May 2019 | Vol. 20, No. 4
Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly
A good friend who does incredibly important child welfare reform work commonly says, "when we know better, we do better." When it comes to foster care in the United States, we know better. It is time to do better by families and youth. Despite the good intentions of caring people across the country, the combination of research, outcomes data, and the stories of parents and youth with lived foster care experience tells us—resoundingly—that our current foster care system needs to change. Brain science, our knowledge of the importance of the parent-child bond to healthy child development, our understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences, and our growing understanding of trauma and its often lifelong affects place us clearly in a position of knowing better. This knowledge and information puts us on notice that it is time to change our approach and the very nature of what we perceive foster care to be; it calls us to be better.
The knowledge and information we have must serve as a reckoning.
We need to come to terms with the fact that the foster care system as we know it has and continues to add trauma in many situations, despite our well-intentioned efforts and our need to use it to keep children safe. The Children's Bureau's vision for our child welfare system is one that is family centered and oriented toward primary prevention of child maltreatment. We can articulate that vision as creating the conditions for strong and thriving families and communities where children are free from harm. There is a strong role for the foster care system in realizing that vision.
We would all like nothing more than to eliminate the need for foster care altogether and are committed to reducing the need for it dramatically by going after the root causes of family vulnerability. However, we are clear eyed that foster care will likely always remain necessary for some percentage of children when it is not safe for them to remain home and where kinship options do not exist.
To the extent foster care remains necessary, we have a moral and ethical obligation to do better and make it a radically better, healthier, and more positive experience for all involved—one that promotes the well-being of parents and children alike and supports those that serve as foster or resource parents. We can do this by putting the knowledge we now hold to work.
Foster care today looks more similar than not to the way it did a few decades ago. We remove a child from his or her home to keep him or her physically safe. We most typically place that child with a well- meaning stranger. That well-meaning stranger more often than not lives in a different community or zip code than the child's family. If school aged, very commonly that child will move to a different school. The child may or may not be placed in the same home with his or her siblings. That child may or may not know where his or her siblings are or if his or her parents are okay. In a blink of an eye, all that is familiar and a source of comfort to that child is taken away, absent—gone. That child may or may not have the ability to process and comprehend what has happened and why.
Once in foster care, that child will likely see his or her parent once or twice a week for "visitation." That visitation may likely occur in an unnatural setting, such as a county office with someone sitting in the corner watching—providing supervision—for an hour or two at a time. The child may or may not have visitation with his or her siblings.
The well-meaning strangers—foster parents—may have received very little training and support to help the child in their care deal with trauma. The foster parents were likely encouraged not to interact with the parents of the child in their care—and perhaps were told that the parent or parents were dangerous. The foster parents may be providing foster care with the hope and intention of adopting the child.
The parents of that child likely will not know where their child is and have no way to reach him or her other than by communication through a third party. The parents of the child are undoubtedly experiencing a great deal of stress. The parent of that child will worry about where their child is and how he or she is doing even if they are not in a position to live under the same roof at that moment.
This situation may, and often does, continue for months on end.
All of the above is deeply traumatizing for children and parents alike. Each individual component of the above brings additional trauma and the cumulative result can be overwhelming. It also is very hard on foster parents.
A young man in Louisiana recently described this situation. He said he was 6 years old when he was removed from his home. He said he knew his mother was using drugs, and even at the age of 6 he knew they made her sick. He was worried about her. He knew she loved him and she took good care of him most of the time, but he worried when she was sick and it made him afraid. He tried to care for her in the ways he knew how. Now he is 21 years old, but he remembers the night of his removal vividly. He remembers that no one took the time to explain to him what was happening or to let him know that his mother—his lone caregiver—was going to be okay. He remembers the longing to see her and hear her voice, but weeks went by before he did. He recounts that this will stay with him always, even now as a grown man with a strong relationship with his mother.
We do a poor job of explaining to children, in developmentally appropriate ways, what is happening during the time of removal and why removal is necessary. Recent research defines the situation this young man described as "ambiguity" and identifies it as deeply traumatizing for young children, even for short periods of time.
This way of serving children and families is not producing the results anyone would hope for. We can change the way we do it. We have outstanding examples of what foster care can be.
