Young people transitioning out of foster care at age 18 or 19 face a difficult road. As they leave an unstable childhood, many of the services provided to minors are no longer available to them. Yet as adults they are often totally alone and without guidance. Phillip Crandall, Director of the Humboldt County (California) Department of Health and Human Services, writes that former foster youth are more likely than others their age to end up incarcerated, unemployed and/or homeless. But Humboldt County offers an illustration of how transition-aged youth themselves can help ensure that county services designed to assist them are effective.
In 2008 Humboldt County established the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC) with the goal of building "an effective, responsive, and youth-informed system of care for transition-age foster youth." The HCTAYC advised the county that real youth engagement meant more than a seat at the table. It meant the county needed to change its culture to one that encouraged and respected youth voices in meetings and decision-making. It meant creating an environment in which youth were viewed as partners.
Since 2008 the HCTAYC has developed policy recommendations to improve mental health services for transition-age youth at the county's psychiatric health facility, children's center and crisis line, and testified before the State Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. The county's mental health board now includes two youth members. HCTAYC also provides training in leadership and decision-making to other youth, and members attend state and national conferences to develop their skills and increase their knowledge of policies that affect children and youth.
The HCTAYC website includes some excellent resources, including "Committing to Youth Engagement: Creating an Environment that Encourages and Respects Youth Voices in Meetings and Decision-Making," which briefly covers many best practices for youth participation.