Youth voice has always been a critical piece of TNOYS’ approach to strengthening youth services, represented by the “participation” piece of our three-pronged Policy-Practice-Participation framework. Since our annual conference is our largest yearly event, and best opportunity for training and collaboration, it only makes sense that youth should be part of it and we began incorporating them into the conference several years ago. This year, we are taking that a step further, fully integrating youth and young adults into the planning and execution of our conference in June and using the event as a springboard to create a Youth Leadership Council that will continue to advise our work throughout the year. We are extremely grateful to the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission for making that possible through a Texas Court Improvement Program (CIP) grant.
This is the 35th year of TNOYS’ annual conference, which brings together providers and other stakeholders from across the state for cutting-edge learning opportunities on how to enhance services for youth. While youth and families have been attending for several years now, the CIP grant is making possible for the first time a conference planning community that includes youth and young adults who will help ensure that their voice is incorporated into the selection of the conference curriculum and presentations, that youth themselves are involved in presenting workshops, and that scholarships are available to ensure youth can attend.
TNOYS strongly believes that youth and families often know best how to make services work for them and that their input can strengthen organizations’ and professionals’ work. It’s a belief that guides many of our other efforts, such as PEAKS Camp and Recovery Through Participation, and we are excited to how it can further enhance our conference.
The conference planning community will also serve as a model for a broader, statewide Youth Leadership Council, which will continue to provide TNOYS with guidance in our other work throughout the year. The Council will have a particular focus on gathering youth input on the policy/procedures that most affect their lives, so those learnings can be shared with policymakers, advocates, providers, and other stakeholders. Youth will also benefit from participation in the Council by learning about self-advocacy and strengthening their voice, and by being compensated for their contributions as speakers and trainers.
There is growing recognition of the importance of youth voice in developing and delivering policies and services. By more fully integrating youth into TNOYS’ conference, we can better educate our hundreds of attendees about what true youth engagement looks like, and use the effort as a way to enhance our work throughout the year. We thank the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission for helping us achieve this important goal.