Rather than "rescuing" children, we can—as one outstanding parent attorney explains her work to her own children—"save families." Foster care can and should be a way to strengthen families, by building their capacities and giving them the support they need to heal and function in safe and healthy ways. It is not currently designed to operate in such ways.
At the Children's Bureau, we believe strongly that foster care can and should be reconceptualized as a service to the entire family, as a key component in the need to create the conditions for strong and thriving families and communities where children are free from harm. Resource or foster parents can be specifically recruited and trained to be a support to families and to help create those conditions, to work alongside parents as mentors to help them realize their full potential. Foster care can be a way to form meaningful relationships and human connections, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Foster care can be a way to wrap support around a family and promote child and parent well-being, family integrity, and parental agency.
Picture how different the foster care experience would be for all involved if it was designed to bring families closer together rather than hold them apart.
What if placing children with kin or people that they knew was the norm?
Where nonrelative care is necessary, what if children were placed in their own community?
What if a child did not have to change schools and separate from friends?
What if children lived close enough to their parent or parents that they could see each other on a daily or near daily basis?
What if children were placed with or near their siblings so they could continue important relationships and bonds?
What if foster parents invited parents into their homes?
What if parents and children in out-of-home care were able to spend time together in the foster home doing the normal kinds of things parents and children do together, such as reading, playing games, doing homework, eating meals, and performing bath and bedtime routines?
What if foster parenting looked more like coparenting, coaching, and mentoring?
What if children knew there were multiple adults in their lives who loved them and were there to provide care for and nurture them?
What if foster parents and parents got to know and respect one another and build a trusting relationship?
And what if foster parents were recruited, trained, and supported to foster as a support to the whole family?
How differently might a child experience foster care if this were the case?
How differently would a parent experience foster care if this were the case?
How differently would a foster parent experience foster care if this were the case?
I know this can be the case because I have seen it firsthand in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; Ottawa County, Michigan; and the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I've met foster parents in other parts of the country who have taken it upon themselves to work directly with parents, completely on their own accord as they saw it as the right thing to do. It is one of the rare approaches in child welfare that need not cost an additional dime and could, in fact, save money and prove a powerful return on investment.
We know better. Now, it is time to do better. There is nothing stopping us from beginning today.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
Written by Jerry Milner
History was made on April 18, 2019, in Lansing, Michigan—the Children's Bureau (CB) was pleased to sign and approve the first Program Improvement Plan (PIP) ever submitted in approvable form within the 90-day regulatory timeframe. This is significant not just because it has never happened before in the 18 years that CB has administered the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSR) but because of the manner in which it was completed.
The approval was possible as the result of a new approach to PIP development currently being piloted by CB. The approach requires enhanced levels of partnership between the federal government, state government, county child welfare agencies, federal technical assistance providers, and a wide array of state and local stakeholders, including, most importantly, parents and youth with lived foster care and child welfare experience. CB initiated the pilot process in direct response to continued poor national performance on round three of the CFSR. Three states volunteered to be a part of the pilot: Michigan, Louisiana, and Maryland. Michigan was the first state to commence the process.
To date, no state has achieved substantial conformity on all of the measures included in the CFSR. Consequently, every state in the country has been required to develop a PIP in all rounds of the CFSR. The process of negotiating PIPs with states has been arduous and far in excess of the timelines set by regulation. While certain measures have been improved under many PIPs, such improvements have not commonly led to meaningful systemic changes overall as we originally envisioned in implementing the CFSR.
The purpose of the PIP pilots are to:
The desired outcome of the PIP pilot is to assist the state agency and stakeholders in developing a PIP framework that puts the state on track for an approvable PIP within 90 days of the onsite review. The most common reasons that we have engaged in prolonged deliberations with states over the PIPs include the lack of a common understanding of the underlying causes of the problems to be resolved/improved, of the approaches needed to resolve the problems and how to get there, the lack of critical stakeholder involvement, the lack of fit between strategies and desired outcomes, and extended review and comment periods on drafts of the PIPs between states and the federal government. In the PIP pilots, we have looked for ways to address those issues.
