At the Jim Casey Initiative, we know that involving young people as active participants in decisions affecting their futures is life changing—not just for the young person, but for the lives of the people around them.

For this reason, in addition to helping our local partners take an authentic youth engagement approach, we take an authentic youth engagement approach in all of our national work. This means we forge caring relationships with young people, acting as true partners and empowering them to direct our efforts and their own futures.

Each year, we hold a Youth Leadership Institute that young leaders from our sites are nominated to attend. During the event, young leaders have opportunities to deepen their understanding of the Jim Casey Initiative’s Theory of Change, and to learn to use Jim Casey Initiative data and their life experiences with child welfare systems as advocacy tools. Because of the Youth Leadership Institute, young leaders are able to expand their knowledge of current policies that young people and partnering states have identified as being critical to galvanizing public will to better focus on need reforms. Upon completion of the Youth Leadership Institute, the young leaders can elect to become a part of the Fellowship, a group of young adults who have been professionally trained and are ready to give recommendations for improving child welfare systems.

By building effective partnerships with young people, we see many benefits. First, our work is of higher quality and is more effective because of their insights and guidance. They help us to ensure that the improvements we are seeking will truly change their lives for the better.

We also ensure that Young Fellows’ experiences are those that help them achieve their goals, and that they are able to practice the problem-solving skills they will need in adulthood. Our effective youth-adult partnerships also help young people build their self-esteem and leadership skills, and increase their influence and personal stake in the community.

Through our nearly 15 years of experience in authentic youth engagement, we have identified three core values and guiding principles that enable us—and any organization or individual working with young people—to develop successful partnerships between young people and adults: