Youth Leadership Development

Be Strong Families is committed to creating and sustaining programs that positively impact all youth and their families, especially youth that are experiencing challenges and adversity.

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We are the creators of a Youth Leadership Development (YLD) curriculum which focuses on preparing youth to become advocates for positive change. This series of twelve 45-minute modules assist youth in understanding the opportunity and the power of youth voice in affecting change in the child welfare system, as well as learning and understanding the process and the dynamics of change and developing a basic understanding of the skills necessary to be a change agent. Throughout the curriculum, youth are given tools and space to discover and understand their leadership style and how to work with others with differing leadership styles to become a strong team. They are given space to develop a sense of themselves as leaders for issues that represent something larger than themselves, using their personal qualities to do so.

They gain an understanding of how to share their story strategically and purposefully in a way that is safe and effective, maintain a positive stance with relation to adversity, struggle, and advocacy and develop strategic thinking and analytical skills. In addition, youth participants learn basic facilitation skills for effectively guiding conversations that surface youth voice and develop strategic advocacy plans. The final modules allow youth to practice and hone their leadership skills and come out of the program with heightened abilities to analyze presentation proposals to align them with youth learning needs, encourage communication with professionals who align with their values and mission, and network with administrators and directors of systems leveraging relationships to further their knowledge and understanding about issues that are meaningful to their mission.

Youth Advisory Board (YAB)

Be Strong Families, on behalf of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (Illinois DCFS or IDCFS), supports the convening and maintenance of a Statewide Youth Advisory Board (SYAB) and regional youth advisory boards (RYAB) in the Cook, Central, Southern, and Northern regions of the state. Created by statute for youth in the child welfare system to have the opportunity to collectively address systemic issues, the Statewide Youth Advisory Boards and its established Regional Boards have been advising the Illinois DCFS since 1994. Be Strong Families has been coordinating the SYAB and Regional Boards and ensuring the implementation of this statute since 2017.

As a part of the SYAB, youth in care and former youth in care between the ages of 14 and 21 come together to educate, advocate for, and empower all youth in care. SYAB members enjoy leadership training and assist in developing policies and laws. This gives youth in care the valuable opportunity to address individual and collective systemic issues. Their purpose is stated as follows:

  • WE educate, advocate for, and empower youth and young adults.

  • WE partner with DCFS on legislation, policies, practice, procedures, and training as they concern youth in care.

  • WE provide DCFS and the Illinois General Assembly the perspective of youth in care.

  • WE identify systemic issues with foster care, guardianship, and adoption and offer recommendations for change.

  • WE host RYAB's monthly in addition to 5 SYAB meetings per year.

  • WE report annually to the Illinois General Assembly.

  • WE receive Leadership Development sessions at the YAB.

Be Strong Families works in partnership with the SYAB in their efforts to advise the Department and the General Assembly. Monthly regional youth advisory board meetings provide valuable insight and feedback to the Department on how to best provide services to current and former youth in care living within each of the regions. Be Strong Families supports youth in implementing all aspects of the meetings (programmatic and logistical) and provides transportation to ensure attendance. Be Strong Families works in partnership with the Regional and Statewide Youth Advisory Boards to promote civic engagement / policy advocacy and system change and implement outreach and recruitment strategies that will increase and balance representation on the boards in areas such as race, ages, placement types and ability levels and gather additional youth voice from youth in care not affiliated with the board.

IDCFS Youth Advisory Board Accomplishments

  • Provided Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership with recommendations to address youth mental wellness. (2022)

  • Developed Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) flyer, as required by SB 755, to serve as a resource for youth entering care. (2022)

  • Convened four Youth Advisory Affinity Group meetings as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) effort. (2021/2022)

  • Gov Pritzker signs SB 755, GAL Bill, into law. (2021)

  • Senate Bill 1743 States DCFS, FCAA, and the Youth Advisory Board are to develop and process a standardized survey to gather feedback from children aging out of care. (2020)

  • 3 YAB members were awarded the DCFS scholarship for Illinois post-secondary education. (2020)

  • Collaborated with Heartland Alliance to develop an online toolkit to assist youth in care transition into independent living. (2020)

  • Called for a review of Rule 384, DCFS enacted a work group. (2019/2020)

  • Youth provided testimony for the “Children of Incarcerated Parents” bill, which was ultimately passed by the Illinois General Assembly. (2019)

  • Administered the Youth Experience of Care Surveys within residential agencies. (2018)

  • Advised re: updated DCFS Children’s Guide to Foster Care. (2017)

  • Legislative Hearing on Residential Care. (2015)

  • Public Act 98-0806 establishes the Youth Advisory Boards as a legislative mandate. (2014)

Current Youth Advisory Board Initiatives

  • Achieving Permanency Quickly

  • Strengthening Youth Contact with Caseworkers

  • Strengthening Sibling Contact

  • Youth Advisory Affinity Groups (YAAG)


In partnership with the DCFS Director’s office, the Office of Education & Transition Services, the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Statewide Youth Advisory Board, Be Strong Families has the honor of co-creating several youth advisory boards as a part of DCFS’ larger DEI initiative. The Youth Advisory Affinity Groups offers youth in care the opportunity to share their voice, perspective, and experiences in order to advocate and support an environment for all youth in care regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, language, handicap/disability, religion, or authentic self as a part of their mission to educate, advocate for and empower youth in care across Illinois. The Youth Advisory Affinity Groups have been formed to give voice to the diversity, equity, and inclusion issues that Illinois youth in care experience statewide through support, education, coaching, and advocacy.

YAAG Youth Ambassadors identify the greatest challenges for youth in care related to racial and gender bias, disparity, and equity and propose recommendations and produce an annual collaborative project for systems improvement promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Youth ambassadors have opportunities monthly to participate in DEI and advocacy trainings to prepare them for their leadership on the YAAG. The following are the current YAAG groups:

  • African American


  • Latino

  • Asian / Pacific Islander

  • Native American