The pilots were designed to help stakeholders reach consensus and come together around a vision for what they want child welfare in their state to be and provides space and structure to ensure that all improvement efforts align with and support that vision. The vision and resulting desired outcomes should be jointly owned and implemented by the child welfare agency, the legal and judicial systems, service providers, and key stakeholders whose interactions with families and children affect the outcomes. A portion of the onsite PIP pilots is devoted to clarifying vision and values in order to guide development of specific PIP strategies and approaches and roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders in implementation.
In Michigan, nearly 70 stakeholders from across the broader child welfare system came together to work with a team comprising CB and staff from the CB Capacity Building Centers for Courts and States for 1 week to examine the root causes of what was standing in the way of producing the outcomes all hoped to see for children and families. Significant work was done in advance by teams to analysis and prepare data for stakeholders to examine and considered throughout the process.
The Michigan team was successful in building consensus around a common vision, identifying cross-cutting issues impeding their ability to reach their vision, and creative, realistic strategies that have a strong possibility of improving the lives of children and families.
The following are two of the strategies that warrant specific mention and represent the type of creativity and boldness that CB would like to promote nationally:
Both strategies are designed to address challenges with parent and youth engagement that persist in Michigan and are endemic nationally and to help improve specific safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes identified as areas in need of improvement through the review.
CB commends the state of Michigan for its courage in volunteering to be a part of the process. The child welfare system in Michigan has faced tremendous scrutiny as the result of a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children in care and had every reason to retreat into a protectionist bunker. Rather, the state's leadership, including those who were outgoing and transitional, demonstrated tremendous trust and boldness in going out on a limb to participate in the process.
Finalization of the PIP is a necessary but insufficient accomplishment in improving the way children and families experience the child welfare system. Michigan must now implement the plan in meaningful and effective ways. CB has committed to support Michigan in its continued efforts through our region 5 office team and CB Capacity Building Centers for Courts and States to ensure full implementation.
We congratulate all involved with the successful Michigan PIP development.
With continued diligence and coordinated work toward its vision, the stage is set for success in Michigan.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
Written by Irene Clements, executive director, National Foster Parent Association
Upon opening a Facebook message recently, I found the following from the biological mother of one of our former foster daughters: "I think our daughter needs us." This may not sound significant, but the relationship between her mother and I has been ongoing for the past 19 years. Our family's willingness to mentor—and at times parent—our former foster daughter's mother resulted in her being able to have her daughter returned to her care at the age of 15. It took 2 years of frequent support opportunities to help this mother make it happen.
Over the past 20 years, there has been a decline in foster families mentoring birth families, with many foster parents and staff fearing communication and connection between the two families. Common sense must be utilized when determining how much communication and connection is safe and best for the children involved. But, that said, this relationship can make or break reunification.
As the tenets of the Family First Prevention Services Act are developed and rolled out across this great country, it is imperative that foster families and those who support them recognize their intrinsic value in the reunification process and seek ways to encourage the vital role they play in the foster care system. Important, too, is the support and services available to the caregiver families as they experience secondary trauma through their work with the children who join their family through foster care and as they provide supports to the birth families.
Recruiting families that want to make a significant difference to numerous children over numerous years must become a priority, and assessments, training, and supports help prepare each family for the work ahead. When a child joins a foster, kinship, or adoptive family, there will be opportunities for learning and growth that can lead to wisdom over the years. The wisdom these families gain can prepare them to care for children and youth with increased needs while building trusting relationships.
Foster parent associations and other support groups are key to providing understanding and compassion for the families who practice what my friend and former foster child, Rhonda, calls "radical hospitality."
The National Foster Parent Association is available to all foster, kinship, and adoptive parents. The association's Council of State Affiliates is available to assist foster caregivers in the states in which they reside.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
Written by Ashley Malefyt, foster parent, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (Ottawa County)
I remember sitting down in the apartment of a mom I had just met in what would be considered a "hard" part of town. This was one of the first times that I stepped outside of my comfort zone in an attempt to really connect with the family of the children I've been asked to parent. The challenge made me feel uncomfortable. However, what I was feeling couldn't cast a shadow on the anxiety, grief, and complexity of the emotions I'm sure she was feeling.
