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May 2020Vol. 21, No. 4Spotlight on National Foster Care Month

This month's issue of CBX features National Foster Care Month, which again emphasizes the importance of foster care as a support to families and not a substitute for parents. Read a message from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner, about how parents with children in care need supportive relationships and connections to help them mitigate the challenges often associated with removal and expedite reunification. We also highlight a recently released Information Memorandum featuring guidance from the Children's Bureau on how to make foster care a support to families. Also included are the latest guidance from the Children's Bureau regarding the COVID-19 pandemic as well as research, tools, and publications on foster care.

Issue Spotlight

  • Everyone Needs Relationships

    Everyone Needs Relationships

    Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly

    If ever there was evidence of the need for and power of relationships during hard times, it is before us now.  The public health crisis has left the vast majority of us confined to our homes and socially isolated.   Distance from friends, loved ones and critical support is causing people to feel disconnected and alone.  Our inability to spend time with and even hug people we are close with has brought the importance of human connection in our lives into acute, and for some, quite painful focus.  Some of us likely are realizing we took time with important people in our lives for granted.

    People and relationships are who and what most of us turn to when confronted with a tough choice, difficult challenge or loss.  Relationships provide support and help us navigate or heal from nearly all that life throws our way.  Human connection is one of our most basic needs.  We know it because we can feel it and have experienced it.  The literature is also replete with verification of the need for and benefits of connection and, of course, the consequences of not having that need met.

    This moment should be a reminder to all of us professionals in child welfare of just how important relationships are for parents of children in foster care.  There are few larger crises than separation from a child, and perhaps few more lonely hours than those following that separation.  The uncertainty of not knowing where or with whom your child may be placed can heighten stress and aloneness---as a society we spend so much time telling young children to be careful around strangers, and in an instant, a child can be placed with an unknown family.

    As a field, these needs are often overshadowed by our quest for the latest off the shelf clinical intervention or evidence-based practice.  As people who have reviewed thousands of case plans over the years---we struggle to recall many instances in which notes reflected efforts to provide emotional support, peer partners—or efforts for resource parents to work directly with parents to help provide a sense of connectedness and support.

    Parents with children in foster care need relationships and connection, too.  In fact, the stories we have heard from parents about the loneliness, frustration, and often hopelessness that accompanies having their children removed suggest that their need for relationships is even stronger during an episode of foster care.  Further, the absence of meaningful and supportive relationships contributes to social isolation, a factor in eroding the protective capacities of parents.

    As we search for meaning in the public health crisis and look for lessons learned and ways to be better as individuals, professionals and a society, we can draw upon this powerful reminder that relationships matter and work with intention to help parents with children in foster care nurture relationships, social connection and peer support.

    The incredibly positive news is that there is great potential at the ready.

    We believe firmly that there is a largely untapped and incredibly helpful source of relational support for parents with children in foster care-- resource families.  We believed this prior to the public health crisis and our conviction is even stronger now as we see the effects of isolation and inability to connect much more clearly and broadly than before.

    For the second consecutive year, the theme for National Foster Care Month is "Foster Care as a Support to Families, not a Substitute for Parents".  Although we seek to reduce the need for foster care to the lowest level possible, there will likely always be some need.  Where that need does exist, foster care can and should be a dramatically different experience for children in care and their parents than the more typical experiences we see.  Foster care can be a vehicle for safe and expeditious reunification.  It can be an opportunity for parents to focus on addressing personal challenges while working in partnership with resource parents to make sure their children have all of their needs met.  Foster care can be as much about attending to the emotional and relational needs of a parent as it is to meeting the needs of the child in care.  It can be an opportunity for a parent to form a relationship of trust with a resource parent who can serve as mentor and source of encouragement and support.  The relationships can continue post reunification and resource parents can continue to help support parents in different ways.

    We know it is possible, because we have seen examples across the country and spent time talking with resource parents who see supporting parents as a purposeful way to give back to their community or an expression of their faith.  We have heard directly from parents separated from their children about the difference it makes to meet and get to know the resource family and to be welcomed and encouraged to spend time in the resource family home.  We have heard stories of the difference something as simple as a phone call from resource families following removal can make, where resource families introduce themselves to the parents, let them know they are there to help, that they will be rooting for them, provide support and clarifying that they are not in this to try and take their kids.

    We have been on a mission to change the shape of foster care in the United States for the past three years, motivated by what we have seen made possible through intentional relationships between resource families and parents.   If we mobilize caring people around the country to help care for families and children that make contact with the child welfare system, as opposed to children alone, we can demonstrate what we all know about the need for relationships and human connection. 

    We can work together as people who care about other people to apply the lessons the pandemic has taught us and do everything we can to make foster care a support to the entire family. 


  • To Benefit Children and Teens, Build Relationships Between Birth and Foster Parents

    To Benefit Children and Teens, Build Relationships Between Birth and Foster Parents

    Written by Denise Goodman, Ph.D., senior fellow at Case Commons, expert on foster parent recruitment, retention and training—and former foster parent

    "Are you sure?" I asked Bonnie. The spunky, thoughtful 17-year-old was nearing her high school graduation and I, her foster parent, was surprised. Who topped her wish list of attendees to the graduation party she'd be hosting? Her parents. Her parents?! I wasn't prepared for that!

    In those days—this was years ago—it was inconceivable that foster and birth parents would ever meet. It was thought to be too dangerous. It violated confidentiality. What if the birth parent kidnapped the child? At the time, those were the reasons given for no contact between birth and foster parents.

