IOD wraps up two-year grant to expand person-centered planning services

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
a young white man speaks into a microphone, next to him is a screen with a slide projected on it reading "How is RENEW different from other services?"

Justin Tilbe, a former RENEW youth participant, leads a discussion with an audience of new RENEW Facilitators on how to build rapport with youth who have experienced trauma. Pictured is Tilbe’s first Dreams Map that he made with his RENEW Facilitator over 15 years ago as a high school freshman.

On March 12, 2024, UNH Institute on Disability’s (IOD) children's behavioral health team hosted an event in Concord to celebrate the end of a two–year project to improve education, employment and community engagement outcomes for New Hampshire youth and young adults receiving treatment in residential settings. Many of the youth in residential placements are also involved with child protection or juvenile justice systems. They may lack strong family and social connections, or access to career or college planning resources. To improve outcomes for these youth, the project trained residential providers to implement RENEW, a research-based individualized planning model and care coordination for youth and young adults. By supporting youth to build their own social capital, the RENEW model prepares them to pursue a brighter future for themselves once they reenter the community.

Funded by a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the two-year project engaged nine new RENEW sites and exceeded its original goal of serving 50 youth. Prior to this project, RENEW was mainly provided in public high schools and community mental health centers in New Hampshire, as well as in a handful of other US states and Denmark.

"You get to see these youth in a new light when they are in control of their lives, which isn't typically the case. When you let them take the wheel, they always surprise you with their resilience and their enthusiasm," says Danny Wydola, family support worker at Dover Children's Home.

During the day-long event on March 12, staff teams from the residential RENEW sites enjoyed catered refreshments and received certificates of recognition and purple RENEW mugs. A highlight of the day was a visit from Justin Tilbe, who shared his story of going through RENEW about 15 years ago. As a high school freshman, Tilbe was dealing with a very troubled life at home that was negatively affecting his mental health. At school, he was barely attending classes, getting suspended a lot, and not on track to graduate. Tilbe had difficulty trusting adults and imagining a bright future for himself. Then, a RENEW facilitator entered his life and did not give up on him.

"He just kept showing up, even when I didn't," Tilbe recalled.

He encouraged the new RENEW facilitators in the room to embody that same spirit, because building trust with a youth who has experienced trauma can take time and persistence. Tilbe recalled that once he let his guard down and agreed to try RENEW, he found the process to be empowering. He bravely invited a school administrator whom he’d had a lot of conflict with to join his RENEW planning team, transforming him into an ally. His facilitator helped him work with teachers to make a plan for finishing high school, and he identified some career goals and specific next steps to move forward. Tilbe now has achieved many of the dreams he originally mapped out with his facilitator, including having a family, his own home, and a satisfying career in public safety. He shared that going through the RENEW process years ago taught him lasting self-advocacy skills, and that he's not afraid to reach out when he needs support, including for mental health.

Event participants worked in teams to visually map their strengths and accomplishments. A Strengths & Accomplishments Map is something that all youth who participate in RENEW do with their facilitator early on, and is a useful tool for goal setting. Some examples of strengths identified were “good rapport with youth” and “strong established community connections.” The Chase Home for Children has a formal partnership with its regional public mental health center, Seacoast Community Mental Health Center, which was already a well-established RENEW provider.

For residential facility staff, RENEW represents a more strengths-based and person-first approach to working with youth, and it has resulted in real progress. “It’s been nice to see RENEW becoming a reality for us. We are seeing a difference,” says Blair Stairs, executive director of Webster House in Manchester. But effective RENEW implementation requires resources. Successful sites establish a system team to manage referrals, analyze outcomes data and support facilitators with professional development and coaching. Facilitators need space to meet with youth, mapping supplies, and dedicated time in their schedules. Now that the grant funding has ended, these new sites want to find the resources to keep RENEW going. At the event, participants worked in teams after lunch to outline sustainability plans, then presented their ideas to the large group. Staff from Orion House, a facility based in Newport, shared that they have already had success pulling in additional community support for RENEW. They credit their success to regularly sharing data with stakeholders that demonstrate positive youth outcomes.

"For youth in residential programs, their voice is so minimized. RENEW has created grace and space for these youth to achieve everything they are capable of, in a way that feels best for them," says Savannah Fay, in-house adolescent clinician at Dover Children's Home.

JoAnne Malloy, assistant research professor at the IOD, designed the RENEW intervention nearly 30 years ago. Malloy has been providing individualized professional coaching to two RENEW facilitators at the Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC), the secure treatment facility in Manchester that offers intensive treatment to New Hampshire’s detained and committed youth ages 13 to 17. “RENEW has been a valuable tool to help young people in residential treatment and at SYSC, allowing them to share their stories, talk about their strengths, and develop concrete, forward-looking plans so they can move forward. This type of youth-driven planning is so critical for young people who are not living in a family environment because it helps give them hope for the future,” Malloy says.

Resilience, Empowerment, and Natural supports for Education and Work (RENEW) is a structured, individualized person-centered planning process for youth ages 15–25 transitioning to adult life that emphasizes building relationships and community connections. A trained RENEW Facilitator meets with the youth to visually map out their strengths, interests, dreams, and people in their life. This information is used to set specific goals, make a plan, and invite supportive people to help them achieve their goals.