We talked about the hard stuff. I told her about my family, showed her pictures, and offered to take her to my home so she could see for herself where her kids would be living. I remember telling her, "My family is your family now. My support system and my resources are now yours."
I remember the look in her eyes said, "This is too good to be true". She seemed uncertain that she should—or could—trust this strange White woman that a social worker had brought into her home to talk about where her children would be placed. But, I meant what I said, and I think somehow those intentions translated to her. You see, the heart of true fostering is in fostering the whole family, not just the child.
You could see the relief on her face when we talked about the goals she wanted to set for herself and how this hard thing might actually be a blessing in disguise. We talked about how she was important and how she would like for her children to be cared for while she cared for herself. Over the next 6 months, she completed her GED, got a driver's license and a car, and went to school to learn how to style hair.
Did things turn out perfectly? No. This is real life, and life is messy.
But, I think, for that moment, all it took was someone treating her with dignity for her to make the hard choice of letting someone else care for her babies. She knew that this would enable her to care for herself in a way that would allow her to care for her children in the future. And this is how every foster case should start—because children belong in families, and their family is worth fighting for.
As foster families, we need to take the time to recognize the humanity in ourselves and acknowledge our privilege. We need to extend that same grace we expect for ourselves to the parents whose children we are caring for. As foster families, we aren't called to replace a child's family. I challenge foster families to consider this radical idea to work alongside birth parents as an extended support system—an extended family.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
Written by Katrina George, director of marketing and communications, FaithBridge Foster Care, Alpharetta, GA
Meet the Schoomakers, Barlows, Moores, DiCaras, and Prices. They are part of a fostering community at Four Points Church in Acworth, GA. Partnering with FaithBridge Foster Care, these foster parents are making a positive impact in the lives of foster children and their biological families. Their approach includes partnering with biological parents, keeping them informed of their children's lives, and continuing to support and connect with them after reunification. They are in it for the long haul.
"We share what is happening in our home," explains Heather and Tyler Price. "We invite them to appointments, share discipline strategies, and allow them into our lives."
Jill and Tony DiCara also involve parents in decision-making. "We also send pictures and encourage them in their progress."
"We have the ability not just to step into a child's story but into a family's story," say Nicole and Bruce Barlow. "For instance, we had a baby who was struggling to bond with his mother. We saw that the visitation environment was not ideal, so we decided to do some visits at our house where we knew the baby felt comfortable. This helped them bond, and, together, we were able to meet the needs of the child."
Their connection after reunification provides a community of support that did not exist prior to their child's placement.
"We cared for two brothers and are thrilled that they have returned home to a mom who is truly transformed!" says Heather Price. "It has been beautiful to see her progress and by keeping a relationship with her, we remembered our role as a partner in caring for her children when she couldn't. We celebrate their reunification now that she is able to care for them well! Church members have also supported mom after a car accident totaled her car. Without that support, her children could have been removed again."
"We had two girls in care and since they went back home, we have kept them about twice a month. We contact mom weekly to check on them and she calls or texts if she needs help with the kids," says Andrea and Zorin Moore.
Julie and James Schoomaker's current foster children have a 20-year-old sister. According to the Schoomakers, "She [the 20-year-old sister] herself had been in and out of foster care, and we include her in her siblings' lives. We have assisted in finding her housing and encourage her to set up supports that will make her successful."
Ultimately, these foster parents recognize that support and community is what helps any family thrive, including their own.
"We have an extended family that includes people from our fostering journey. We are invited to birthday parties and family events. We pray for them. They pray for us. We all get the community support that is needed to thrive, and the kids get a community of people loving them and fighting for their success," says Nicole Barlow.
"The best way to describe our relationship now would be family," say the Moores. "They think of us as family and we do too!"