    Today, we know so much more. We understand that helping foster and birth parents develop a relationship to support a child or teen is a nonnegotiable benefit. We have learned the following:

    • Young people—even many whose home lives have been unsafe—tell us they still love and miss their parents. 
    • When teens age out of care, one of the first places they go is back to family—often, to a parent.
    • Relationships and attachment are key drivers of child and teen development. Finding ways for adults to show their love and concern for a child or teen can demonstrate a powerful message: The child or teen is important—and worthy of attention and love.

    Learning From Kids and Families

    I've worn a lot of hats from the late 1970s until today. I began working in a county child welfare agency, first in their shelter then in protective services. Eventually, I became director of a residential treatment program and then a foster parent. What's been most memorable to me throughout the years are the kids and their relationships with many parents—birth, foster, and kin.

    I think about James, a teen in a treatment facility where I worked. He was planning to make his first weekend visit home, with the goal of reunification. Then, he was suspended for fighting at school. Ordinarily, that would have grounded him for the weekend at the facility. Reunification, however, is too important a goal to interfere with, and his parents had been working hard to make it happen.

    I phoned his mother and asked if she'd be willing to ground him during his visit home, and she readily agreed. James's mother and I became allies working in his best interests. She learned a practical parenting strategy to use if he was suspended again. And a seed was planted in my own thinking that was helpful to both of us and James: Adults at the facility didn't have to do all the parenting. James's mom and dad could still play a key role.

    Later, when I began to work in foster care, I met other foster parents who agreed—and who were even more forward thinking. Their philosophy—and the way they lived and worked—was family affirming. Said one: "Of course, we work and support the birth family. And the extended family, too!"

    I was excited. But I was also conflicted. I had handled some pretty tough family situations over the years. And I had been taught a strict set of values and beliefs. Chief among them: There should be no contact between birth and foster parents. None!

    Supporting Bonnie

    Back to Bonnie and her graduation. After I got over my surprise, Bonnie and I talked. I got a glimpse of how much she wanted to involve her parents in her life. So we started to explore the idea. Her father was in prison for armed robbery, and no one knew the location of her mother, who struggled with substance use. We agreed that rather than inviting her parents to our home, we'd ask the long-separated couple to a local diner prior to the graduation ceremony. We sent an announcement to her father at the prison and gave information to her mother's family.

    While Bonnie's mother never responded, her father did. He was due to be paroled in time for graduation and was looking forward to it. Bonnie was ecstatic; I was a nervous wreck.

    The day arrived, and Bonnie and I entered the restaurant. Bonnie was delighted to see that her father had brought his long-term girlfriend. But I could see that dad and his girlfriend were extremely uneasy. I realized that they were very worried about what I thought of them!

    After we left the diner, we three adults sat together at graduation. I could see how proud Bonnie's father was; his eyes welled up with tears. As we walked out of the auditorium, I spontaneously invited him to the party. When I offered my address, he replied, "I know where you live!"

    He and his girlfriend came to the house and stayed long enough to give Bonnie a gift and share some cake. As they left, I offered my phone number. He said, "Oh, I have it!" All this time, he had followed what was going on with his daughter. But he had respected our privacy and our family. This allowed us to begin rebuilding a father-daughter relationship—and marked the start of my relationship with him.

    Once I became a foster parent trainer and consultant, I had ample opportunities to advise social workers, supervisors, administrators and resource parents that connecting resource parents and birth parents is critical. Relationships between birth and foster parents must be cultivated and supported. As child welfare systems, foster care is the most important service we provide children, teens and families. If you value permanent family relationships as the foundation on which young people build healthy lives, please join me and other resource parents. Make sure your system supports parent-to-parent relationships in policy and practice. It's time these relationships are seen as vital—and nonnegotiable.

  • Putting Ethan First: A Reunification Story

    Putting Ethan First: A Reunification Story

    Written by Denise Goodman, Ph.D., senior fellow at Case Commons, expert on foster parent recruitment, retention and training—and former foster parent

    In 2012, four adults came together on behalf of Ethan, then 3 months old. Ethan had been removed from his mother, Kimberly, who was fighting a 20-year battle with addiction. He was placed with Berenice and Andrea, first-time foster parents in the reunification program of the Clark County, NV, Department of Family Services. Dahlia Espeut-McLean (now a supervisor) was the caseworker.

    As Berenice and Andrea surrounded Ethan with love and care, his mother fought to recover. Ethan's foster parents sent pictures and kept the lines of communication open, with Dahlia as their champion.

    It took many months, but it worked, and Ethan and Kimberly were reunited. Today, Ethan is a grinning 8-year-old who loves electronics, hugs, and his "cousins"—Berenice and Andrea's kids. In June, Kimberly will be 8 years' sober. "When me and Ethan talk about our family," Kimberly says, "we're talking about Andrea and Berenice."

    A Different Kind of Foster Parent

    "We should probably start changing the terminology," Andrea laughs. "Resource parents? Wraparound parents? How about reunification partners?" Berenice says.

    The key to this kind of caregiving, Berenice says, is for the foster parent to understand that "not every child who comes into your home will be your forever child." This means helping "biological parents reunify with their kids when it's safe and appropriate" and getting all the adults to work and learn together and "focus on the needs of this child in this situation."

    Recently, I spoke with Ethan and the four women in his life. I asked, "What's the best thing about aunties Berenice and Andrea?" "Nearly everything," he said.

    This Q&A explores how everyone worked together for Ethan's sake. Questions and answers have been edited for continuity. For privacy, only first names have been used for mother, child, and foster parents.

    Q: Kimberly, what was your biggest fear about Berenice and Andrea?

