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May 2011Vol. 12, No. 4Using Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice to Improve Foster Care Placement Stability: A Breakthro

In July 2010, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), launched the Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice Breakthrough Series Collaborative (TICWP BSC), which focuses on using trauma-informed practices to improve foster care placement stability. The BSC model was created by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and has been adapted for use within the child welfare system; it is a fast-paced model designed to help individuals within the system to improve it. This BSC is focused on using knowledge of child trauma to shape decisions, actions, policies, procedures, staffing, and supports for children, their families, and their caregivers, resulting in more successful adjustments and fewer disruptions in care.

The TICWP BSC includes nine teams from around the country: Los Angeles, San Diego, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Texas. Each team is a partnership between a county- or State-level public child welfare agency and an organization that provides evidence-based interventions for child trauma. Team members include child welfare and mental health administrators, child welfare line workers and supervisors, managers, trauma therapists, birth parents, foster parents, and, in many cases, youth participants.

Participating teams initially tested changes at the practice level through a process called Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles, or PDSAs. Some PDSAs already underway include:

  • Using a trauma-informed screening tool to identify children who may benefit from trauma-focused therapy
  • Better connecting birth and foster parents to mitigate additional trauma for the child
  • Scheduling meetings that include all caregivers who support children in foster care (foster parents, birth parents, social workers)
  • Providing trauma-informed information to caregivers
  • Developing trainings on child trauma for child welfare staff and foster parents

Each team is learning from those tests and then implementing the small changes that have an impact on foster care placement stability at a target site. In aggregate, these small changes will result in systemic changes that can be replicated, spread, and ultimately formalized in policy, training, and practice. 

The final meeting for the TICWP BSC will be held in June 2011. After this meeting, teams will continue to focus on spreading tested practices across their jurisdictions. While the official BSC concludes in September 2011, teams will be encouraged to continue spreading identified changes across their jurisdictions. A final report detailing the work of the teams, highlighting the specific practices that were successfully tested and implemented, will be available on the NCTSN website later this year:

Contributed by Lisa Conradi, Chadwick Center Children and Families & National Center for Child Traumatic Stress – UCLA; Susan Ko, National Center for Child Traumatic Stress – UCLA; Erika Tullberg, ACS-NYU Children’s Trauma Center; Jen Agosti, Consultant; Heather Langan, National Center for Child Traumatic Stress – Duke University; and Charles Wilson, Chadwick Center for Children and Families