by Emily Orenstein, University of Chicago Institute of Politics intern

The SYNC cohort’s collaboration continued August 18th at the Chicago Center for Arts and Technology (ChiCAT) with a second session from MENTOR Illinois. Often used as a way for teachers to share learnings and improve methods, this Professional Learning Community (PLC) model has also shown benefits for those working in the social service sector. Get IN Chicago PLC sessions provide an opportunity for the different SYNC organizations to gather together, engage, and exchange ideas to improve their work with youth. In particular, the August meeting included sessions on recruitment and interagency communication, creating safe environments for teens affected by trauma, and breakout groups focused on mentoring and cognitive behavioral therapy interventions.

Joyce Austin, SYNC Intake and Recruitment Specialist from Metropolitan Family Services, led the discussion on recruitment and strategies for improving outreach. A few organizations mentioned how social media has become part of their efforts: Facebook profiles are often more dependable than phone numbers for young people. While phones are easily lost and numbers frequently disconnected, youth social media profiles stay fairly consistent. In 2017, meeting youth where they are often means connecting with them on social media.

Joyce also emphasized the concept of the “warm handoff” between SYNC partners. Since SYNC youth are often not enrolled in school or have been involved in the justice system, they are among the hardest to reach. Joyce reiterated the importance of mentors, recruiters, and other staff members to remain in close contact as youth move through the different stages of SYNC: recruitment, intake, screening, and programs. Warm handoffs are important for youth to feel stable and see SYNC as a cohesive network of support.

Jackie Garlock, Program Manager from Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY), presented on the trauma-informed approach of working with teens during the second session. She shared strategies designed to foster safe environments for traumatized youth – those whom may never feel safe. Specifically, she advocated using the 5-S model of trauma-informed care:

1) Creating a safe environment
2) Supportive adult relationships
3) Self-soothing to Self-regulation
4) Strength and resilience
5) Self-care

One of the most encouraging signs from the PLC event was that it ran almost a half-hour late – solely because the attendees had so many ideas and stories to share with their colleagues that they took extra time, working even through the coffee break. We look forward to watching the networks between SYNC providers deepen as the initiative continues, strengthening our collective ability to support our youth.