Youth Support Partner
The Youth and Family Training Institute in collaboration with the State of Pennsylvania made the decision to include Youth Support Partners (YSP) as members of the High Fidelity Wraparound (HFW) team when requested by the youth or young adult being served. Although historically not a part of HFW team, the YSP is someone who understands the youth or young adult and is invaluable when the goal is to support the recovery process and to achieve positive outcomes. In this way, the YSP is similar to the Family Support Partner that has proven so helpful to parents and guardians.
Eligibility criteria for consideration as a Youth Support Partner includes being approximately two to five years older than the youth or young adult being served, and being under the age of 25 when beginning the HFW intensive training. Another preferred condition of being a YSP is previous personal experience in HFW because of behavioral or mental health issues. Youth Support Partners need a high school education or GED, and they must have had life experiences that allow them to form relationships with the youth or young adults they work with that are understanding, patient, culturally aware and respectful.
Youth Support Partners add value to the HFW team in several ways. Because they have experienced similar challenges, they can often engage and communicate with youth at levels parents or professionals cannot. They understand the lifestyles and culture of the youth. They understand how it feels to live with behavioral health challenges. Youth Support Partners can provide direct support in a limited manner within the family-driven plan. While supporting or linking youth to others in the family or community, the YSP helps the youth or young adult achieve their personal goals as they work towards change and recovery.
It may be difficult to identify positive natural supports through the Strength, Needs, and Cultural Discovery (SNCD) or Discovery process. Youth Support Partners may be able to help the youth or young adult determine if family or friends could serve as natural supports, or help them complete a needs-based identification of natural supports if none are apparent. Another way in which the YSP can be useful is helping the youth navigate uncomfortable environments, new situations and/or unfamiliar people. The YSP can assist the youth or young adult through transitions as they develop new activities and social outlets.
The functions of the Youth Support Partner can be placed into six categories:
1. To role model effective behavior for the youth:
The YSP teaches through example by role modeling. Role modeling can take place when the YSP takes responsibility for personal decisions, and for the consequences of those decisions. Another way to role model is to show a pattern of having healthy relationships with others, including the HFW team, the family members and the youth or young adult. Showing positive and healthy responses to stress and conflict, and demonstrating positive social skills are other indications of role modeling.
2. To ensure youth “voice and choice”:
The YSP helps the youth or young adult understand and express their needs, goals and decisions. The YSP helps ensure that the youth’s ideas and plans for the future are listened to. Helping the individual learn self-advocacy skills so they may achieve their hopes and dreams is another way to help ensure youth voice and choice.
3. To support improved self efficacy and confidence:
The YSP will help the youth discover and articulate his/her talents and strengths, get involved in positive activities where they can succeed, help the youth consider the pros and cons and the reasons for their actions, and celebrate their successes.
4. To promote and strengthen healthy relationships:
The YSP may encourage and help with the development of supportive relationships in the community when requested by the youth or young adult (e.g., friends, neighbors, work, religious congregations, clubs and activities, etc.) that will help support and develop social skills and a social environment.
5. To help others working with the youth understand youth culture:
The YSP may help team and family understand youth culture, in order for all those involved to become more culturally aware of the issues facing individuals in this age group who have specific needs and challenges.
6. To use their personal story to teach through experience:
The YSP can share their wraparound experiences, how their process of change and recovery progressed, and how the decisions they made impacted their lives.
An important role of the Youth Support Partner is to have knowledge of resources and the ability to share these with the youth or young adult. Although some will not need this because of their established strong natural support systems, many others will need assistance in identifying community and supportive resources such as work opportunities, recreation programs, educational activities, special interest groups, after-school activities, and support groups. Another role may include helping the youth or young adult re-establish relationships with extended family and other natural supports, or learn how to develop new supports. Understanding how programs are developed, and how community and social change is accomplished can help the youth or young adult realize that there is something outside of themselves to be involved with. A Youth Support Partner can help identify relevant committees to participate in.
Characteristics of Effective Youth Support Partners
- Experience with behavioral health challenges
- Self awareness
- Strong communication skills
- A team player
- Ability to work with team members including youth, family members and behavioral health professionals.
- Outspoken, respectful, flexible, motivated, self-disciplined
- Sense of humor, good common sense
- Clean background check
- Ability to share story and experiences appropriately, with passion not emotion
- Good working knowledge of youth opportunities
- Familiar with community and resources
- Ability to take constructive criticism from Clinical Supervisor
- Good time management and organization skills
- Ability to establish relationships with supportive agencies
- Ability to understand and respect cultures and family differences
- Skilled at leading and inspiring others through dedication and example