To learn more about FaithBridge Foster Care, visit www.faithbridgefostercare.org.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
Written by Julia Jean-Francois, co-director, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York
The Center for Family Life in Sunset Park was founded in 1979 by two visionary social work practitioners, Sister Mary Paul Janchill and Sister Mary Geraldine Tobias. The sisters pioneered a model of neighborhood-based foster care that was entirely unique in New York City and that garnered skepticism and resistance from child welfare practice traditionalists. The sisters' idea was quite simple: children who enter the foster care system should not undergo the secondary trauma that results from being uprooted from their homes, neighborhoods, schools, play spaces and friends, pediatricians, and all that is familiar and stabilizing about their lives. To avert the experience of secondary trauma, the sisters believed that all foster care placements should be made within the same community in which the child lives at the time of their removal from their homes. Every effort should be made, they proposed, to ensure continuity in the daily routines and lives of children in the foster care system, and every effort should be made to engage birth parents to continue to participate in not only visits but also daily routines and home life in the foster home, in order to facilitate, whenever possible, the reunification of children and their families.
It was a simple idea: keep children in the neighborhoods where they have their roots and social networks and support parents in their efforts to remain productively engaged in their children's lives. In practice, however, this idea flew in the face of accepted wisdom about how foster care needed to be designed to promote child well-being. At that time, few child welfare practitioners were comfortable viewing the child's biological parents as their "client," insofar as the case-planning staff would be required to provide as much support to biological parents as they would to foster parents. In mainstream child welfare practice, biological parents were seen, quite plainly, as the perpetrators of abuse, and their progress was viewed as their own responsibility. The sisters, however, viewed biological parents as "yesterday's children," meaning these individuals were almost always themselves the victims of trauma and abuse and were more like their own children in their experiences of maltreatment than they were different. The sisters were convinced that for the child in foster care to internalize a positive, robust identity, and to feel strength and solidity in their own lives, case planners must engage with biological parents with compassion and a determination to provide support and partnership.
Whether or not biological parents were ever able to successfully overcome challenges, which could include any number of issues, such as substance use, a history of intimate partner violence, or any other matter, the case practice must support the child to find some productive and sustaining perspective on the parent that could serve as the foundation for the child's own personality development.
Further, many in mainstream child welfare practice expressed skepticism about the sister's insistence that case planners support foster parents to serve as partners and mentors to biological parents and to maintain an open and accessible home where both children and biological parents would be welcome. Perhaps it was the sisters' fundamental personal commitment to caritas and love of neighbor that gave them the certainty that this model would be successful. Their experience provided the evidence that families who, together, remained engaged with partners and mentors had stable and productive outcomes.
The sisters' commitment to neighborhood-based care extended to their work beyond child welfare program development to launching programs that focused on community development far more broadly and that extended well beyond the domain of foster care services. From the earliest days at the center, the sisters laid the foundation for what is now a multisite youth development project in nine public schools. The project addresses youth both in and out of school and extends from kindergarten through college. Through summer camps, youth employment, and a "ladder of leadership," the project supports youth in the community as they grow to become the leaders of our Center for Family Life programs and to assume other community leadership roles. Together, the sisters supported the development of neighborhood-based adult employment and small business development services, a food pantry, and legal and advocacy supports, all designed to wrap around the families who entered into the center's child welfare program.
Today, the center serves as a model of foster care intervention that engages skilled professionals—many of them with master's degrees in social work and counseling—in the practice of family-focused clinical interventions to address the acute trauma experienced by children and biological parents. Critically, these interventions are placed into an architecture of program offerings—available to all family members, foster parents, and multiple generations of community members—that support capacity building at the community level through the dynamic engagement of families in the economy and in the civic life of the community in which they live.
Clinical intervention in foster care services, in this model, has value only in so far as it prepares and strengthens children and families to become engaged, to lead, and to make decisions within the communities in which they live. The center's child welfare interventions are framed to provide support for children and families to gain skills in interpersonal relationship building and communication so they can ultimately find jobs, build businesses, find stable housing, and raise strong families.
Fundamentally the goal of the center's programs is to partner with the community to support youth to engage as active members and participants in critically analyzing their conditions and framing actions that shape their environment. In this model, we aim to support all members of the community to experience agency in their own lives and, as Paulo Freire suggests, to experience "concientization," or critical consciousness, of their role as members of a community.
