Words matter! After having a discussion with advocates on the importance of aftercare services to end youth homelessness, I began to think that maybe we have it all wrong.

Traditional services are very linear in delivery. This linear approach of before-care services, in-care services, and after-care services miss the complexity of situations young people face and is not conducive to the reality of their experiences. Our programs become siloed on how we provide services. Instead, can we focus on “pro-care” services?

“Pro-care” services mean taking a proactive approach to helping young people overcome the barriers they are facing. This approach would force us to consider future planning at the same time as we are working on addressing the immediate needs of the young person. “Pro-care” services would also force us to reassess our use of the term “independent”  We need to start to realize that “independence” is a misnomer. No one is truly independent; instead, we are all interdependent. Our interdependence cuts across age, race, and socioeconomic status. “Pro-Care” services can emphasize that by fostering young people’s improved social relationships, they will have a support system in place when they encounter another crisis.

How programs can begin implementing a “Pro-Care” approach:

  1. Words do matter. Programs can start using the word interdependence rather than independence. This shift in language can help practitioners better understand the importance of relationships. Programs can use the word internally throughout their written and spoken policies and procedures so it becomes a part of everyday language and organizational culture.
  2. Start planning for interdependence from the start. At intake, leaders can ask young people who their support systems are. Programs can use that information to support those relationships.
    • In-practice example: When I was a case manager at Valley Youth House (VYH), our team often sent youth for weekend visits to potential support systems (chosen-family). VYH Transitional Living Program supervisor, Jeff Rolley, states that “Young people need to develop relationships that will help them weather their next life crisis”. VYH would often help support young people’s relationships with their chosen family in hopes that they could form strong and healthy connections.

Looking at providing our services from a “pro-care” approach can help us break those silos within our program delivery system and look at young people holistically. Proactive approaches to practice focus us on viewing young people as relational beings who need to be interdependent to survive a crisis and thrive in healthy adulthood. We need to refocus our work and look at interdependence rather than independent living.

A focus on interdependence can only occur if our “systems” are comprehensive and provide holistic services for a young person.  NN4Y believes strong communities and families form the basis of such a “system” where there is a focus on prevention and making homelessness rare.  A community solution would wrap services around at-risk young people and young families in order to prevent a homelessness experience.

In instances where a young person or family does experience homelessness, the community has a system with the resources in place to appropriately and effectively wrap around them with an array of supportive services and as needed, emergency short-term housing, long-term housing options, and aftercare services.  Within this proposed system there are cross-system solutions that go beyond housing.

Communities’ ability to offer a continuum of service and housing options is needed to ensure that young people’s experiences of homelessness are brief and non-recurring. Partnerships between existing systems and community stakeholders are vital to ensuring that all youth and young adults at-risk of and experiencing any form of homelessness are able to receive the services they need.

This system would be the basis for developing interdependent programs that focus on pro-care approaches.

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