    A: They were not my biggest fear. My biggest fear was that I'd never be able to get sober and I would lose Ethan and never see him again. But Andrea and Bernice were so supportive. They sent all those pictures of Ethan. During the hard times, as I was trying to get sober and create this new life, those pictures were my drivers. There was this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—this beautiful baby.

    Q: Dahlia, what was it like to be the caseworker in this kind of arrangement?

    A: This relationship was like lightning in a bottle—in the best way. I had so many questions in my mind and they all began with, "Am I allowed to ...?" I had to figure out how to be flexible within our system. It was about constant communication with my supervisor, my manager, anybody who'd listen. I had a birth parent who wanted to continue having a relationship with these two wonderful people who had helped to raise her child. Ethan was bonded to everybody. My question was, how do we make sure Ethan doesn't lose anyone who cares about him?

    Q: Andrea, it can be so challenging to love a child and let him go. What made this arrangement work?

    A: (Andrea): The weekend he was due to go home, we spent 3 or 4 days with Kimberly so she would get a sense of what his routine was.

    A: (Kimberly): You were willing to help with his transition so it wasn't traumatic for him. I mean, he had seen me a couple of times. But that was it. We all met at a hotel and played at the pool. He saw us all together. I could learn from you guys and see how you were parenting him.

    Q: What happened next?

    A: (Andrea): Berenice and I gave them a month or two to bond. And then we sent Kimberly a text message. And then we started having conversations. Then FaceTime.

    A: (Berenice): When we first left Kimberly's house, we were heartbroken and crying. She sent us a quick little video. We saw he was happy.

    A: (Kimberly): Now they visit every couple of months. Every summer, he stays with them for a week. It's a family tradition.

    Q: Kimberly, any advice for parents?

    A: If you are going through the process, see it as a blessing. At the time, it was my worst fear coming true. But it ended up being this opportunity. I got healthy and strong. At first, I wasn't bonded to Ethan. It was the pictures, texts, and constant information about Ethan that helped me bond to him, even though we weren't living together. In the meantime, I had this amazing family taking great care of my baby. This is not a time to be stuck in your fears. It's a time to be open to people who want to support you and love your child.

    Q: Final thoughts, Berenice and Andrea?

    A: (Berenice): We all need to remember: Other people loving a child doesn't take anything away from you.

    Q: Dahlia?

    A: Human services is about relationships. As workers, we don't always know what's best. If you think you have all the answers, you'll miss the nuggets of wisdom coming from all sides. I'd tell anyone on the CPS or caseworker side that this is one of the easiest cases I've ever had. Love is not a finite thing that can only come from one person.

    Other Young People Share Their Experiences

    Jasmine Snell (Tennessee)

    With every new home comes a new environment and new experience. While it is important to embrace new customs, we should not abandon our cultures and create new identities. I was 13 when my identity was stripped away from me due to my biological parents' inability to raise me. Not having a working relationship between my natural family, foster family, and DCS workers resulted in major disconnections in the community and school. I have been fortunate enough to experience the opposite with my current family. My independence and success could not have been achieved without my biological and chosen families blending to become one for the sake of my well-being. I now know the meaning of family and community because of the togetherness of those around me. This is why a working relationship must be maintained between all parties who have or previously had an essential role in a young person's life.

    Melissa Mayo (Hawaii)

    I was fortunate to have a foster parent who not only supported my relationship with my mother while I was in care but also worked together with my mom to include her in my senior-year activities and holidays. Having my foster parent include my mom in my daily and school activities helped me feel a sense of normalcy. This gave me relief because I wasn't overwhelmed with worry and anxiety around issues with my mom and family. It gave me a chance to focus on things that I should, like school and extracurricular activities. Normalcy is crucial to a youth's upbringing, especially a youth in foster care. Without my foster parent's priority of keeping my mom involved in my life, I would not have the great relationship I have with my mom today.

    Stefani Lazaro (Arizona)

    When I was in care, I was in a shelter. On weekends, I would visit my four brothers and their foster family, who were supportive and even asked that important question every kid in foster care wants to hear, "Would you like us to adopt you?" They gave me an option. I felt happy.
    My mother, caseworker, and siblings' foster mom worked together to establish a healthy relationship. My siblings would visit my mother and she would have dinners at the foster mom's house. The foster mom would give my mother parenting tips. I could tell my mother felt scared to be a single mom and felt encouraged when the foster mom helped her. The caseworker, foster mom, and my [birth] mother helped everyone get on the same page. It's as if the foster mom was teaching our mother how to be a mom.

  • How to Fight Loneliness

    How to Fight Loneliness

    Written by Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney, Family Advocacy Unit, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

    Recently, and especially during this time of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been increasing attention paid to the very real threat of loneliness within our families and communities. Loneliness has been linked to catastrophic public health outcomes, including fatality, and may be more harmful to a person's health than smoking or obesity. Despite this, our child welfare system has been slow to respond to, and in many ways creates and exacerbates, the serious threat of loneliness facing our families.

    Nowhere is this more evident than in our traditional approach to foster and birth family relationships. Although over the past several years we've begun to move the needle in my own city, the reality for so many parents and children across the country is a pattern of child welfare interventions that separate families and compound the effects of trauma, grief, and isolation by depriving them of the one thing that might help them cope: connection.

    The "traditional" approach to family connection in the child welfare system has been to (1) "save" a child from a "problematic" birth parent by separating the family; (2) place the child with a "good" foster family; (3) provide the "problematic" parent limited family time with their child in the most artificial environment possible (i.e., a visiting room at a child welfare agency); (4) discourage, limit, or prohibit contact between birth and foster parents; and (5) in the best case scenario, reunify a child with their birth parents, cutting off any loving bonds that the child has formed with the foster family. Time and again, this story repeats itself in child welfare cases. I would submit that this is a perfect recipe for isolation and suffering for parents, foster parents, and, most of all, the child.