The therapeutic interventions in our foster care program serve to support our participants to gain strength and insight into their personal and family dynamics. They may prove to be facilitators or barriers to ultimately exercising greater community voice and to determining the direction of the community's future. It is our hope—as it was our founders' hope—that our work, undertaken with a spirit of fellowship and humility, can serve as a useful example of an approach that joins therapeutic intervention with educational attainment, economic development, and community building to establish greater community voice, self-determination, and influence in the civic sphere.
To learn more about the Center for Family Life, visit https://sco.org/featured-programs/center-for-family-life/, or listen to the recently released Children's Bureau podcast, "Foster Care: A Path to Reunification – Part 1," which features the work of the Center for Family Life, available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/child-welfare-podcast-foster-care-part1.
Section: Spotlight on National Foster Care Month
This year's National Foster Care Month (NFCM) theme, "Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents," highlights the important job foster parents have in helping children and youth reunify with their families in safe, stable, and permanent homes. The NFCM 2019 microsite is dedicated to offering an array of resources and tools aimed at addressing the unique needs of children in foster care; improving placement stability; and strengthening relationships between birth families, children and youth in foster care, and child welfare agencies. The resources and tools featured in the microsite include the following:
The Children's Bureau, together with Child Welfare Information Gateway and other partner organizations, promotes NFCM each May and raises awareness about the important roles everyone can play in the lives of children and youth in care. Explore the NFCM 2019 microsite at https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/.
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
A research brief prepared by the Urban Institute and Chapin Hall for the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempts to address key gaps in best housing practices for young adults in extended federally funded foster care (EFFC). EFFC extends foster care for young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who have aged out of the system and includes independent living services, foster care room and board, permanency planning, and judicial oversight. EFFC is a product of the 2008 amendments to the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which gives states financial incentives under title IV-E of the Social Security Act to support young adults in foster care until they turn 21.
The report, Housing for Young Adults in Extended Federally Funded Foster Care, is based on conversations with public child welfare officials in states with the largest populations of 18- to 21-year-olds in foster care. The report asks several research questions, including the following:
The report found three types of housing for young adults in EFFC (not necessarily available to every young adult or in all jurisdictions):
The report points out that supervised independent living facilities were developed expressly for young adults in extended foster care and that several jurisdictions impose restrictions when shared housing is involved (e.g., young adults share an independent living apartment), such as a required criminal background check or restrictions on allowing a biological parent or significant others to assume residence. It also notes that local child welfare policy governs eligibility for the different housing options (e.g., age, educational attainment, employment) but that most of these criteria are to ensure that young adults in such settings are capable of living on their own. The report also looks at housing options for young adults with developmental disabilities or with serious illness who may require special support.
Factors that determine a young adult's housing options, in addition to eligibility requirements, include the number of available slots, costs, the preference and needs of the young adults, caseworker knowledge about available options, information available to young adults, and financial incentives from housing providers. Challenges include market conditions, a shortage of subsidized housing, resource gaps in more rural areas, and a hesitation on the part of landlords to rent to young adults.
Housing for Young Adults in Extended Federally Funded Foster Care is available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/resource/housing-for-young-adults-in-extended-federally-funded-foster-care.
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
The Children's Bureau website hosts information on child welfare programs, funding, monitoring, training and technical assistance, laws, statistics, research, federal reporting, and much more.
Recent additions to the site include the following:
Visit the Children's Bureau website often to see what's new.
Section: News From the Children's Bureau
A research brief funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the U.S. Department of Justice finds that a mentoring program for older youth in foster care resulted in 22.7 percent fewer criminal offenses in male participants in early adulthood compared with those who were not mentored. The study, which tracked criminal justice involvement 2 years after the mentoring intervention concluded, finds that the male youth who were not mentored were 7 percent more likely than their mentored counterparts to be incarcerated.
The study looked specifically at the use of the My Life model, a 12-month mentoring program with weekly structured individual and group mentoring activities for youth aged 16–18 in foster care. The My Life mentors helped participating youth identify and achieve goals important to them as well as develop problem-solving skills that could help them overcome potential obstacles to achieving those goals. Participating youth received an average of 100 direct mentoring and indirect service hours from My Life mentors over the course of a year. More information on My Life is available on the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare website at https://www.cebc4cw.org/program/my-life/.
