Youth Support Partners

The goals of the Youth Support Partners (YSP) program are to educate and empower youth about their role in the planning process for their future and to bring the voice of youth to the forefront during every phase of service development and provision to effect positive change for individuals and systems.

Youth Support Partners (YSP) are young adult professionals who have personal experience in some area of the human services or juvenile probation system. They share their insights with youth currently in the system, advocate for them and mentor them. Their personal lived experiences gives them credibility and lends to successful engagement of youth in planning and achieving success. Youth may be involved with child welfare, independent living, juvenile probation, behavioral health, intellectual disabilities, or a combination of systems and services. This innovative approach of hiring alumni to work as peer mentors requires a supportive, diverse and strength-based team of YSP leadership staff, DHS colleagues and other system partners.

In addition to personal experience, YSPs take part in ongoing professional trainings to expand their expertise. In particular, all YSPs complete the Strength-based Family Worker Credential training which focuses on positive youth and family engagement. They are also trained on the service and support offerings of DHS, its contracted providers and other agencies and community resources. With a heavy emphasis on skill-building, coaching, training, supervising, and team-building, the YSP Unit focuses on preparing the YSPs to work with youth from various backgrounds and experiences, with a strength-based, culturally competent, positive, and youth-driven approach. Their model of empowerment: “Do For, Do With, Cheer On!”

The value of Youth Support Partners has been noted by judges, human service professionals, parents, caregivers and youth. This is reflected in the growth of the YSP unit from four YSPs in 2008 to more than 30 in 2016. In addition, the YSP Unit management team of supervisor/coaches, managers and support staff has grown over the years to further the goals of the program and support the YSPs in their work and professional development.

What Do YSPs Do?

  • Work with youth between 14 and 21 years of age who are involved in human services or juvenile probation
  • Enable youth to become self-reliant, independent, self-advocates and responsible for their own actions
  • Help youth understand legal mandates, court sessions, legal documents
  • Connect youth to resources and natural supports
  • Serve as a voice and advocate for youth involved with the child-serving systems at county, state and federal level
  • Serve on a team supporting youth and families helping to identify natural supports

What YSPs Are Not

  • A paid friend
  • A therapist
  • A caseworker/case manager
  • A parole/ probation officer
  • A life-long support
  • A source of money
  • A provider of transportation
  • A person that tells the youth what to do
  • A replacement for other professionals

Related Information

Video: I Am: The Power of Positive Self-Affirmations
November 2020
This video was created by the staff of the Youth Support Partner Unit to encourage transition age youth in Allegheny County involved with the child-serving systems to use the power of positive self-affirmations.

Video: What is a YSP?
Spring 2021
This video was created for transition age youth in Allegheny County involved with the child-serving systems to learn about Youth Support Partners (YSP) and what they do.

Video: The Making of a YSP
October 2020
Hear from Taylor how having a YSP support her as a young adult inspired her to become a YSP herself.

How can Youth Support Partners create stronger engagement with child welfare-involved youth?
Casey Foundation, December 19, 2019

Can an innovative Pittsburgh program help repair the broken lives of foster kids?
PBS NewsHour, March 22, 2016

Youth Support Partner Unit(PDF, 352KB)
February 2016
The Youth Support Partner Unit is staffed by young adults who have had personal experience in some channel of the human services system. They share the insights they have gained with youth currently in the system, advocating for them and serving as mentors.

Youth Support Partners: Building Trust and Improving Service Delivery for Youth(PDF, 730KB)
Locally Speaking - Policy and Practice, December 2012

Practice Innovations in Child Welfare(PDF, 256KB)
American Public Human Services Association, October 2012, pgs. 18-19

Showing the Way Out: Youth Support Partners Use their Personal Experiences to Support Other Youth(PDF, 3MB)
May 2012
This report provides insight into the benefits and challenges of employing and being youth support partners - young graduates of the foster care system who are employed as peer-to-peer mentors and advocates for youth currently in the system