    Early in my career, I represented a mother whose experience demonstrated to me the harms of this traditional approach to foster parent and birth parent relationships. My client, Denise, was incarcerated when she gave birth to her daughter, Autumn. Autumn was immediately placed with a foster family, who was promised that this case would move quickly to permanency through adoption. Denise was given minimal visitation and contact with Autumn and was never introduced to the foster family. Denise worked hard to accomplish her goals, and the foster family became upset as the case progressed toward reunification. They appeared at court to fight against reunification, refusing to speak to or even look at Denise. They even hired their own counsel to come to court to argue that Denise could never be a fit mother. At the end of some contentious litigation, Autumn and Denise were reunified.

    Understandably, Autumn's foster parents experienced tremendous grief and loss when Autumn went home to her mother. They reached out to Denise and asked if they could visit with Autumn, and Denise asked for my advice. On the one hand, these foster parents had been incredibly hostile to her for months on end and tried to take away forever the most precious thing in her life. On the other hand, Autumn loved them, and Denise didn't want to take any love away from her daughter. In one of the most loving acts of grace and selflessness I've ever witnessed in my career, Denise decided to open the door to contact between Autumn and her foster parents. Years later, I heard from Denise and learned that the foster parents had become family. Autumn visited with them often, and a true and supportive friendship grew between Denise and the foster parents.

    Somehow Denise knew what our system too often encourages us to ignore: there is no such thing as too many loving, supportive connections in a child's life. I think a lot about how often we ignore this truth and the costs to our families of doing so.

    Although this case had a happy ending, there was so much needless suffering along the way. What if the foster parents had been taught that fostering a child means fostering her family and providing support to make the family whole? What if they had been trained to understand that although Denise was struggling, she loved Autumn every bit as much as they did and that Autumn's well-being was profoundly linked to Denise's success? What if they had hosted Denise in their home for visits, so that she could practice skills like feeding and putting her baby to sleep in a natural environment? What if Denise and the foster parents talked every day about how Autumn was doing and how they could, together, ensure that she was thriving?

    There are so many caring professionals in child welfare right now, professionals who are reimagining foster care as a support rather than a substitute for family. These caring professionals are showing us what we would do if we truly prioritized well-being for children: First and foremost, we would radically redefine child well-being to mean not just more services but rather more meaningful connections. We would provide intensive and tailored supports to families to avoid the trauma and grief of family separation. When a child could not stay safely at home, we would look urgently for the "most connected placement" for each child, starting with kinship care. When kinship care is not possible, we would work to build that most connected placement by nurturing connections and collaboration among everyone who loves the child, including her parents, relatives, and foster family. We would understand that as human beings, we all share an essential need to connect to our own families and that caring about the well-being of a child means honoring this need.

    This time has shown just how creative we can be in supporting family connections. As we face new and previously unimaginable barriers during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are giving foster and birth parents phones, tablets, and Wi-Fi and asking them to use services like Google Voice and Zoom to keep in touch. My hope for all our families is that we bring this creativity with us as we emerge from this crisis and create a new normal that considers collaboration between foster and birth parents as an essential pillar of child well-being.


  • Children's Bureau Releases Information Memorandum on Foster Care as a Support to Families

    Children's Bureau Releases Information Memorandum on Foster Care as a Support to Families

    The Children's Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released an Information Memorandum (IM) (ACYF-CB-IM-20-06) intended for state, tribal, and territorial agencies as well as state and tribal court improvement programs that provides information on best practices, resources, and recommendations for using foster care as a support to families, with the ultimate goal of safe and timely reunification. 

    The following are best practices guidelines that can help to facilitate the use of foster care as a support to families:

    • Create a culture of viewing and utilizing foster care as a support for entire families.
    • Ensure exhaustive family search efforts occur at the onset of child welfare involvement so that children can be placed with relatives or kin.
    • Recruit and train resource families that are committed to serving as a support to families with children in foster care.
    • Support relationships between parents and resource families.
    • Develop written family time and shared parenting agreements as part of the reunification plan.
    • Utilize resource families as post reunification supports.
    • Prioritize retention of resource families.
    • Celebrate successes to support ongoing engagement.

    In addition, the IM highlights the importance of supportive partnerships between birth and resource parents. Agencies are encouraged to cultivate relationships between birth and resource parents to help dispel the fear some parents have that resource parents are trying to "replace" them, mitigate the trauma of separation, help children see adults working together with their best interests in mind, and ensure that parents maintain a meaningful presence in their child's life. These partnerships can also help parents view resource parents as examples of effective and safe parenting.

    Also included in the IM are resources and innovations from public, private, and faith-based communities that can serve as examples of how to support families throughout their child welfare and foster care involvement in the way they create opportunities for parents and resource families to partner together to enhance protective factors, maintain and strengthen parent-child bonds, and expedite reunification.



  • To Do Better by Kids, Build a Bigger Bench of Loving, Caring, and Supportive Adults

    To Do Better by Kids, Build a Bigger Bench of Loving, Caring, and Supportive Adults

    Written by Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Center for Systems Innovation at the Annie E. Casey Foundation

    Have you ever heard about the child who had too much love—too many adults who serve as parents, mentors, financial advisers, coaches, and spiritual guides? Me neither!

    As the COVID-19 global pandemic has shaken up our world, many things have changed. The following are two things that have not changed:

    • Every kid needs family.
    • Young people do better in a rich relationship ecosystem.

