Family-Youth-Provider Partnerships

Welcome to the Partnering with Youth and Family (PWYF) pages of, the Web site of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

The PWYF Committee strives to promote partnerships between trauma-informed service providers and the youth, families, and caregivers receiving services. Partnerships are based on mutual respect, a common commitment to healing, and shared responsibilities for planning, selecting, participating in, and evaluating services and supports.

Page Contents

What is Partnership?

Partnership merges professional and lived expertise to achieve more successful and meaningful outcomes of care – outcomes that are defined in equal parts by all members of the relationship. It is not enough for the provider to simply ask a family for feedback on a questionnaire or in focus groups; nor for families to rely on the provider to be the “sole expert” and authority on the course of services. 


Why is Partnership Vital to Trauma-Informed Care?

Whereas the experience of trauma takes away choice and control, the trauma-informed healing environment maximizes opportunities for choice and control. Furthermore, healing happens in the context of relationships built on mutual trust, respect, and empowerment. Providers and families that team together in a partnership are more successful in meeting common goals.


How Does Partnership Inform the Principles of Trauma-Informed Care?

In defining a trauma-informed approach to services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has set forth principles that reflect a growing appreciation of partnerships and the power shared within them.

SAMHSA’s Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed ApproachPartnership in Practice
Safety: Throughout the organization, staff members and the people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe; the physical setting is safe, and interpersonal interactions promote a sense of safety.There is a difference between being physically safe and feeling psychologically safe, and both are important. Simply asking about a family member’s sense of safety in the service setting is a great first step toward building a relationship focused on healing and good partnership.
Trustworthiness and transparency:  Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency, with the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff, family members, and others in the organization.Trustworthiness and transparency aren’t always easy – they require honesty, lots of time devoted to communication, and acknowledgement of accountability by families and providers alike.
Collaboration and mutuality: There is partnering and leveling of power differences between staff and clients and among organizational staff, from direct care staff to administrators; there is recognition that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making.Working together with mutual respect requires commitment, especially when differences of opinion arise. The commitment is worth the effort. It makes it easier for families, staff members, and management to meet shared goals and offset power differences.
Empowerment, voice, and choice: Throughout the organization and among the clients served, individual’s strengths are recognized, built on, and validated, and new skills are developed as necessary.

The organization aims to strengthen the experience of choice for staff, clients, and family members.; and to recognize that every person’s experience is unique and requires an individualized approach.
Empowerment does not happen by chance, but by choice. Sharing power in a partnership is integral to trauma-informed services; the shared-power relationship focuses on learning rather than compliance, and it supports lasting change.

Learning to “speak one’s truth” is an important part of the relationship regardless of one’s “role.”
Peer support and mutual self-help: These are integral to the organizational and service delivery approach and are understood as a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and enabling empowerment.Peer support is about valuing lived expertise; it should be available and nurtured by the provider or agency.
Cultural, historical, and gender issues: The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g., those based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, geography, etc.); offers gender responsive services; leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections; and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.Services that are a good cultural “fit” encourage better engagement than services that are being imposed from an outside culture.


Partnerships Resources from the NCTSN

Pathways to Partnerships with Youth and Families in the National Traumatic Stress Network (2008) gives organizations the tools they need to begin the process of effective partnering. It offers trauma services agencies a structure for examining and expanding the role of youth and families in their organizations. Self-assessment tools, along with sample goals, objectives, activities, and strategies, help users evaluate current participation and target areas for further integrating youth and families. Practical examples illustrate the concepts and methods discussed.

Sharing Power: A Tool for Reflection (2016) guides providers through a series of reflections that will help them identify opportunities to share power in trauma-responsive partnerships. These opportunities exist from the outset of services through planning, decision making, evaluation, and coping with obstacles or crises.

Back to Top

Strategic Sharing

By sharing their own experiences with trauma and healing, family members and youth can help motivate, inspire, and create new opportunities to educate others. Sharing stories can also help build supportive, trusting partnerships. Strategic sharing is the practice of telling a personal story in a way that promotes healthy and positive change. Training in strategic sharing is also a key part of advocacy. The members of the NCTSN Partnering with Youth and Family Committee recognize the importance of providing support to family partners and youth who are interested in sharing their stories.

Sharing stories can be a powerful means of communicating with an audience. While the pivotal events of a story may not change from audience to audience, the way the story is told will be unique each time. A story does not have to be long, just carefully thought out to achieve a meaningful goal. To this end, storytellers should know why they are sharing with each specific audience, and what parts of their stories they feel comfortable and safe in sharing. 
The following resources on strategic sharing may be of value to:

  • Young adults who have a history of past traumatic experiences.
  • Caregivers with current or past traumatic experiences in the family or affecting their children.
  • Service providers who are aware of strategic sharing and wish to understand and implement it.


Strategic Sharing (Casey Family Programs)

Strategic Sharing Workbook: Youth Voice in Advocacy (National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health) (2012) (PDF)

Making Change Happen Through the Power of Persuasive Storytelling (Georgetown University Training Institutes) (2014) (PDF)

Back to Top

NCTSN Resources

What’s Sharing Power Got to Do with Trauma-Informed Practice? (2016) (PDF)
Sharing power in partnerships is integral to trauma-informed services and support. This tip sheet points out the opportunities for sharing power throughout the journey of healing, and the ways in which shared power benefits outcomes. For example, relationships based on sharing power encourage help-seeking behaviors and support lasting change.

Sharing Power: A Tool for Reflection (2016) (PDF)

This tip sheet providers to use to explore sharing power in trauma-responsive care. Providers also can use the tool to “wear the hats” of others at their agency—parent, intake worker, administrator, and more—to help broaden perspective and deepen their insights. The tip sheet covers these topics: language and tone (of agency outreach materials), intake and registration, conducting an initial meeting, giving assessment/evaluation feedback (for example, jargon-free), the course of care, obstacles and crises, and ending treatment services. 

Pathways to Partnerships with Youth and Families in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2008) (PDF) offers members of the NCTSN and other agencies that provide trauma treatment a structure for examining and expanding the role of youth and families in their organizations on both the clinical and organizational levels. Self-assessment tools, along with sample goals, objectives, activities, and strategies help users evaluate current participation and target areas for further integrating youth and families. Practical examples from an NCTSN member organization provide useful illustrations of the concepts and methods discussed.

Pathways to Partnerships is a practical resource that gives organizations the tools they need to begin this process of effective engagement.

Pathways to Partnership Tip Sheets
Since the publication of Pathways to Partnership, many NCTSN sites have requested more technical assistance in their efforts to engage youth and families. Based on the input of professionals, families, and youth at sites that have successfully integrated youth and families into their programs or organizations, the Partnering with Youth and Families Committee developed three tip sheets. These tip sheets are not meant to be exhaustive guides, but rather a starting place for Network sites and other agencies seeking to expand the role of youth and families in their organizations.
•    Pathways to Partnership: Frequently Asked Questions on Compensation for Family, Youth, and Consumer Involvement (2009) (PDF)  
•    Pathways to Partnership: Tips for Developing an Effective Advisory Board (2009) (PDF)  
•    Pathways to Partnership: Tips for Incorporating Peer-to-Peer Support Into Your Program (2009) (PDF)  

To access the additional information for parents and caregivers click here.

Back to Top