Relationship Education for Youth in the Child Welfare System

In July, Youth Catalytics Research Director Melanie Wilson was invited to attend a forum on relationship education for youth in the child welfare system. The truth is that this sort of programming has garnered much attention of late, from both federal funders and from large foundations that view healthy relationships as the key to pro-social behavior in general.

How do agencies and schools ‘teach’ relationship skills, particularly as they pertain to healthy romantic relationships? Mostly informally at this point, though, it must be said, constantly.

From our training director Cindy Carraway-Wilson, who trains agencies in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, a youth development curriculum that works to decreases teen pregnancy:

The reality is that relationship education needs to take hold in our society as a whole. We are so willing to offer interventions around problem behaviors like teen pregnancy, yet we are refusing to teach kids how to have healthy relationships. Despite the soaring divorce rates, domestic violence, and single parenting, we still live in the fantasy that we ‘just know’ how to have healthy relationships. In a way, the focus on bringing healthy relationship education to child welfare is insulting. It implies that we are doing a good job of this with ‘regular kids’ (whoever they are).

Bringing healthy relationship education to kids in the child welfare system REQUIRES that we give them opportunities to engage in healthy relationships while they are in a rather unhealthy system. This makes the need for a PYD model that has a longer-term exposure an absolute necessity. Teens must be able to feel safe and supported, experience the giving and receiving of trust and positive regard, and given the space to truly explore their current and future relationships in the context of their histories. I am glad the conversation is happening AND, we need to have this conversation as a society as a whole rather than saying that relationships/sex ed should be taught in the home…

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