    At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we have long believed that supporting adults in a child's life is critical to supporting young people. While the COVID-19 crisis has been a disrupter of major proportions, it also provides an opportunity to remake systems and relationships to do better by young people. In this moment of possibility, we must rewrite the way systems work with families and caregivers—in other words, to get different (better) results, we must do things differently. We must accelerate the role of foster parents and kinship caregivers as supports to the entire family—children and parents alike—to help strengthen overall child and family well-being while ensuring our kids are safe.

    What's more, we can turn this upside-down experience into a right-side-up system by working hand in hand with young people and their families as they help us create this better, life-sustaining way of doing things.

    Ensuring that parents and caregivers partner on behalf of a young person is a value woven into the fabric of Casey's ongoing work. In communities across the country, Casey helps systems modernize their approach to identifying, training, and supporting resource parents, which includes kin parents. Maintaining stable, lifelong connections to family, communities, and culture are key elements of that work.

    When I envision child welfare in the future, I see an array of family-strengthening opportunities that surround families with resources that enable them to stay together and grow together. We need these resources to be so widely available that few children and teens will need to enter foster care. To be effective and long lasting, our support must honor and leverage the strength of community, culture, and family. These fundamental building blocks have extraordinary capacity to help children and families heal, restore, and endure. Even when children must be removed from their homes for safety reasons, we must prioritize connections to their families, culture, and communities.

    Across the country, I see families supporting families to sustain parents in the challenging, rewarding work of raising their children. I see families who support their own. I see neighborhoods and schools that help children flourish. I see community, faith, and other organizations that listen to young people and encourage their involvement, growth, and positive development throughout their growing-up years.

    Stepping Toward the Future

    Even when many fewer young people are in foster care, they will need wide networks of support because the need for family cannot be met by systems.

    When you think about it, it's long past time to change the ways in which systems and communities partner with the important adults in a young person's life. Many aspects of an improved future child welfare approach are steps that communities and agencies can put in place today.

    The steps I suggest have been tested in Casey's work throughout the country over the past three decades. All involve a common thread: A fervent belief that we should be in the business of connecting children to, not cutting them off from, critical family relationships. At each of these steps, young people and their families are critical to helping us develop and sustain meaningful changes that can improve the lives of all involved.

    We, in the community, can serve in powerful roles to help develop and sustain these relationships and networks by doing the following:

    • Connectors. We need to help maintain children's connections to their families. Separating children unnecessarily from families is too high a price. When kids lose the familiar routines of school, activities, and their neighborhoods—and are often separated from their siblings—the trauma can be devastating and disruptive to their social and emotional development.
    • Extenders. Maybe a grandmother cannot move her grandson into her home and care for him full time. But can she call him on his birthday? During these days of social distancing, maybe have a weekly online lunch date to catch up? When the asks are tangible and manageable, more adults who want to help in some way can find it more doable.
    • Builders. When families are in crisis, they need as many of us as possible helping help them get back on their feet—not cutting them off at the knees. Let's surround them with resources and relationships.
    • Teammates. When everyone shares a common goal—the well-being of the child—we can do amazing things to help children heal from trauma and support families in rebuilding stable, loving homes.

    Agencies can support, engage, and empower these supportive relationships and networks by doing the following:

    • Connectors. Find and keep more amazing caregivers. Agencies must sustain a continually growing and diverse network of resource parents. In a newly focused system, we define resource parents as everyone from parents to kinship caregivers to foster parents—that is, everyone who cares for a child and can influence their path toward well-being. Agencies must find new foster families to replace those who adopt and explore new technologies and data-driven approaches to identify and recruit eager foster families well suited to meet children's needs.
    • Extenders. Redouble our efforts and prioritize support to kin resource families. Kin and resource parents are ordinary people who do extraordinary things for children and families in crisis. Forge strong relationships. Builders. Keep kids in their families of origin whenever possible. Among other things, this disrupts cultural breaks and disparities. Kids do better with kin. Kinship support should not be dependent on licensing. Increase the support for resource families.
    • Teammates. Public child welfare agencies and private foster care providers must envision and implement a system that engages foster parents as respected partners and promotes the value of foster families—and does the same for and with birth families and their children. Encourage—and expect—all adults (birth parents, relatives, caseworkers, mentors, clergy, etc.) in a child's life to work together.

    Families are networks. The more loving, supportive, and caring adults in those networks, the stronger the network and the better our children and older youth fare. When we act on behalf of all families the way we would for our own, then all children and parents can heal, grow, and thrive.

    This COVID-19 health crisis has turned so many things inside out and upside down. People and professionals of all types in the child welfare system have stepped up in extraordinary ways. We have a defining opportunity to rewrite the playbook on child welfare and make it truly what we know in our heart of hearts it needs to be to truly support and build up children, families, and communities.


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News From the Children's Bureau

Read a letter from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau, thanking the child welfare workforce for their tireless efforts during this challenging time and a webpage on the Children's Bureau's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including guidance on how to continue to support families during a time of social distancing and the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also included are what's new for this year's National Foster Care Month initiative, information on a new initiative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development aimed at preventing youth homelessness, a podcast featuring Jerry Milner that emphasizes the need to support families and the importance of community-based collaboration, and a brief list of the latest updates to the Children's Bureau website.

Child Welfare Research

We highlight a study that looks at strategies for preventing reentry into care for infants and teens involved with child welfare and recommendations for an online clearinghouse for states to share information on how they are improving educational stability for children in foster care.