The study reviewed data from two randomized controlled trials of the My Life program for youth in foster care and subsequent criminal justice outcomes 2 years after the intervention. Markers for criminal justice involvement included self-reported arrests or convictions and the number of days incarcerated or on probation. The study included a moderation analysis to assess the program's effectiveness based on gender, identified disability, and prior delinquency. While the study authors acknowledge that the My Life program fell short of being statistically significant for the overall sample group, it did result in statistically significant reductions in the level of criminal offenses and incarceration among male participants.
Importantly, the study shows a preventive effect for male youth who participated in the intervention and had no prior history of delinquency. None of these young men were incarcerated at the 2-year follow-up, whereas 8.5 percent of the male youth who did not participate and also had no prior histories reported having been incarcerated at the 2-year follow-up. Additionally, a cost-benefit analysis showed that it was three times more expensive to incarcerate those youth who were not mentored (and who reported incarceration in early adulthood) than it would have been to provide them with the My Life mentoring 2 years earlier when they were in high school. The authors point out that the clearest cost-benefit is from the number of days avoided in jail.
The authors conclude that structured, weekly mentoring of older youth in foster care along the lines of the My Life program shows promise for cost-effectively reducing and preventing criminal involvement in early adulthood.
The research brief, Extending a Randomized Trial of the My Life Mentoring Model for Youth in Foster Care to Evaluate Long-Term Effects on Offending in Young Adulthood, is available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/grants/251418.pdf (1,400 KB).
Section: Child Welfare Research
Many youth leave foster care for reasons aside from achieving permanency, such as running away or reaching the age of majority and transitioning from care. The Center for State Child Welfare Data created a policy brief that explores how youth ages 13 to 17 leave foster care and how placement history and youth and county characteristics impact how youth leave care. The data were taken from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, which holds the foster care records of approximately 3 million children.
The study found that the majority (61 percent) of youth will exit care to permanency, including reunification, adoption, and guardianship. Of the remaining youth, 14 percent reach the age of majority, 13 percent runaway, 9 percent experience another nonpermanent exit, and 3 percent are still in care. While gender does not predict the likelihood of a youth leaving care to permanency, females are more likely to run away from care, and males are more likely to reach the age of majority. Additionally, reasons for exits vary among age groups. For example, 13- and 14-year-olds are more likely to exit to permanency than 15-year-olds, who are more likely to exit to permanency than 16- and 17-year-olds. Since adolescence is a time of great development, this study also highlights the importance of taking into account where a youth is developmentally when planning service improvements.
The full policy brief, Understanding the Differences in How Adolescents Leave Foster Care, is available at https://fcda.chapinhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Understanding-the-Differences-in-How-Adolescents-Leave-Foster-Care_FCDA_ChapinHall_Nov17.pdf (3,380 KB).
Section: Child Welfare Research
Casey Family Programs, through Casey Family Services (CFS), has integrated promising and evidence-informed strategies into a suite of tools to help improve the child welfare field, including a child and family services practice model that outlines strategies and interventions to move youth permanency forward and improve safety and well-being.
The practice model, which was developed with input from CFS staff, youth, biological parents, resource families, and community partners, gives child welfare workers an insight into how the Casey Family Programs field offices work and the values that drive the organization as a whole. Using the Indian Child Welfare Act as their gold standard for practice, CFS keeps the focus on the family and community, trying to keep children with their families whenever it is safe to do so.
The practice model aims to achieve the following for children and youth in care:
The suite also includes manuals, standards, assessments, a continuous quality improvement framework, and a case management system.
To learn more about the overview of the values, goals, and process of CFS' organization and practice, read Child and Family Services Practice Model: A Safe and Permanent Family for Every Youth at https://caseyfamilypro-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/media/1988_CS-2018-Practice-Mode.pdf (9,000 KB).
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
A children's legal advocacy group, True North Advocates, launched a new podcast that seeks to change child welfare representation through child-centered and permanency-focused advocacy.
The group comprises four attorneys committed to reducing the amount of time children and youth spend in foster care. Its approach is based on three overarching principles:
The Children's Law Podcast was designed to share practical solutions for achieving expedited permanency for children. The podcast currently consists of seven segments:
The Children's Law Podcast is available at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-childrens-law-podcast/id1438195379?mt=2&uo=4.
