Pennsylvania’s Foster Teens to Gather for Annual Retreat

Sharon Blake, University of Pittsburgh

posted August 08, 2016

Teenagers who are in foster care or who have recently aged out of the system will convene Aug. 8 through 12 on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus for the 2016 Older Youth Retreat—an annual event that features educational sessions, group talks, and social activities, allowing teens to bond with others in similar situations.

The theme for this year is “The Past is a Place of Reference, Not a Place of Residence.” About 125 young people, ages 16-21, are expected to attend along with 60 staff members.

The slate of activities, which begins daily after breakfast and wraps up at 10:30 p.m., was designed by the teens themselves. It includes banner design, volleyball and other sports, a hip-hop dance class, expression through music, painting, a gardening class, a talent show, and more. It also includes peer group sessions and larger sessions facilitated by youth and staff on the Older Youth Retreat Steering Committee.

The retreat, held every August at Pitt-Johnstown, is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center, part of Pitt’s School of Social Work.

The young participants form bonds with other people in a similar situation and receive advice on preparing for adulthood as they transition from the foster-care system. They do it all in a campus setting, sleeping in the dorms, living with peers, and using the campus facilities, which can help to plant the seed for furthering their education.

According to one of the event organizers, Helen Cahalane, principal investigator of Pitt’s Child Welfare Education and Research Programs, this past year has seen an increased focus on building services for older youth, identifying opportunities for normalcy, and building a youth’s support network.

“Pennsylvania’s child welfare system continues to make progress by working together with youth in foster care and preparing young people for a happy and healthy adult life,” said Cahalane. “This annual retreat is one way we continue that commitment.”

Visit for more information about the 2016 Older Youth Retreat.