Social Services Professionals
Social service professionals are encouraged to take action on one or more of these roles below.
The Social Services Field: Making a Difference
Each year, our nation’s social service networks provide assistance to millions of adolescents and their families, including at-risk youth, such as those living in poverty, from racial or ethnic minorities, who are homeless, who are living in foster care, or who are interacting with the juvenile justice system. Social service professionals are encouraged to take action on one or more of the roles below to further improve the health and healthy development of adolescents with whom they work.
Some youth in the United States live in communities and with families well-equipped to provide for their health and healthy development; however, some youth live in less supportive environments. Public and private agencies help sustain the health, safety, and healthy development of adolescents through a wide range of services, including:
- Physical and mental health care
- Food and nutrition assistance
Some programs assist adolescents in low-income families with meeting basic needs. Others help adolescents and their families during circumstances involving abuse and neglect, youth violence, or public safety issues.
At-risk adolescents may interact with social services through a number of different entry points. For example, they may receive services from a public agency, such as the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, or they may get assistance from community programs or religious institutions delivering social services. The range of professionals and volunteers providing services and supports to at-risk youth come from multiple disciplines, including social work, counseling, healthcare, law, and law enforcement.
Action Steps and Resources
- Encourage positive connections between youth and supportive adults
- Ensure services and programs are welcoming and developmentally appropriate
- Encourage adolescents to learn about their health and to connect with trusted healthcare professionals, including mental health providers
- Provide opportunities for youth to offer input and build leadership skills into program design and activities
- Join with others in your community to improve and coordinate service delivery
- Stay abreast of the latest research and implement best practices
Help youth reach out to adults who can serve as mentors or informal counselors, such as teachers, coaches, religious leaders, relatives, family friends, or older adults in the community. Foster the development of healthy relationships with peers, adults, and mentors. Make referrals to mentoring programs. Encourage youth to participate in extracurricular activities. Support educational and work opportunities for young people.
Make sure services and programs are welcoming to adolescents, including youth with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Use a youth-friendly approach that recognizes that teens’ need for guidance can be at odds with their growing desire for independence and autonomy.
Encourage adolescents to learn about their health and to connect with trusted healthcare professionals, including mental health providers
As appropriate for their age, provide adolescents with information to help them begin to manage their medical and dental care and prepare for the transition to adult services. Teach them how to advocate for themselves. Point to resources that will help them navigate the healthcare system, including many new online resources and teen-friendly apps that help youth manage their own care, especially relating to chronic health conditions, disabilities, or mental health needs. Ensure youth are fully assessed for their needs and referred to those who can help. Also, establish follow-up procedures to see whether the youth obtained the services and how he or she is doing.
Provide opportunities for youth to offer input and build leadership skills into program design and activities
Involve adolescents in designing and reviewing program materials to confirm that language and materials work. Establish a youth advisory panel to solicit input on policies or programs. Encourage older youth to be mentors to younger adolescents. Reach out to youth who may not participate without encouragement.
Work with providers, health professionals, education and community leaders, and others to coordinate the provision of services to adolescents, particularly for those involved in multiple systems of care, such as child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health. When possible, try to deliver services in places where young people already spend time, such as schools, malls, home, after-school or summer programs, or in faith-based organizations. Catalog existing services and programs in the community and address gaps by expanding the reach of current programs or assisting in implementing new ones.
Contact national resource and technical assistance centers for information and training. Learn about the latest research and best practices, and train staff to provide developmentally appropriate services. Implement multi-pronged strategies to support youth in overcoming trauma and challenges. Drop programs that research has shown do not work.
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Content last reviewed on March 7, 2018