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States
"When we meet with you to discuss services, we usually start by telling you what's already available. This time, let's start with you telling us what you need, and then we'll talk about how we can make that happen."—State agency leader, when opening a meeting with youth and family stakeholders
Agencies cannot serve families and youth effectively without including their voices in all areas of practice and planning. Identifying, engaging, and working with families and youth help agencies gain a better understanding of their needs and identify practical strategies for improvement. At the same time, families and youth who collaborate with agencies can play a significant role in the decision-making processes that affect the direction of their cases and agency policies.
The Importance of Engaging Families and Youth
Engaging families and youth at all levels of a child welfare system provides clear benefits to everyone involved. When families and youth are consulted about their own care and throughout agency projects, they can add the following:
As a result of engaging with families and youth receiving child welfare services, agencies are better equipped to deliver services that better meet youth and family needs.
Collaborating With Families and Youth
To collaborate meaningfully with diverse families and youth to design a system that serves their needs, agencies may do the following (Capacity Building Center for States, n.d.):
When planning meetings with families and youth, planners should make it as easy as possible for them to participate by being open about the level of effort required and using technology for communication and meeting purposes.
Agency staff can help prepare and support families and youth participating in meetings in the following ways:
Consistent engagement with families and youth is more sustainable when an agency's culture and climate values their voice and prioritizes their feedback. For example, agencies can include family and youth representatives at policy meetings and as copresenters in staff training.
Working with families and youth at all levels is not a single event; rather, it is an ongoing process. As modeled in the quote above, agencies that regularly engage families and youth in conversations about their needs and ideas for improvement can better serve them going forward.
The following publications offer information, strategies, and tips for incorporating family and youth voice at all levels of a child welfare system.
Capacity Building Center for States. (n.d.). Change and implementation in practice: Teaming. Retrieved from https://capacity.childwelfare.gov/states/focus-areas/cqi/change-implementation/teaming/.
Section: Strategies and Tools for Practice
For a prospective adoptive or foster family, waiting for its placement to be finalized can be a challenging time. Families can get frustrated with the amount of time it takes and can be anxious to have a child placed with them. It is important for child welfare professionals to keep these families engaged to reduce the chance they drop out. AdoptUSKids has created a tip sheet that showcases eight ideas to help child welfare professionals keep these families engaged:
These ideas focus on creating a web of information and support for the families, giving them spaces and opportunities to voice concerns they may not feel comfortable sharing with their caseworkers, affording them opportunities to learn and refine parenting skills, and providing them insight into life as an adoptive or foster family. While it is important to provide support to families while they wait to adopt or have a child placed with them, they also need support throughout the continuum of the child placement process. Building the foundation of support before the placement is finalized is a good opportunity to integrate other forms of long-term support for families.
Read the tip sheet, How to Keep Prospective Foster and Adoptive Parents Engaged Before Placement, at https://bit.ly/2I5KPUp (143 KB).
The Happy Trails for Kids program aims to provide children in foster care with activities and social interactions—such as outdoor adventures, mentorships, and a year-round community—that give them the opportunity to develop leadership skills and prepare for life after leaving foster care.
Participating in camp activities and programs with other children in foster care gives campers a reprieve from the stress, loneliness, and feelings of social exclusion often reported by children in care. Additionally, many camp staff members were formerly in foster care, giving them the knowledge and experience to be role models and lifelong mentors for campers currently in care.
The Happy Trails Program includes summer and winter overnight camps, year-round activities, and programs for older youth.
To learn more about Happy Trails for Kids, visit https://www.happytrailsforkids.org/.
Fosterparentcollege.com is a nationally recognized training resource for adoptive, kinship, and foster parents. The multimedia, interactive training courses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are taught by child welfare experts.
It provides the following types of workshops:
Fosterparentcollege.com also has courses available in Spanish as well as courses for professional development that earn continuing education credits.
Section: Training and Conferences
Upcoming conferences and events on child welfare and adoption include the following:
Section: Training and Conferences
Contact us at email@example.com.
Return to the Children's Bureau Website.