Last month, TNOYS’ 37th Annual Conference on Services to Youth and Families convened more than 500 youth and family service stakeholders from across Texas for our first fully virtual conference. Over three days, professionals and youth explored how they can tap into their unique strengths and talents and ultimately “Make Their Mark” on the future of youth and family services.
The Annual Conference is always a chance to re-energize while exploring relevant issues that impact Texas’ youth and families. This year, recent events made such opportunities more important than ever. Those who have been working tirelessly during the coronavirus pandemic enjoyed the chance to recharge, network, and have fun alongside the young people they serve. The conference workshops and sessions also brought issues of equity and inclusion to the forefront, providing a platform to explore how we can all advance equity within systems.
Pre-Conference and Day 1
The event got started on Monday, June 22 with three full-day pre-conference institutes.
The first institute, hosted by trainers from TCU, focused on implementing evidence-based Trust-Based Relational Intervention to serve youth ‘from hard places’ during the coronavirus pandemic. TNOYS’ former Senior Program Specialist, Jack Nowicki, LCSW, led the second pre-conference institute on Strengths-Based Clinical Supervision, covering collaborative best practices and leadership strategies for social work supervisors. In the third pre-conference institute, trainer Mia Williams led a thought-provoking session on how youth and family service professionals can incorporate principles of equity and inclusion into their work.
On Thursday, June 25, Lynda Frost, Nakia Winfield, and Ann Blocker started off the full conference with an interactive keynote on “Liberating Structures,” a framework for better virtual collaboration. Youth and professionals then broke out into smaller workshops, where they had a choice between nine different topic tracks focused on unique skills and training needs. Workshops covered topics such as the adultification of youth, overcoming adversity, equity in programs, and federal policy updates from the National Network for Youth.
After lunch, everyone was inspired and reenergized by the afternoon keynote with Judge Steven Teske, Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, GA. Judge Teske’s lively talk addressed how we can all play a part in building antiracist systems, and how a trauma-informed, equitable approach can improve outcomes for system-involved youth.
Conference Day 2
On the second full day of the conference, attendees got started with a block of workshops across nine topic tracks. Topics included the research behind adolescent brain development, best practices for reaching gang-involved youth, and a helpful workshop for former foster youth on accessing college resources. The full group came together again for a fantastic performance by the young poets of Meta-Four Houston, a slam poetry team that transforms the lives of Houston-area youth.
For the day’s first keynote, attendees heard from award-winning author and scholar, Dr. Monique W. Morris. Dr. Morris gave an excellent talk on how systemic racism— especially within our nation’s schools— has particularly harmful repercussions for girls and women of color.
After a full morning of dynamic sessions, attendees broke for a long lunch break to recharge, network, and check out conference exhibitors at the exhibit hall. The after-lunch activity helped everyone get moving again thanks to an energetic virtual dance lesson with renowned dance instructor Chris “YoungChris” Thomas of Sonkiss’d Dance Theater.
The conference wrapped up with another session of informative workshops for both youth and professionals. Among other topics, attendees learned how the VOICE Project supports formerly homeless youth, how youth can access resources across systems, and an overview of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation- Identification Tool (CSE-IT). Youth had the opportunity to sit in on an interactive workshop on how to “make your mark” by overcoming trauma and adversity. Youth also heard from TNOYS’ own Alex Polk, who co-presented with Dr. Artemio Garcia on how youth services providers can help LGBTQ youth to thrive.
While this year’s conference took place virtually, TNOYS was thrilled to see participation from professionals across the full continuum of youth-serving systems. It was exciting to see attendees from different backgrounds come together to build skills, collaborate across systems and explore important topics — such as equity and inclusion— that were central to this year’s agenda. We hope that each and every attendee left feeling empowered and encouraged to “Mark Their Mark” in everything they do for Texas’ youth!