  • Online Clearinghouse to Promote Educational Stability for Students in Foster Care

    Online Clearinghouse to Promote Educational Stability for Students in Foster Care

    A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study recommends that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) develop an online clearinghouse that allows states to share information on how they are improving educational stability for children in foster care. The GAO study examined challenges implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 and how ED is providing technical assistance and monitoring state implementation efforts.

    ESSA includes provisions to improve educational stability for students in foster care, such as requiring states to ensure students entering out-of-home care would be allowed to remain in their existing schools (provided this is in their best interests). For youth in foster care, maintaining connections can boost opportunities for academic success, and changing schools can mean a loss of friendships, mentors, and community that can result in repeated classes or grade levels. Keeping youth in foster care in their neighborhood schools requires state and local officials to assess and solve any transportation-related issues so students can attend their existing schools.

    The GAO report, Education Could Help States Improve Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care (PDF - 2,140 KB), found that state educational agencies (SEAs) reported several implementation challenges, including high turnover in their education and child welfare officials and issues related to identifying and arranging transportation to school for students. State and local officials reported in interviews that staff turnovers resulted in a loss of knowledge and experience needed to implement the ESSA provisions. Some officials also stated that funding was a barrier to securing transportation to a student's existing school and that associated costs were significant.

    GAO found that SEA officials would appreciate additional technical assistance and an opportunity to interact with other states. They suggested that an online clearinghouse would be "extremely helpful" so that education officials could learn from their peers. GAO found that ED had outdated email lists for communicating with state officials and that it lacked a coordinated library to house resources on educational stability in one place.

    GAO suggested the ED Secretary develop a clearinghouse of documents from states and localities that choose to share them, with links to relevant resources for all to access. ED has committed to doing so, and its Office of Elementary and Secondary Education is restructuring its website with a new webpage on all foster care-related information. According to GAO, this office is developing a virtual portal that will allow SEA to foster points of contact to collaborate and share information.

  • Foster Care Reentry Study Explores How Family First Preventive Services Can Reduce Risk

    Foster Care Reentry Study Explores How Family First Preventive Services Can Reduce Risk

    A new study from the Center for State Child Welfare Data at Chapin Hall, Reentry to Foster Care: Identifying Candidates Under the Family First Act (PDF - 204 KB), identifies two subgroups who would benefit the most from targeted services to help prevent reentry into foster care: infants who reenter care before their first birthdays and teenagers with a prior history of out-of-home care. The study looks at identifying risk factors for reentry and how preventive services under the new Family First Act might reduce reentry rates.

    The authors studied specific characteristics identified as risk factors for reentry to foster care:

    • A child's placement history
    • Demographic characteristics
    • Time elapsed since the exit from foster care (due to reunification or guardianship)
    • Contextual factors measured at the county level
    • Effects of the recession (2008-2009)

    Data for the study were taken from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive and involved 607,289 children from 20 states. The sample looks at all children who, before turning 18, exited their first stay in foster care to reunification or guardianship between 2003 and 2010. The study included a lengthy follow-up period from the time of discharge (through December 2017) to understand developmental effects. If a child did not reenter care prior to January 2018, they were not included (provided they had not yet turned 18). Children who turned 18 before reentering care were also dropped from the risk set when they turned 18.

    Some of the study's key findings are below:

    • Children who entered foster care as infants and reunified soon thereafter had a very high incidence of reentry.
    • Male children discharged from care had a 4-percent lower reentry rate than their female counterparts.
    • Black children were more likely to return to care than youth of other races and ethnicities.
    • Infants who changed levels of care (e.g., family foster care, therapeutic foster care, kinship foster care) during their foster care experience were less likely to reenter care than those who did not, while older children who changed levels of care were more likely to reenter care than those who did not.
    • In cases of guardianship, children coming from the shortest stays in care had the lowest rates of reentry.
    • For children whose last placement before reunification involved a group home, reentry was found to be 20 percent higher than for those coming from a traditional foster home.
    • Reunifications in lower income counties had reduced reentry rates.
    • Rates of reentry were higher for those in rural areas or smaller metropolitan areas.
    • Reentry rates were generally lower during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 for children who had reunified earlier.
    • For teenagers coming from congregate care, the rate of reentry was high (but the authors attribute this more to a child's clinical profile than the group home experience and point out that congregate care is a marker for young people who may need additional support upon reentry).


Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide either evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Pilot of an Online Implementation Course From the Building Evidence Training Project

    Pilot of an Online Implementation Course From the Building Evidence Training Project

    The Building Evidence Training (BET) Project is piloting its second web-based course, "Designing and Implementing Evidence-Supported Interventions in Child Welfare," which teaches participants about the major stages of the implementation process and how to use an implementation framework to guide intervention development, adaptation, and implementation processes. The course also covers why teams with diverse knowledge, expertise, and perspectives are critical to successful implementation and how agencies evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and plan for sustainability.

    The target audience for this course is child welfare frontline workers and supervisors as well as B.S.W. and M.S.W. students.

    The course pilot sites include the following:

    • Maryland Child Welfare Academy (frontline workers)
    • University of Maryland, Research and Child Welfare course (M.S.W. students)
    • University of Oklahoma, Tulsa, Master's Concentration Year Practicum (M.S.W. students)
    • East Central University, Oklahoma, Integrative Seminar course (B.S.W. students)

    This course features the following:

    • Six interactive e-learning modules that participants may complete at their own pace
    • Supplementary resources for students wanting to learn more about course topics
    • Practical examples illustrating course concepts
    • Transfer-of-learning activities that apply course concepts to practical child welfare situations
    • A flexible design that allows use as a stand-alone, online course or as an online component of in-person education or training
    • Course competencies aligned with those identified by the Council on Social Work Education to help programs maintain accreditation standards
    • Eight continuing education units for frontline workers and supervisors

    This is the second course developed by the BET Project, a Children's Bureau-funded effort to develop courses that help prepare child welfare frontline staff to participate in developing, implementing, and evaluating child welfare interventions. The first course, "Evidence Building Strategies in Child Welfare," introduces requisite knowledge and skills so current child welfare agency staff (workers and supervisors) and future child welfare agency staff (B.S.W. and M.S.W. students) can understand and apply practical strategies to support evidence building in child welfare.

