Youth-Centered Matching Events: Letting Youth Lead
By Nic Landon, PAE Coordinator; Robert Brockman, PAE Coordinator; and Rebecca Nallon, Technical Assistant
There’s a mantra often spoken by child welfare professionals when recruiting families for youth in foster care. It goes by several phrases such as “give the child a voice” or “honor the youth’s wishes.” Older youth want AND need to exercise control over their lives, especially when it comes to choosing a family.
In keeping with this philosophy, a longstanding practice has been to have youth attend traditional matching events, which are designed for prospective families to learn more about waiting children. There are youth whose personalities enable them to shine brightly in this setting; however, other youth shy away from participating or struggle to express themselves comfortably in front of professionals and hopeful families, creating a palpable awkwardness at times.
In 2016, while reflecting on her attendance at a traditional matching event with Older Child Matching Initiative (OCMI) worker Russ McCurdy, a youth pointed out how families visited agency display tables to pick up flyers of youth and wondered why youth couldn’t do the same for families. From this youth’s perspective, “reverse matching” was born.
Her simple idea sparked a profound change for youth across the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania began to implement reverse matching events, recognizing that diverse matching styles better suited the needs of waiting children and families.
Reverse matching events shift the balance of the matching process by putting youth in the driver’s seat. As defined within the Adoption Awareness and Matching Event: Planning for Success Guide, they “give waiting youth the opportunity to meet with family caseworkers and learn more about the families interested in adoption. Youth can visit agency displays and review family flyers, photos, or multimedia presentations. Waiting families are not present at these events, as they are designed to empower youth in their permanency journey.”
Matching agencies are seeing the benefits of this youth-centered approach to matching. One late summer day in a park north of Pittsburgh, child and family recruiters gathered with a group of youth for a day of games and activities. Agency tables laden with family flyers prompted youth to select from the waiting families hoping to match with older youth. Family recruiters encouraged youth to ask questions with the support and guidance of their Child Specific Recruitment and/or OCMI recruiters.
Child welfare professionals quickly realized that reverse matching events were not only a viable model for matching, but helped youth to invest in the matching process, express themselves genuinely, and have influence over their lives. The event had a special effect on the families, too. Now, families were hearing about youth who selected them, helping them to recognize the power of being claimed by a youth.
Matching agencies are still acclimating to the reverse matching model. Over the last five years, several reverse matching events have taken place primarily in the western region of the state. Workers involved have confirmed matching has taken place and at least one adoption stemming directly from these events has finalized. The model is being shared with other regions with the anticipation of these events being offered more widely.
One youth voice has opened the doors to an innovative and growing practice. Allowing waiting youth the freedom of choice in their matching process is a powerful tool that can be added to traditional matching events and other strategies agencies employ to find forever families.
For more information on reverse matching practices, contact a Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange coordinator in your region.
Nic Landon and Robert Brockman are Coordinators for the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange with SWAN. Rebecca Nallon is a Program Technical Assistant with SWAN. Together, they represent the SWAN Matching Committee’s mission to support and continually improve adoption matching events and related recruitment practices across the Commonwealth, with a goal of maximizing permanency opportunities for children in foster care in Pennsylvania. The Committee’s vision is that matching events and recruitment in Pennsylvania should always be centered around the child and focused on timely identification of a permanent family to meet the child’s needs and enhance their strengths so that they can thrive.