Youth engagement is defined as "involving young people in the creation of their own destinies"; in child welfare, this suggests "genuinely involving them in case planning and encouraging them to advocate for themselves." This sentiment has been expressed in a term coined by the youth: "Nothing about us without us.” Positive youth engagement leads to positive youth/adult relationships. These relationships can ultimately lead to positive experiences for the young adult who is transitioning into Extended Foster Care or exiting the system.
Unlike working with children, working with youth and young adults requires staff to find ways to involve them in collaboration to develop the TILP and TILCP and to locate placement resources.
One of the cornerstones related to youth engagement is the policy perspective of Positive Youth Development. This perspective emphasizes providing services and opportunities to support all young people in developing a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging, and empowerment. Key elements to the Youth Development approach are the following:
- Youth are viewed as a valued and respected asset to society;
- Policies and programs focus on the evolving developmental needs and tasks of adolescents, and involve youth as partners rather than clients;
- Families, schools, and communities are engaged in developing environments that support youth;
- Adolescents are involved in activities that enhance their competence, connections, character, confidence, and contribution to society;
- Adolescents are provided an opportunity to experiment in a safe environment and to develop positive social values and norms; and
- Adolescents are engaged in activities that promote self-understanding, self-worth, and a sense of belonging and resiliency.