led by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families and USICH, outlines two strategies:
Strategy 1: Get better data
►Develop better strategies for counting youth in point-in-time counts of homelessness
►Coordinate federal data systems that collect information on youth experiencing homelessness and their receipt of services
►Launch a national study on the prevalence and characteristics of youth homelessness
►Use the national study methodology to make periodic estimates of youth homelessness over time
Strategy 2: Build capacity for impact
►Disseminate a preliminary, research-informed intervention model for approaching service delivery
►Review screening and assessment tools and effective interventions to improve youth outcomes
►Improve service capacity for homeless youth and subpopulations
►Implement service strategies and evaluate those strategies
Go to USICH’s Framework to End Youth Homelessness page, which includes slides you can use to talk about Opening Doors in your community.
Read NCFY’s coverage of Opening Doors and the framework for ending youth homelessness.
“The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox: A Complete Guide to Program Effectiveness, Performance Measurement, and Results”
by Robert M. Penna
In this guide, a family services professional and consultant for one of the nation’s leading charity evaluators helps nonprofits understand program performance measurement and evaluation. This book turns research jargon into plain language for staff at any level of your organization.
It’s a fact of life: Nonprofit programs, including youth-serving organizations, have to be able to show funders and the public that they really do improve the lives of the people they aim to help. But terms like “outcomes,” “effectiveness” and “performance” can seem like Greek to youth workers who got into the field simply because they love working with young people.
Robert Penna’s “The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox: A Complete Guide to Program Effectiveness, Performance Measurement, and Results” can serve as a textbook for managers and line staff who want to understand what all the fuss is about. Penna, a consultant for Charity Navigator, makes the case that an outcomes approach isn’t just about pleasing donors. It’s about making meaningful change in the world.
Not Every Accomplishment Is a Meaningful Outcome
Penna says that to make sure you’re aiming for the right kinds of changes in young people’s lives, you need to begin with a well-developed “outcomes statement” that describes the situation you intend youth to be in when your work with them has ended. He writes:
… a well-developed outcomes statement not only responds to the problem but adds value and is a positive improvement on the situation we wish to change. A meaningful change must alter the client or situation by replacing a negative behavior with a positive one; a self-destructing behavior is replaced with self-actualizing, a harmful condition is replaced with a protective one. A meaningful change will be able to show that useful knowledge has been absorbed and applied. Sustainable outcomes will continue to prove useful beyond the intervention.
Unless you’re an outcomes junkie, we recommend taking this book in small doses. One quick way to benefit from the book is to simply flip the pages and scan the margins, which include aphorisms, illustrations and contact information for the creators of management tools such as The RAND Corporation’s Getting to Outcomes and The Fiscal Policy Studies Institute’s 5-Step Process for Results-based Budgeting.
For visual and hands-on learners, Penna helpfully includes graphs, images and exercises that aim to give a clearer picture of the topic being discussed. For example, in Chapter 10, “Communicating Our Outcomes,” Penna explains the Scales and Ladders, or S&L, tool for tracking a particular set of variables. Penna uses the example of at-risk youth’s school attendance, literacy, job skills, socialization skills, and interest to show how the scale tracks progress over time and how that information can be used to determine outcomes.
Exercises like these are helpful to a youth worker who may not be knowledgeable about the concept of outcomes but does understand the “on the ground” realities of youth work.
In a recent article in our Primary Sources column, we looked at a study of three therapies that have been used for years by mental health professionals to help people with drug abuse problems. In the study, all three therapies helped runaway and homeless youth and their families communicate better and improved their mental health. But there are differences in how they are delivered and what outcomes they target. We put together a comparison to help runaway and homeless youth workers decide if one or more of these approaches might be right for their programs:
|Therapy||Motivational Interviewing||Ecologically-Based Family Therapy||Community Reinforcement Approach|
|Approach||A therapist tries to create conditions that will motivate patients and help them become committed to changing their lives. A shorter version, called brief motivational interviewing, has been found to be just as effective as the original. Some people think the brief version is a better fit for highly mobile homeless youth.||This type of therapy helps runaway teens with drug problems and their families communicate better. Together, the therapist, youth and family address immediate needs, resolve the crisis of running away and try to reconnect emotionally.||The community reinforcement approach aims to replace drug and alcohol use with healthy behaviors. The version for teens, called adolescent community reinforcement, was adapted for a drop-in center for street youth.|
|Goal||Less drinking and drug use and more follow-through in treatment||Less drinking and drug use; better family relationships and reunification; prevention of HIV||Less drinking and drug use|
|How it works||Therapists using this approach are supposed to
||The therapy takes into account the individual, interpersonal, and environmental context as well as the strengths and needs of the family and its members. Techniques include:
||For the adolescent version of this approach, therapists choose from 19 procedures that address, for example:
|Who it's for||18- to 25- year-olds||12- to 17-year-olds||13- to 25-year-olds|
|How long it lasts||Motivational interviewing varies in length. The brief version can last one to five sessions.||Includes 12 family therapy sessions at home or in an office, and two to four individual HIV-prevention sessions, lasting 50 minutes each, over a period of three to six months (including follow-up after youth return home).||Varies. Shown to be effective in inpatient, outpatient, home, and community settings.|
|Pros||This highly replicable treatment has a lot of research behind it and can be done in a brief period of time.||This therapy was designed for working with runaway youth.||This therapy was adapted for drop-in centers for street youth.|
|Cons||Motivational interviewing may work best when therapists have professional training in it. In addition, this approach only addresses the young person’s self-motivation, and not family or community problems that may compound their addictions.||The length of this program may make it better for long-term programs than for, say, emergency shelters. Providers need excellent skills in managing family crisis and youths’ risks. And while the therapy targets family, it doesn’t directly address a youth’s behavior and motivation.||This therapy works best when participants have the means and motivation to complete homework assignments, and when the organization is able to help youth youth remove themselves from negative environments.|