Focus 2023 Sessions

Focus 2023 is full of opportunities to expand your knowledge of the issues impacting the youth and family services field. NSPN has added additional workshops and keynote presentations to help meet participant needs of this anticipated sold out event. 

Keynote Presentations

The Impact of the Mental Health Crisis on Staff and Programs

There can be little doubt of the existence of a mental health crisis in the United States. Helpers – those who are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of others – experience the crisis in a unique and challenging way. Whether they are first responders, educators, health providers, or youth care professionals, those responsible for listening, caring, sharing, overcoming barriers, and dealing with minimal resources are often under both societal and self-imposed pressure to be “ok”.  Daily activities focused on the physical, emotional, and mental health needs of others often result in workers denying their own needs and struggling to justify self-care in the face of so many who need so much. This behavior is exacerbated by “the great resignation” which has left social service agencies with insufficient staffing capacity to meet service demands. 

This presentation will feature a panel representing a cross-section of roles (youth care workers, supervisors, clinicians, and executives) within social service agencies to share their experiences and what has worked and what hasn’t in efforts to balance the needs of the client with the increasing threats to the mental health of staff. This facilitated session will feature opportunities for attendees to identify their individual and organizational struggles related to the impact of the mental health crisis and to create action plans for support moving forward.

Facilitator: Julia E. Richardson, National Association of Behavioral Health Care
Panelists:   Arash Ghafoori, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth; Patricia Cardoso, Haven House Services; Misty Gattie-Blanco, Fresno EOC; Barissa Ford, Youth in Need; Sydney Givens, YMCA Safe Place Services

Overview of Crimes against Children and Youth

One of the signs of the times is the way crimes of children, especially sexual exploitation and human trafficking have evolved to increase the risk to youth in their homes and via technology. This session will highlight what the data says about these crimes and their impact.

Presenter: Tora Bly, Intelligence Analyst, Child Exploitation Operational Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation;  Lauren Bledsoe, Intelligence Analyst, Criminal Investigative Division Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Intelligence Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Changing Trends in Youth Homelessness

The faces of young people in our country has changed significantly over the past forty years The advent of the smart phone coupled with social media has definitely changed both the resources that homeless youth have access to when they are living on the streets and the approach that homeless providers take to supporting homeless youth to transition off the streets and into housing. Better data collection and more coordinated services have improved our capacities as homeless providers to engage and connect homeless youth with resources they need to keep them safe.  Public health and mental health trends have also changed dramatically with the advent of fentanyl and the unprecedented COVID pandemic.  This talk will feature changing perspectives on youth homelessness and how we rise to the occasions as providers and champions for youth in our communities.

Presenter: Jamie Van Leeuwen, CEO and Founder, Global Livingston Institute

Workshop Session I

Supporting Online Safety of Youth

Operation Angel – Honoring the memory by providing education, prevention, response and survivor resources

On November 14, 2015, seven year old Gabbi Doolin was sexually assaulted and murdered. In 2019, Operation Gabbi Doolin ignited a host of education seminars and large scale predator operations dedicated to her memory. Each operation continues to identify and provide resources to survivors, some who never disclosed. Partnering with multiple agencies and non-government organizations such as YMCA Safe Place allows us to provide immediate shelter to victims identified during the operations. This session will feature an overview of the efforts of Operation Angel and how the program is expanding to other communities.

Presenter: Rick Nord, United States Secret Service

Enhancing the Connection between Safe Place and Schools

The important connection between Safe Place and schools has existed since the beginning of the Safe Place program in 1983. Changes in access to youth and virtual education during the pandemic increased challenges associated with school-based outreach and partnerships. Attendees of this session will get a first look at the new “Safe Place in Schools” Toolkit and hear from local program representatives who will share ideas on success while school is in session.

Presenters: Soutdaly Sysavath, Wichita Children's Home; Mahogany Smart, ACH Services

Ensuring the Quality of Safe Place Programs

This session is designed to ensure staff of existing Safe Place programs and those interested in starting a Safe Place program have the information and resources needed to understand and meet national licensing standards. Community-based organizations and other partners have opportunities to create and manage programs unique to communities while still operating within standards designed to protect youth and minimize risk. Come prepared with your questions and examples of what you do or could do to help Safe Place succeed and to help youth have somewhere to go – someone to help.

Presenter: Tammy L. Hopper, National Safe Place Network

‘That’s not all I am’:  Expanding the concepts of Strengths-based practice to include culturally specific and healing centered care

While the concept of strengths-based perspective in youth work is not new, the current social, political and economic environment requires that practitioners and organizations broaden their understanding and engagement with protective and risk factors affecting the lives of youth and their families, particularly those from marginalized communities.  The current session will provide information, resources, and opportunities for discussion on strategies to recognize the extent of trauma that individuals and families experience, in an effort to create pathways to validation, support and healing.

