Youth empowerment is about allowing youth a legitimate voice in the system. From meaningful participation by youth in their own litigation, to influencing local and national policy, youth empowerment is about providing for youth's actual needs, not just adult conceptions of those needs.
The NACC’s Youth Empowerment Initiative brings current and former court-involved youth into the child welfare and juvenile justice systems as participants in the court improvement process. As the ultimate consumers of the system, youth influence the process through the NACC’s Youth Advisory Committee, NACC publications, and NACC training and education.
The NACC Board of Directors adopted a strategic plan to achieve the association's mission. The plan contains 14 Objectives. Objective 12 directs the NACC to "Strengthen Children's Voices Within the NACC and Externally" through the following 4 actions:
NACC Youth Participation: Create an NACC Youth Advisory Committee which will, among other recommendations to the NACC, recommend youth to serve on the NACC Board.
Awareness: Promote the notion of youth participation by including a youth participation piece in The Guardian
Presentations: Arrange for youth and youth panel presentations at conferences, training and policy meetings.
Youth Empowerment: Develop the concept of children as people/citizens with inherent legal and human rights, and not as parental or societal chattel through our training, publications and policy work. Consider the currently underdeveloped notion of a constitutional amendment.
The NACC implements the Youth Empowerment Initiative through the following programs:
Youth Advisory Committee
The NACC will create a Youth Advisory Committee to serve as part of its Board of Directors. The NACC National Board of Directors (Board) is comprised of twenty-one national children's law experts. The Board is comprised of attorneys, judges, doctors, policy advocates, social workers and journalists and is instrumental in forming national children's law policy. The Board members are recognized nationally as experts in the field of children and the law.
The formation of a Youth Advisory Committee will assist the Board in improving children's law practice and child welfare policy by empowering youth to articulate how things can be done differently. Youth will be asked to share their experiences in the child welfare system and provide recommendations for change. The Youth Advisory Committee allows youth to speak on issues related to their own care. Historically, youth have not been a part of policy discussions; the NACC Youth Advisory Committee will create a voice for youth and insert the invaluable expertise of youth into the dialogue about child welfare practice.
The NACC will devote part its quarterly magazine The Guardian to youth empowerment issues. The Guardian is mailed to over 2,000 children's law professionals around the country. By providing court involved youth a forum to be heard by decision-makers, judges, attorneys, social workers and foster care agencies, The Guardian allows youth to express their own views about how the child welfare system can be improved.
This information is extremely valuable to both youth and children's law professionals. It gives professionals insight into the effect of their work on their clients and gives youth the opportunity to be heard on issues that affect their lives. Columns in The Guardian also serve to improve public attitudes on youth by demonstrating that youth can be thoughtful, productive and contributing members of society.
Presentations: Training and Education
The primary training and education provided by the NACC is through its National Conference. The National Conference is comprised of four tracks: Abuse and Neglect, Juvenile Justice, Custody and Visitation, and Policy Advocacy. The NACC believes that youth participation is invaluable to all these areas. Involving youth in NACC conferences teaches young people to be effective, problem-solving citizens. The conference is also an opportunity for youth, as well as child advocates, to network and to build the field of youth empowerment together. For the past two years, the NACC has hosted youth empowerment organizations to present a general session to an audience of over 600 children's law professionals. The youth panels, comprised of current and former foster youth, shared their experiences of the child welfare system and what they felt could be improved. The NACC plans to continue and expand this practice.
The NACC Youth Empowerment Initiative is a unique program which provides youth the rare opportunity to let their opinions be heard by those who can make a difference. Participating in the Youth Empowerment Initiative will give youth the sense of importance, confidence, and passion for social activism essential to being effective citizens.
If you are interested in learning more about the NACC's Youth Empowerment Initiative, click here