    These courses are free of charge for university professors, instructors, and child welfare training academy staff. "Evidence Building Strategies in Child Welfare" is currently available on CapLEARN (free registration required). "Designing and Implementing Evidence-Supported Interventions in Child Welfare" will be available in fall 2020.


  • Equipping Foster Parents to Actively Support Reunification

    Equipping Foster Parents to Actively Support Reunification

    AdoptUSKids released the publication Equipping Foster Parents to Actively Support Reunification (PDF -158 KB) to help policymakers assess child welfare systems' ability to create an environment that supports foster parents' role in reunification and what steps they can take to reach that goal. It explains the positive impact a supportive foster family has on the child and their birth family—such as developing a positive connection between birth and foster families—as well as how child welfare workers can prepare foster families.

    It includes the following nine tips for building practices and implementing policies that reinforce and develop partnerships between birth and foster families:

    • Use consistent messaging in family recruitment, response, engagement, and orientation to convey the temporary nature of foster care and the role foster parents play.
    • Encourage positive attitudes toward birth families during interactions with foster parents.
    • Ensure training includes skills that foster parents need to support reunification.
    • Incorporate birth parents and youth into the training curriculum.
    • Provide opportunities for peer support from foster parents who have experience actively supporting reunification.
    • Provide clear guidance and support on birth family contact and visitation.
    • Offer enhanced support during periods of transition and loss.
    • Incorporate feedback and data analysis to improve services.
    • Give special consideration to kinship caregivers.

    It also features two examples from the field: one showcases the benefit of shaping foster families' interactions with and view of early reunification with training and peer support and another describes helping foster parents with their own grief and loss.


  • Coparenting Pilot Focuses on Collaboration Between Birth and Foster Parents

    Coparenting Pilot Focuses on Collaboration Between Birth and Foster Parents

    A coparenting pilot program developed by Rising Ground focuses on the benefits of shared parenting between birth parents and foster caregivers with the goal of reducing stress for children in foster care, expediting family reunification, and strengthening families in order to avoid reentry.

    The program's advantages include the following:

    • Coparenting allows for more interaction between birth and foster families.
    • Parents can remain closely involved in their children's lives while they are in care.
    • Parents are encouraged to communicate freely via phone calls, FaceTime, etc.
    • Foster parents can easily communicate with birth parents regarding the needs of the child.
    • The child is less likely to feel divided loyalty between their birth and foster parents.

    Rising Ground hopes to work with at least 32 parent pairs throughout the 2-year pilot, which is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, whose mission is to improve the child welfare system in New York.

  • Guide for Legal Partners in the Child Welfare System

    Guide for Legal Partners in the Child Welfare System

    The Dave Thomas Foundation released a guide for legal professionals involved in the child welfare system. Unadoptable Is Unacceptable: Removing Legal Barriers to Permanency for Older Youth explores common barriers and legal challenges to permanency for older youth in care and offers the following strategies that legal professionals can employ:

    • Requiring evidence-based recruitment efforts
    • Believing all children are adoptable
    • Prioritizing permanency over placement stability
    • Supporting the biological family's role in permanency efforts
    • Understanding children's reluctance to adoption
    • Recognizing that youth are never too old for family

    This guide dives into each of the six strategies and provides an explanation behind why some are more effective than others.

  • Collaborating to Build Multidisciplinary, Family-Centered, Strengths-Based Courts

    Collaborating to Build Multidisciplinary, Family-Centered, Strengths-Based Courts

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

     "I invite the workforce to come together in a more coordinated way to harness our collective impact for good with a unified purpose of strengthening families...If we mobilize around helping families enhance their protective capacities to care for their own children, I believe we will have far more to celebrate" (Milner, 2018, para. 3).

    When courts, child welfare agencies, and their partners use multidisciplinary, family-centered approaches, children can spend less time in foster care and achieve permanency, reunification, or guardianship more quickly. This article and the Agencies and Courts Putting Families Front and Center learning experience highlight two well-researched judicial strategies that employ this approach: multidisciplinary legal representation for parents and family treatment drug courts.

    Multidisciplinary Legal Representation

    A multiyear study compared the foster care and safety outcomes of 18,288 children whose parents were assigned to different models of representation in New York City family courts (Gerber et al., 2019). The parents served by the multidisciplinary law office had significantly better outcomes than those represented by solo panel lawyers. Compared with children of parents with solo panel lawyers, children of parents with multidisciplinary teams spent 118 fewer days on average in foster care, reunited more quickly with their families, and were permanently released to relatives more often.

    Multidisciplinary law offices are being replicated across the county now that parental defense costs are reimbursable as a title IV-E expense. The Vermont Parent Representation Center, the Center for Family Representation, the Bronx Defenders, and the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy (DCFA) have all used the model with excellent results. For example, DCFA's evaluation showed that between 2009 and 2012, none of the 110 children served were placed into foster care. The National Alliance for Parent Representation has offered to help those interested in developing such services. Multidisciplinary offices use a team approach to work with families involved in the child welfare system both in and outside of the court. Teams may include the following:

    • An attorney to represent parents in family court proceedings
    • A social worker to help families connect to supportive services
    • A trained parent advocate with the experience of losing a child to foster care and later being reunited who can provide emotional support and guidance

    Robin Lynde, a parent advocate with the Center for Family Representation, described her role. "Our organization helped Cherie [a birth parent] navigate the system...I walked a mile in her shoes with my children, and this fact helped us to connect on a deeper level...Seeing her with her son after he returned was the best gift we could have received."