By the end of the presentation, participants will:

  • Gain a basic understanding of the nature of oppression and its consequences on youth, families and communities (HINT: We’re going to talk about white supremacy)

  • Explore the effects of oppression as a mechanism for trauma

  • Understanding the concept of Healing-Centered Engagement and its connection to strengths-based work

  • Engage in discussion and be provided resources on applying the principles of healing-centered work

Presenter: Kimberly Frierson (she/her), DSW, CYC-P


Self-Care in the Midst of a Mental Health Crisis

People talk about self-care and some are even good about developing healthy practices. In the best of times, the importance of self-care can be overlooked. What happens in the midst of a national mental health crisis? What do you do to truly focus on your emotional spiritual, and psychological health when you are overwhelmed and addressing the needs of others? This session features an open discussion on practical and time effective tips to prioritize your well-being while you do such important work for and on behalf of youth and families.

Presenter: Joli Guenther, Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services

Focused Discussions

Participants will select one of the following facilitated discussions to share questions, concerns, and needs related to the topic. This opportunity to share what you know and what you need to know more about will also help NSPN build out resources and supports for the future. Come prepared to talk and build community with others who share similar interests. 

Discussion Topics:

  • “Forgotten” Youth – Youth forced out and ignored by systems
  • Laws Impacting LGBTQ+
  • Mental Health
  • Staffing Needs
  • Youth Violence

Workshop Session II

Safe Place Site and Community Partner Engagement

The very first Safe Place site established in 1983 was a fire station. Since that time, more than 22,000 sites have been established to provide critical linkages to safety for youth in crisis. Whether the sites are libraries, quick serve restaurants, recreational centers, or your local transit department – connecting with sites and community partners is critical to expanding your reach to youth in crisis. This session will feature ideas and tips on establishing sites and keeping them involved with your program.

Presenters: Rick Chamness, Synergy Services; Natalie Brown, Youth Services of Tulsa; Michaela Taylor, Christopher Youth Center

Supporting the Sustainability of Your Safe Place Program

It seems like starting a program and introducing it to a community is the fun part! Then comes the work of keeping a program going and vital in the eyes of staff, the community, and funders. This session will feature the experience of development and organizational leadership representatives who will share tips on building donor bases, establishing corporate partnerships, hosting special events, and including Safe Place in funding proposals. Come prepared to share your ideas and how you sustain your program and learn from the insights of others.

Presenters: Dave Brennan, YMCA Safe Place Services; Michelle Tutunjian, Fresno EOC

Supportive Engagement and Services with LGBTQ Youth

Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ experience increased vulnerability to individual, organization, community, and systems challenges. This presentation will provide an overview of the critical nature of language, authenticity, and trust in establishing relationships which will support youth in accessing, utilizing, and successfully navigating services. Participants will be invited to share the challenges faced in engaging and assisting youth in the face of shifting policy.

Presenter: Nancy Mullen, Youth Outlook

The Importance of Safe Place as a Prevention Model

It may be easy to think about Safe Place only as an intervention after youth have made decisions to leave unhealthy or unsafe situations. While this perspective has validity, it is also true that Safe Place serves to prevent the multitude of dangers youth may face and to interrupt and replace thoughts which accompany feelings of hopelessness. This session will examine how Safe Place can be featured as a prevention model in efforts to engage new partners, seek funding, and to build community support. This session is appropriate for staff of existing Safe Place programs as well as those interested in potentially beginning a program in your community.

Presenter: Robin Donaldson, PhD, Indiana Youth Services Bureau; Erin Strohbehn, Youth in Need

Developing Organizational Leaders Now and For the Future

This session features the experiences of organizational leaders who will discuss the importance or professional development and opportunities for leadership experience for staff who have the potential to lead now and in the future. Participants will hear what may be helpful in their leadership journeys and will participate in an interactive discussion regarding what experienced organizational leaders wish they knew prior to assuming responsibilities. The importance of cross-training will be highlighted. Come prepared to share your insights and questions on how best to prepare yourself or those in your organization who may be the ones critical to your succession planning.

General Session

Meaningful Engagement with Young People

Adult staff of programs and organizations have frequently shared the difficulties of meaningful youth engagement. Even the question of what qualifies as “lived experience” is debated. How do you get past the challenge of inviting youth to the table without being truly prepared to partner? Come to this session prepared to listen to youth and young adults with lived experience discuss what works and what may not work when engaging youth in your efforts.

Presenters: Lyric Wardlow; Amiyah Hawkins (Invited)


Register today for Focus 2023. Early registration is encouraged as this event quickly sells out. 

Register for Focus 2023 Today