Navigating Youth Choice - MtS DEMS HF4Y CoP Call - January 2020

Navigating Youth Choice - MtS DEMS HF4Y CoP Call - January 2020

Navigating Youth Choice

Youth choice is a core principle of the Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) program model. Youth choice is essential for helping youth transition from adolescence to adulthood, as it equips them with the necessary critical thinking and foresight skills needed to make important life decisions. In practice, operationalizing youth choice can be challenging because it is not always clear when and how to support youth during decision-making processes. Ensuring that young people are leading the work but also learning about the limitations of their own choices (as any independent person experiences), can be challenging.

The Making the Shift HF4Y Community of Practice (CoP) took part in a dialogue about youth choice on January 21, 2020.

Things to consider when it comes to navigating youth choice:

  • Be honest and willing to confront your values and biases. It is important to understand that sometimes we may have different values than the young people that we work with. Every young person has unique needs, so the way that we work with a young person in one situation may be completely different than the way that we work with a different young person in a similar situation. Sometimes we can too easily assume that how we work is straightforward, without thinking about how we might need to approach things differently. 
    • Example: A HF4Y case manager had housing ready for a young person who refused to move in. Eventually, the case manager figured out that this young person was worried he wasn't "healthy" enough to avoid getting evicted and thought that his support would end if he did get evicted. Upon reflection, the HF4Y case manager realized that they needed to be using different language to meet this young person where he was at.
  • Doing work WITH young people, not FOR young people. Sometimes it is difficult not to "swoop in and save" youth when you think they aren't making the best decisions, and this can lead to frustration, tiredness, and burnout. Reflecting on whether an identified goal is the staff’s goal or the youth’s goal is important. 
    • Example: A HF4Y case manager recognized that a young person was choosing to do things that would get them evicted from their housing. As much as the case manager wanted to step in and intervene with the landlord themselves, instead they had a discussion with the young person about why they were finding their housing situation difficult, what consequences their actions could lead to, and reminded them that HF4Y support followed them and not their housing. 
    • Tip: When youth are violating house rules but you don't want them to be evicted due to infractions, having a conversation with them to ask what they think the follow through should be for their actions, and asking them what's not working for them can be helpful. 
  • Choice is never infinite but should always include options. Supporting youth to understand that their choices have boundaries is important. Working with young people to brainstorm appropriate options, walk through options, reflect on pros and cons, write everything down, and get creative with potential outcomes helps ensure staff aren't just directing youth towards the options that they think are most appropriate, but that youth are making informed decisions for themselves.
    • ​​​​​​​Example: Youth may have certain expectations around housing - for example, they may not want shared housing but also don't want to pay over $1000 in rent every month, which may be impossible to find especially with the lack of affordable housing. Walking youth through housing options that actually are available is still providing them with choice, even if it isn't limitless. Even if a young person only has one apartment to choose from, they can still choose to say no to that apartment. 
    • Tip: Asking questions like "This is what's available, which of these will work for you? If none of them work for you, why?" vs asking "What are you looking for in terms of housing?" can be helpful. 
    • Tip: Set clear expectations around what is available in the real market world, especially in cities like Toronto or Vancouver.
  • Exercising choice is a skill that not everyone is used to. When presenting information that will assist youth in their decision-making, it is still the youth who make the choices. For some youth, especially with young people who were previously involved in child welfare, having choices for the first time can be unfamiliar and scary. 
    • Tip: Sometimes a few visits are needed where you're presenting information with potential outcomes and then letting youth take time to process and digest that information in order to make decisions. More time and patience is needed with young people, and leaving doors open to discussion later can be helpful. 
  • Youth need to know they can say no, and that case management follows them and not their housing. Sometimes youth can feel pressured towards making a decision like entering a school program to appease their worker or those supporting them in their programs, even though they don't feel ready or don't want to. When we see a good opportunity presented to youth, we want them to go for it but ultimately it's up to them. We are not the experts on what's best for youth. The only person who can make a choice about what's best for them is the young person themselves. ​​​​​​​However, we need to communicate clearly that youth will be supported as long as they feel that they need the support. 


February 23, 2020

Are there different considerations for Indigenous HF4Y clients? 


February 24, 2020

Cultural community connections should be established with access to traditional ceremonies. A loss of belonging is a unique dimension of Indigenous homelessness. The MtS DEMS Hamilton HF4Y program is Indigenous-led for Indigenous youth. It implements the core elements of the classic HF4Y model while addressing the unique needs of Indigenous youth. The program is named “Endaayaang”, meaning “our home” in Ojibwe. Grounding the Endaayaang research partnership and process in culture is a central act of empowering our Indigenous partners to lead the work and to provide valid engagement and meaning to all aspects of the work.

The research on Endaayaang is also Indigenous led, supported through the MtS Indigenous Advisory Group, with leadership from the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at University of Toronto.