TNOYS Teams Up with DFPS to Strengthen Youth-Adult Partnerships


This summer, TNOYS was excited to team up with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) on PEAKS (Physical and Environmental Activities for Knowledge and Skills) Adventure Camp and our Building Alliances with Youth to Reduce and Prevent Children without Placement (CWOP) training, two initiatives that aim to build stronger partnerships between Texas foster care caseworkers and the young people they serve. Youth and young adults (YYA) often share how interactions with youth workers—whether they are positive or negative— can have a big impact on the overall foster care experience and a young person’s future. Not only can positive youth engagement and relationship-building strategies prevent outcomes like youth running away and CWOP, they are proven to equip young people with the tools and support network they need to thrive into adulthood.

Learning Strategies to “Build Alliances” with Young People

In August, the Building Alliances training convened 18 individuals who support youth and young adults experiencing foster care. The session was presented by Jermaine Neblett, TNOYS Director of Partnerships, and Sedoo Ijir, TNOYS Program Manager, as well as Divine B., Ronald S., and Daisia W., who are members of TNOYS’ Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC). All three YALC members aged out of foster care and/or have experienced situations such as Children without Placements (CWOP) or running away from home or placements.

Left to right: YALC members share their insight during a panel; Program Manager Sedoo Ijir and YALC member Ronald present; Staff from DFPS take part in the session.

Over a full-day of training, participants learned valuable strategies that included understanding and addressing trauma, how to establish safety, transparency, and trust, and the importance of examining biases when working with YYA. In an interactive segment, audience members practiced role playing to practices “walking alongside youth and young adults” so YYA have ownership over decisions that impact their lives.

One of the training’s most powerful moments was a panel with YALC members Ronald, Daisia, and Divine, who shared their lived experiences and the interactions with caseworkers that made an impact for them. Their stories underscored how youth voice and youth autonomy are key to preventing situations like running away and CWOP. When relationships with caseworkers are built on trust and shared decision-making, YYA are more likely to collaborate with caseworkers and be open to new placements or resources.

Below are a few of the insights they shared:

Overall, youth voice and the importance of sharing power emerged as key takeaways for attendees. As TNOYS CEO Fedora Galasso explained, “TNOYS often hears from young people that not having a voice and lacking options while in foster care can lead to strained relationships with adults. Research shows that when young people are given ownership over decisions that impact their lives, a sense of control, and opportunities for leadership, they are more likely to have the support and tools they need for a successful transition out of systems and into adulthood.”

Youth-Adult Partnership in Action at PEAKS Camp

After a pause due to COVID, TNOYS and DFPS were thrilled to bring back PEAKS Adventure Camp, another hands-on opportunity that explored sharing power and building trust with young people. For over 30 years, PEAKS has provided teens in foster care with an opportunity to overcome challenges, develop partnerships, and build skills in a fun camp setting.

Camp took place over four days in New Braunfels, Texas, where the group enjoyed activities including swimming, hiking, crafts, and a talent show, as well as a “Super Power Showcase” where campers took turns wearing a superhero cape to share an employment or job interview tip with the group. Through each activity, YYA had the chance to practice skills like communication, problem-solving, self-regulation, and leadership. Skill-building sessions each evening guided YYA in sharing power with their adult caregivers to support their transition out of systems and into adulthood, with topics like housing & transportation, job readiness, and financial literacy.

Left to right: Group of youth campers; a young adult camper receives her completion certificate from Director of Partnerships Jermaine Neblett; An adult sponsor (left) strikes a pose during a yoga/mindfulness activity with campers.

An important aspect of PEAKS Camp is that youth, young adults, and adult sponsors all join the camp together. This structure gives both groups a unique opportunity to listen to and learn from one another, collaborate, and share in decision making. Campers described how the overall experience helped them overcome challenges and better communicate/ collaborate with both adult sponsors and peers, describing in exit surveys that PEAKS helped them  “have more confidence and verbalize feelings,” “speak up more and be more reliable towards {oneself},” and “practice problem-solving and leadership development.” 

TNOYS is grateful to DFPS for its ongoing support of PEAKS Camp and programs that strengthen youth-adult partnerships. To learn more about TNOYS’ work or request training or technical assistance for your organization, please reach out to us here.

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