- Child Welfare Workers
- Court Personnel/Legal Professionals
Targeted Age Group(s)
- 18 or older
QIC-EY Engagement Model Components (i) The engagement model components were identified through the QIC-EY Environmental Scan as critical to the support of youth engagement in the attainment of permanence.
- Support Youth Empowerment
- Prioritize Legal, Relational and Cultural Permanence
- Enhance Court Practices
The Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) developed by the Michigan Court Improvement Program assigns a professional with lived expertise in foster care, known as “Youth Champions,” to work one-on-one with youths age 11 and older currently in foster care. A core foundation of the program is connecting youths currently in foster care with professionals who have walked in their shoes. Along with helping youths currently in foster care to equip themselves with self-advocacy skills useful both inside and outside of the courtroom, the Youth Champion does all of the following:
- educates youths about state and federal foster care laws and policies;
- prepares youths for court hearings, including explaining how the court system works, types of hearings and the different roles of court personnel involved in each youth’s case;
- encourages youths to attend case planning and agency meetings;
- educates youths about transition planning, and
- provides mentorship.
A youth can be referred to the YAP program through the young person’s lawyer-guardian ad litem (L-GAL), the agency working with the youth, the court or by the youth’s self-referral. Once the referral is made, a Youth Champion schedules an initial meeting with the youth to explain the project and the role of the youth champion. If the youth is interested, the Youth Champion then completes the intake process by building rapport with the youth and explaining next steps.
The goals of the YAP program are:
- to increase youth attendance and participation in court hearings and case planning meetings;
- to allow meaningful participation by ensuring that youths feel welcome and prepared in court;
- to enhance judicial decision-making by hearing directly from youths and their L-GALs; and
- to build tools and resources for youth to promote self-advocacy skills and to raise awareness about laws, policies, services and community resources available to youth in foster care.
The initial intent of the YAP program was to form a partnership between child welfare agencies and the court. Each partner has specific roles and responsibilities related to delivery of the program. These roles can be negotiated to some extent, but they need to be delineated as part of the implementation planning process.
The program is driven by the Youth Champions, who are expected to participate in court hearings and Team Decision-making Meetings (TDMs) regarding the youths assigned to them. Youth Champions also need to meet with each of their assigned youths’ caseworkers at least once a month. However, Youth Champions do not provide legal advice or case consultation.
Trainings hosted by Youth Champions to educate youths about child welfare laws, policies, available services and community resources include a five-part webinar series. The series includes:
- Training 1: State Child Welfare
- Training 2: Government Basics
- Training 3: Rights and Responsibilities
- Training 4: Strategic Sharing
- Training 5: Resources
The training series already developed is specific to Michigan; so, agencies looking to implement the YAP program would have to invest in the adaptation of the trainings to ensure that it is reflective of their own systems.
In addition, Youth Champions host the following types of meetings with their assigned youths:
- Self-advocacy Basics Meeting: Courtroom and meeting etiquette, how to talk with a judge and a case planning team, how to write a letter
- Before and After Scheduled Court Hearings and Meetings: Preparation sessions to ensure that the youth understands the purpose of the upcoming hearing or meeting, plus debriefing sessions to explain and to discuss the results (These meetings also serve as coaching opportunities for the Youth Champion to provide feedback about the youth’s self-advocacy skills.)
The caseload for a full-time Youth Champion averages 15 to 20 cases. Youth Champions are required to have lived expertise. Prospective Youth Champions who have a bachelor’s degree in a human-service-related field (e.g., social work, psychology, counseling, etc.) are highly preferred. Agencies wanting to implement the YAP program need to provide their Youth Champions with training and ongoing supervision. Participation in the seven-day, Youth Champion training program includes homework. Agencies also may require their Youth Champions to participate in a Certified Peer Mentor Training Program.