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Youth Guided and Family Driven

Youth guided and family driven means that SS/HS programs and organizations ensure that the youth and families they serve are full partners in all aspects of service delivery. As such, youth and families should have a primary decision-making role in their care, beginning in the planning phase when policies and procedures are developed in the nation and in their communities, States, tribes, and territories. Youth and families should also be involved in implementation activities, such as choosing culturally and linguistically competent supports, services, and providers; setting goals; designing, implementing, and evaluating programs; monitoring outcomes; and partnering in funding decisions. Youth-centered programs strive to empower youth so they are engaged; know that change is possible; and feel safe, cared for, valued, useful, and spiritually grounded.

SS/HS programs and organizations must engage, support, and ensure that youth and families with lived experiences are directly involved in designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating programs and services1. In youth-guided and family-driven systems, youth and family members are provided needed training and support and accurate, understandable, and complete information necessary to set goals, make informed choices about services, and partner in decision-making that impacts children and families. Families and family-run organizations provide peer supports, resources, and education to increase parents’ skills and connections and strengthen the family voice. When family members and youth are engaged, supported, and respected as equal partners, their “voice” and lived experiences add valuable perspectives in planning, implementation, and monitoring which result in shared accountability for outcomes.

 “Through the SS/HS Initiative, the [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] has found that shared decision making and strong partnerships that include youth and families are essential for creating successful and sustainable solutions that address youth violence and support healthy childhood development2” Current SS/HS grantees are actively seeking the help of young people and families by inviting them to participate in partnerships in local communities. As valued partners, their voices have helped to identify (a) programs and services that are needed in schools and communities and (b) areas with gaps in services.


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Safe Schools/Healthy Students State Planning, Local Education Agency, and Local Community Cooperative Agreements (Initial Announcement). Request for Applications (RFA) No.: SM-13-006. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Safe Schools/Healthy Students State Planning, Local Education Agency, and Local Community Cooperative Agreements (see p. 8)

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