Youth Family Team Meetings

Designing individualized services that support a young person's move away from negative behaviors requires an accurate picture of the young person's strengths and needs and implementing services/supports that will effectively meet those needs and build on his/her strengths. It is essential to reach agreement with the young person about these needs and to include his/her family in the process. Young people will continue to meet their needs through negative behavior if they are not actively supported in achieving their goals in other ways.

Youth Family Team meetings are youth-centered while also engaging the family: the focus is on the youth’s needs behind his/her negative behaviors and and supporting him/her to achieve his/her aspirations. This requires a meeting facilitator skilled in drawing the youth out during the meeting and helping the family and professionals support the youth in articulating his/her needs. Youth Family Team Meetings are different from other family meetings because of the emphasis on the young person taking charge of his/her change process—the youth is not just occupying a chair in the meeting, but is actively supported to have his/her voice heard. While including the family is important, the youth’s needs are the center of the meeting and relevant family needs are not addressed until services and supports are discussed. Youth Family Team Meetings are effective in child welfare and juvenile justice can be convened with youth and their families in the community or while the young person is in placement.

Once agreement is reached on strengths and needs, the Youth Family Team Meeting designs a combination of services and supports to build on strengths and meet each need, ensuring that the young person's family, agencies and service providers understand their role in meeting the agreed-on needs.

Careful assessment of the unique factors behind each youth’s behavior is an essential part of this process: establishing where the young person is developmentally, recovery from trauma, and compensating for disabilities and what specifically will foster his/her developmental progress are important. These findings must be presented simply, without mental health or special education jargon or a reliance on diagnostic terminology. Instead of concentrating on pathology, the assessment must identify strengths that can be built on to ensure that services are designed to enhance competencies. This developmental assessment begins with involving the young person in a process of self-evaluation, and a youth journal was developed for this purpose. Services/supports based on strengths are more effective than those driven by deficits. When planning starts with a problem--such as aggressive behavior or a family's inconsistent limit-setting—often the wrong service is provided. Furthermore, young people will react to feeling even worse about themselves when their "bad behavior" is the focus of "treatment."

A Youth Family Team Meeting has a straightforward three-part agenda: Strengths of the Youth and Family, Youth Needs, and Services/Supports. The young person's strengths and needs are carefully identified and then services are tailored by asking, ”What would it take to meet this need and build on this strength?” For example, if the young person needs to experience success, a service must be designed to ensure he/she becomes good at something. If the young person needs to see others as not hostile and react less aggressively, a service must be designed to coach him/her to think and act differently. If the young person needs to make peace with loss and hurt, a service must be designed to help him/her appreciate the relationships he/she has and not blame him/herself for the past. Youth Family Team Meetings are designed to form a team with a shared developmentally-sound, trauma-informed, disabilities-aware approach.

Girl Family Team Meetings are a form of YFTMs designed to fit girls. The facilitator must be familiar with girls’ development and skilled in drawing the girl out during the meeting and helping the family and professionals support the girl in articulating her needs. This can be difficult for family and professionals who focus on a girl’s risky behaviors. It takes time to listen to a girl to learn what she gets out of a behavior such as running away—which can serve many different purposes for girls—before we can help her find less dangerous ways to meet these needs. Punishing the runaway behavior or attempting to stop it by secure placement is unlikely to help her see why she persists in doing something potentially harmful. We cannot blame girls when they continue to meet their needs through negative behavior if they are not actively supported into satisfying alternatives.

Dr. Beyer has developed curricula for Youth Family Team Meeting training and Girl Family Team Meeting training.