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Using Direct Services-Informed Advocacy to Influence Public Policy and Systems Change

At the heart of our mission and our public policy work are the needs and strengths of the youth and families we serve, and we believe that public policy should be informed directly by those needs and strengths. The YAP Policy and Advocacy Center relies on the experiences of our program participants and direct service staff to inform how we advocate changing policies and systems that adversely and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. The link between our practice and efforts to change policies that affect the people we serve adds a unique and important component to advocacy movements.

Our contribution is driven by our mission and informed by the direct services we provide and the self-advocacy of our youth and families. In addition to young people and their families, our community-based staff are a valuable resource in understanding policies that need change and the impact of policy changes on communities. This nexus to the people most affected by unfair and ineffective policies and institutions enables us to inform how priorities should be set to adequately reflect current and evolving needs of marginalized and disadvantaged people and communities.

YAP VOICE: Vocalize, Organize, Inform, Collaborate, Empower

Integrated within the work of the Policy and Advocacy Center is YAP VOICE, an agency-wide systems change initiative with a goal to empower and support our young people, families, and staff to work to leverage their experiences in human service systems to influence policy and systems change. Because YAP's direct services approach only works when youth and families have voice and ownership of the service delivery plan, they discover that what they have to say matters and they begin to take constructive control of their lives, becoming self-advocates. YAP VOICE helps our youth and families transfer that self-advocacy to advocacy for others, making even more of an impact.

Youth and families that participate in YAP's VOICE engage in a variety of activities such as: providing legislative testimony, speaking before school boards, meeting with legislators at the local and federal level, presenting at conferences and organizing letter writing campaigns. With over 12,000 families served each year, YAP's families and youth are a persuasive, informed force advocating for change.

Utilizing the expertise of the Policy and Advocacy Center's Advisory Board of seasoned youth advocates and policy experts, members of our Executive Team, our Direct Service staff, and our youth and families, we will influence public policy to increase support for families and communities and reduce reliance on institutions. Our activities will inform policymakers and advocates about what families, government leaders and communities need to make alternatives to institutionalization both a reality and a preferred approach to helping vulnerable and marginalized people achieve social and personal success while keeping communities safe and families intact. We will also continue to work in collaboration with other advocates and groups who share our goals of deinstitutionalizing youth and strengthening families and communities.

Some of our activities will include developing white papers, maintaining a blog on our website, engaging social media to increase our impact, cultivating on-going relationships with legislators and advocates, providing expert testimony and offering training to governments on how to implement policies that can support deinstitutionalization and greater community investment.