About 90 Pennsylvania teenagers and young adults who are currently in foster care or who have exited the foster care system recently convened on the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown campus for the 2015 Older Youth Retreat. The annual event provides an opportunity for teens to meet others in similar situations, participate in group talks, and learn how to make a successful transition to adulthood.
This year’s retreat theme was "Youth Always Belong" and the schedule was created by the participating teens, representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF), the University Of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, and other partners.
"This retreat allows young people who were or are presently in substitute care to work together, experience new things, and learn from peers and staff who are familiar with issues facing the child welfare system," said Helen Calahane, principal investigator of Pitt's Child Welfare Education and Research Programs and faculty member in the School of Social Work.
She noted Pennsylvania has made great strides in recent years to reduce the number of children in foster care, reduce the length of time children spend in care, and decrease the use of group homes and institutions, all of which are important steps “in achieving well-being for all children and families served by the state child welfare system,” Calahane said.
Jeff Yalden, a teen author and family life coach for the past 23 years, gave a keynote speech to the teens about his own experiences and offered advice in dealing with teen drama, depression, expectations, and anxieties.
This year the youth also participated in focus groups related to the implementation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (HR 4980). The information obtained will be shared with the statewide 4980 workgroup charged with making implementation recommendations to OCYF.
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