The success of any HF4Y program is dependent on bringing together an effective team. HF4Y staff provide the services and engage directly with youth. Getting the right staff in place with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be successful in their job well is critical.
HF4Y Staff Team Roles
The HF4Y program model allows for flexible implementation so there isn’t a standard staffing model. The specific configuration will depend on local needs and resources. Job titles, roles and responsibilities will vary. However, organizations tend to employ individuals to fulfill four distinct roles.. Typically there is a program manager and a staff team which includes case managers and peer support. A dedicated housing locator may also be part of the team. This role is responsible for managing housing availability, building relationships with landlords and scheduling of move in’s and out’s . Housing locators can be especially helpful in areas with tight housing markets, though are not necessary or a requirement.
Case managers support between 7 to 12 youth at a time, depending on the level of complexity and the needs of young people in the program. Within HF4Y programs, caseloads are lower than adult programs so that staff can provide more intensive individualized case management. Because of their age and limited life experience, young people need lots of support, especially in the first three months of the program. Case managers provide hands-on support to help youth manage life’s challenges in all areas of daily living.
Peer support workers are key members of the team -- their experience of homelessness is an essential resource for service delivery. They help bridge the knowledge that other team members contribute to case management with the insights that come from the experiences of homelessness.
As with any staff, roles for people with lived experience should be well defined with clearly stated expectations. People with lived experience should be included in all aspects of the program, policy development, program design, staff meetings, case management and program evaluation.
There can be additional supports in place to support staff with lived experience. For more information about supporting staff with lived experience of homelessness, check out the Scholars with Lived Experience Network.
Program staff are critically important to the effectiveness of HF4Y. Hire staff with the necessary skills, competencies, values and beliefs to ensure the best outcomes for youth. At a minimum, all staff should have an understanding of adolescent development and the benefits of a positive youth development approach to case management. They should also have a genuine commitment to and understanding of the causes and solutions to youth homelessness. Other critical qualities are persistence and patience, which is best summed up as a “do whatever it takes” mindset.
The work of frontline staff happens mainly in the community. Staff should be comfortable being flexible and having their schedule change unexpectedly as needs arise. so setting priorities and time management are also valuable assets.
In terms of recruitment, the education, personality traits, skills, and work experience of job candidates will vary. This variation is a desirable characteristic of a successful program team because this pool of life experiences is a resource young people can draw upon when exploring different areas of their life and setting goals for the future.
Some qualities to look for when hiring include:
- Comfortable with ambiguity
- A good listener
- Able to establish healthy professional boundaries
- Calm in high pressure situations
- A creative problem-solver
- Lived experience (not mandatory)
- Comfort with and ability to use anti-oppressive practices
Finally, it is also important to look for staff who will contribute to a positive work culture. Case management in the context of HF4Y can be very challenging work. Staff must be able to support the values and beliefs held by the organization as well as values that align with the core principles of the HF4Y model.
Effective case management demands ongoing training and support for staff in the following areas that are key to HF4Y. Resources for the topics below can be found on the Homelessness Learning Hub. Training and technical assistance on HF4Y and other youth homelessness prevention frameworks is also available from A Way Home Canada.
- Specific HF4Y-focused training
- Positive youth development and strengths/asset-based case management
- Trauma informed care
- Harm reduction
- Youth Assessment and Prioritization (YAP) tool
- Motivational Interviewing
- Enhancing Family and Natural Supports
- Peer Support
- Assertive Engagement
- 2SLGBTQIA+ Toolkit to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness (Toolkit)
- Indigenous Cultural Awareness
- Landlord and Tenant Rights
- USAID’s Youth Power (Positive Youth Development)
- Trauma-Informed Organizational Toolkit for Homeless Services
On a piece of paper, list qualities of an ideal HF4Y program team member. Share your list with a team member or someone else who works in this field. Can you agree on 3-5 qualities that are essential to have?
Supportive supervision of staff in a HF4Y program is absolutely essential. Staff in a HF4Y program spend the majority of their day in the community, meeting youth and completing home visits. Staff must be able to work independently because program supervisors may not see their staff throughout the day.
Supervisors are available to staff “as needed.” Staff in the community often need support to work through a situation with youth. The supervisor is available to answer calls, offer advice, give direction and, above all, listen. Effective supervision creates a safe and open space for staff to share and exchange not only successes, but challenges as well, in order to facilitate problem solving.
A common workspace is important to have for the team when they aren’t in the community is vital to a healthy workplace culture and camaraderie.
Staff meetings are another way that the team can connect. Weekly staff meetings can be structured to give space for team building, youth and staff successes and problem-solving.
For people working in demanding front-facing positions, self-care is especially important to manage stress and prevent burn out. If you suspect you may be experiencing burnout or undue stress as a result of work, you may find this self-care resource helpful.
Stress and burnout can be minimized with regular face to face supervision and case consultation. As with the work with youth in the HF4Y model, building a healthy relationship between supervisor and staff that embodies trust and compassion will support staff to perform more effectively and manage stress.
The hiring process must be transparent. Candidates and employers must set realistic expectations for the work that is involved. Staff will likely be exposed to situations that have the potential to cause negative health effects and vicarious trauma. Staff will benefit from having emotional supports in place and strategies for self-care. Being up-front about the realities of the work at the beginning is a good strategy for retaining employees.