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Teens enjoy YAB Leadership ConferenceDate: 08/22/2017
The 2017 Youth Advisory Board (YAB) Leadership Conference, which was recently held at the picturesque Arkansas 4H Center, provided an opportunity for teens in foster care to learn life skills, bond with their peers, and be better prepared for their future.
The Youth Advisory Board (YAB) is made up of a select group of youth in foster care from across the state. YAB members plan the conference for other teens in care with help from the Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Not only DCFS staff, but many foster parents and DHS volunteers spent hours prepping and then assisting during the conference, leading group activities and facilitating relationships between the youth and their peers as well as adults.
For the first time, the conference was split into two sessions.
“The needs for our 14-to-16 year olds are very different from the needs of our 17-21 year old youth. Our older youth are about to transition out of care,” said DCFS Assistant Director, Christin Harper. “That’s why we had a program like Independent City which gave the youth an idea of what life as an adult is like. We want the youth to be prepared for the real world. We also want to make sure they’re aware that they can be involved in their own transitional planning. Our older youth need to understand how to properly be their own advocate.”
Dedicated to teens ages 14-16, the first session July 31 to August 1, brought together 130 teens from across the state. The younger group attended workshops that focused on relationships, coping with various situations, overall expectations for teens in care, and avoiding dangerous encounters.
“The smaller groups provided us with more room to do various activities and even provide new things at the conference,” said YAB immediate past-president Arlinda McDaniel, who now attends Christ for the Nations Institute in Texas.
“Seeing everyone get along was great,” McDaniel continued. “We divided the conference into age groups so the thought processes of the participants would be the same. Within their groups, the people naturally had more in common due to their similarities in age and maturity level.”
The second session – held a week later – had 56 attendees. It featured sessions that catered to young adults ages 17-21. The older group also had a good time, but many of their tutorials emphasized ways to successfully transition from foster care into life as an adult.
Ray Lozano – founder of Prevention Plus, a program that encourages youth to avoid drug use – gave the keynote address during the first session.
“I love working with organizations like YAB,” said Lozano, who also taught a drug prevention course during the conference. “With a group like YAB and its conference, the importance of avoiding drug use will continued to be taught. It’s not just a one-time situation. So this is the kind of group I really enjoy working with and speaking to.”
The keynote speaker for session two was Phyllis Bell, child welfare senior advisor and intern director for Governor Asa Hutchinson. Bell’s address encouraged youth to have high aspirations.
As part of the lecture, Bell provided “professional” attire for audience members to take out of “baggage” and put on. The changing-clothes activity was to remind the youth that past baggage doesn’t have to hinder their present or future.
“There are two building blocks to an individual’s future,” Bell said, “The choices made on a daily basis, and having someone – a mentor – in our life to offer hope. A ‘Hope Builder’ is someone who sees a person’s potential but also is truthful when that person is making choices that are harmful to themselves or others.”
DCFS Transition Youth Services Program Specialist Kandis Romes said the conference was a success.
“We were able to implement a lot of exciting outdoor activities and I believe the younger group really enjoyed it,” Romes said. “The things which were offered, these youth may not have a chance to do in most instances.”
For more information about the child welfare system or foster care, visit www.fostercare.org.
Cutline: Youth Advisory Board (YAB) member Amanda laughs as she participates in a team building exercise with other teens in foster care during the Youth Leadership Conference at the Arkansas 4-H Center in Ferndale.