Successful Kids. A young group of three girls smile while hugging one another

The Vulnerable Youth Strategy is a collaboration with community service providers to improve peer, family and adult social supports for youth (15-24) who struggle to transition successfully to adulthood. This work is being carried out in two phases, the objectives and learning of which is shared below as resources for reference and application by youth-serving agencies and workers. Together, we can better support vulnerable youth to build on their potential.

Phase One

Over the course of three years (January 2012 – December 2014), the Vulnerable Youth Strategy has supported learning and innovation in the area of natural supports for vulnerable youth.

Phase Two

Phase Two (2015-2017) of this strategy builds on the learning outcomes from Phase One, which centered on how natural supports play a critical role in promoting resiliency, social integration and positive behaviours for vulnerable youth. The focus of this phase will shift from learning to application. In partnership, United Way and Burns Memorial Fund are expanding the work to include new organizations and enhance tracking of measureable change in youth and families, and within funded organizations.

“Meaningful integration of natural supports is a transformational shift in how we work with youth and their families. It would be wonderful to see it embraced by the whole community, including other funders. A collaborative funding model, which we are currently using to address other youth-related issues, could help systems, funders and youth-serving agencies rally around this new approach to youth work.”

Diane Altwasser, Community Impact Manager, United Way of Calgary and Area

Michelle Clarke, Executive Director, Burns Memorial Fund

What have we learned?

Vulnerable youth want to connect to their natural supports: Contrary to practitioner assumptions, youth want to connect with natural supports, even in times of crisis (e.g. being homeless, struggling with mental health or addictions, involved in the justice system).

Engagement takes time: Youth who have experienced trauma, lived on the streets, or struggled with addictions and mental health issues, often resist connection with positive adults as a protective measure. Youth resistance does not necessarily mean they are not interested in connecting with these supports; instead, it can mean they are testing the relationship or they have more pressing challenges to deal with first.

What we’re learning is common sense: Practitioners note that many of these ideas are common sense, based on their own experiences with natural supports in their lives. 

“…Natural supports are now a part of dialogue in the youth-serving community and part of everyday practice for many social workers and youth workers…”

Vulnerable Youth Serving Agency, 2015

Working Theory of Change

By creating a supportive learning environment where frontline staff and managers can examine existing practices and perspectives, and develop new ways of working with youth and their natural supports, the capacity of individual practitioners and organizations to support vulnerable youth to create and maintain a network of natural supports will be strengthened.

These new ways of working will then be shared more broadly within the youth-serving sector to build sector-level capacity, and in turn, to enable more successful transitions to adulthood for these youth. 

Phase 2 Theory of Change Graphic  

“I think it has been remarkable how creating space to examine assumptions and reflect on values and practice is leading to important changes in the way we work with vulnerable youth, families and each other. The learning initiatives, combined with the Change Collective, is beginning to change the way that we think about human service work and the supports we provide to young people as they make their way towards adulthood. The process has also changed the way we work together. The Change Collective is helping professionals to communicate across organizational and sector borders so that they can more effectively enable young people and their families to find their own solutions. The changes are not always obvious but they are profound.”

Melissa Innes, Vulnerable Youth Strategy Developmental Evaluator, 2015

Resource Documents

Working with Vulnerable Youth to Enhance their Natural Supports: A Practice Framework (Full Report)

Working with Vulnerable Youth to Enhance their Natural Supports: A Practice Framework (Summary Report)

Vulnerable Youth Strategy Phase One Learning Summary

Vulnerable Youth Strategy Phase Two Overview

Vulnerable Youth Strategy Theory of Change

Background Research

Vulnerable Youth Strategy Change Collective Backgrounder