    Family Treatment Drug Courts

    Family treatment drug courts (FTDCs) achieve positive outcomes for families with parental substance use disorders that contribute to child maltreatment. While traditional drug courts focus primarily on an individual parent, FTDCs recognize the impact of substance use disorders on the family system and use a coordinated team approach to meet the complex needs of the whole family. Teams may include child welfare services, substance use disorder treatment agencies, and other community services providers.

    Hancock County, MS, Judge Trent Favre reflects on how the family-centered and strengths-based nature of his court helps parents reunite their family: "Parents are broken, ashamed, angry, or frightened when they first come to court. They need to see a face that shows love and concern, to hear a voice that cares. Most of all, they need to hear from the judge that I am ready to help them restore their family...Their caseworker, attorney, and CASA provided encouragement. The monthly hearings allowed them to share their progress and be them hope...On the day their case closed, everyone was so proud. We were all transformed through their process."

    A meta-analysis study of 17 FTDC interventions reviewed outcomes of 3,402 participants enrolled in FTDCs and 3,683 comparison participants (Zhang, Huang, Wu, Li, & Liu, 2019). FTDC participants had significantly better child, parent, and family well-being outcomes. When a comprehensive, family-centered approach was used to address children's and families' needs in addition to parents' recovery, children were more likely to achieve reunification without increasing the risk of subsequent foster care reentry or maltreatment rereport.

    When courts and agencies within the child welfare system collaborate to strengthen families using multidisciplinary, family-centered approaches like those summarized in this article, everyone gets to celebrate better outcomes for children and families. 

    Additional Resources

    The following Capacity Building Center for States resources provide additional information and strategies for collaboration between agencies and courts:


    Gerber, L. A., Pang, Y. C., Ross, T., Guggenheim, M., Pecora, P. J., & Miller, J. (2019). Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 102, 42-55.

    Milner, J. (2018). The need for an expanded view of the child welfare workforce. Children's Bureau Express, 19(7).

    Zhang, S., Huang, H., Wu, Q., Li, Y., & Liu, M. (2019). The impacts of family treatment drug court on child welfare core outcomes: A meta-analysis. Child Abuse & Neglect, 88, 1-14.


This section of CBX provides a quick list of interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Resources for Foster and Adoptive Families Raising Children With Disabilities

    Resources for Foster and Adoptive Families Raising Children With Disabilities

    The Center for Parent Information & Resources (CPIR) provides resources for foster and adoptive parents raising children with disabilities. CPIR is the information hub for parent centers around the country that serve families of children with disabilities. The webpage provides resources on foster care, addressing disabilities, organizations focused on adoption and foster parenting, and finding support groups. CPIR is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs within the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Bridging the Gap Between Birth and Foster Parents to Support Permanency

    Bridging the Gap Between Birth and Foster Parents to Support Permanency

    A longstanding foster care and adoption initiative in Northern Virginia called Bridging the Gap (PDF - 81 KB) aims to build and maintain the lines of communication and engagement between birth, foster, and adoptive parents to ensure the best interests of the child.

    The brief discusses the needs of children in foster care, including basic necessities as well as a continued connection to their families; parents with children in foster care, including nonjudgmental support and peace of mind that their child has been placed in a safe environment; and foster parents, including information about the child and the child's specific circumstances.

    It also highlights the advantages of the Bridging the Gap initiative as they pertain to children in foster care, their parents, their foster parents, and social workers.

    Related Item

    "'Bridging the Gap'" Between Birth and Foster Parents"

  • Icebreakers Aim to Create Birth-Foster Parent Alliances

    Icebreakers Aim to Create Birth-Foster Parent Alliances

    Icebreaker meetings, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Family to Family initiative, are facilitated, face-to-face, and child-focused meetings between birth and resource parents that often include input from the child. Icebreakers aim to encourage birth families to remain involved in caring for their children while they are in foster care and to build connections and open communication between the two families in order to meet the full spectrum of the child's needs, encourage mutual support, and expedite reunification. 

    Icebreakers, which should be held no longer than 3 to 5 days after the child is placed, usually adhere to the following specifications:

    • Icebreakers include the child, birth and foster parents, and caseworker. Siblings are included on a case-by-case basis. 
    • All three participating parties—birth and foster parents and the child—are prepared ahead of the meeting so they are confident in what they want to say, share, or ask. The preparation and the meeting itself are facilitated by the caseworker.
    • Icebreakers should run no longer than 30-45 minutes.
    • The child and his or her needs should be the sole subject of the meeting. 
    • If having a face-to-face meeting is not possible, Icebreakers can be held using Skype, teleconferencing, or through other alternative methods of communication.
    • During the meeting, resource parents, birth parents, and the child each have an opportunity to ask questions or contribute information.
    • During the meeting, the caseworker shares visitation information.
    • After the meeting, the caseworker debriefs participants privately to find out whether they have further questions or concerns and to get a sense of whether the Icebreaker met their needs.

    Icebreaker Meetings: A Tool for Building Relationships Between Birth and Foster Parents is a toolkit that provides information on how to plan, structure, and facilitate Icebreaker meetings and includes sample documents, tip sheets, and more.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.