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May 2023Vol. 24, No. 4Spotlight on National Foster Care Month

This edition of CBX highlights National Foster Care Month (NFCM). Learn about the importance of supporting the mental health needs of children and youth in foster care and the 2023 NFCM website and all it offers. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about Ubuntu, an African word and philosophy meaning 'humanity to others,' and how we can all demonstrate its core values, like compassion, dignity, fairness, love, and respect, in our daily lives. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Foster Ubuntu, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Foster Ubuntu, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

    In my CBX message from December 2021, I wrote that my best friend was going to have a baby, and I shared the feelings I was experiencing about how I would love and protect the baby “infinitely.” I wrote that I wanted to shower him with “a lifetime of familial closeness and an unshakeable foundation.” It is still so true. In a few days, my godson will turn 16 months. He is vibrant, animated, and full of life. He brings all of us the kind of joy in our hearts that only a child can bring to the surface—that magical feeling that makes us believe our hearts are beating so merrily that they’re actually bubbling.

    My best friend is also a full-time single mom and working physician, and she needs help. We support her and make sure that she has what she needs so that her son can have what he needs. For example, when his mom needs rest, he spends the night with me so that she can sleep in or take naps. In other words, she needs respite so she can reenergize. Respite helps her be a great parent. As part of her circle, we support her in something as simple as getting rest.

    May has been designated National Foster Care Month, a time when we can purposefully celebrate those who open their hearts to children, youth, and young adults; those who know the joyous feeling of a bubbling heart; those who have experienced the magic; and those who wield it. We can celebrate what, in my mind, is the true definition of foster care—to love, help, support, and connect people. We celebrate dedicated, loving parents who face and overcome adversity. We celebrate nurturing resource parents and kin caregivers. We celebrate children, youth, and young adults who have stared trauma in the face and who still have the heart to keep going. We celebrate the magic that lives in extended family and community members who wrap their arms around families, whether for a lifetime or only for the right time. We celebrate this notion of all for all. We celebrate Ubuntu.

    “Ubuntu” is an African word that can be translated to mean “humanity to others” or “I am because we are.” Some of the principles or values of Ubuntu include communality, respect, dignity, acceptance, sharing, coresponsibility, humaneness, fairness, compassion, and love. Ubuntu represents what all families and children need—a strong foundation, familial closeness and togetherness, and community. What if Ubuntu is the magic we can wield? How can we foster Ubuntu to support parents, resource parents, kin caregivers, and young adults?

    This month, I invite you to join me in choosing one of the values of Ubuntu and demonstrating that principle in your daily life. To demonstrate is an action, which means I am inviting you to display that value through your actions. For National Foster Care Month, let’s celebrate and purposefully live and share the values of Ubuntu.

  • May Is National Foster Care Month

    May Is National Foster Care Month

    Every May, the Children's Bureau, together with Child Welfare Information Gateway and other partner organizations, promotes National Foster Care Month (NFCM) to raise awareness about the key roles everyone can play in the lives of children and youth in foster care. This year's NFCM theme—"Strengthening Minds. Uplifting Families.”—highlights the importance of taking a holistic and culturally responsive approach to supporting the mental health needs of children and youth in foster care and their caregivers. The NFCM 2023 website offers an array of resources and tools that support this year’s theme, including the following:

    Explore the NFCM 2023 website for more information.

  • States Should Use New Guidance to Stop Charging Parents for Foster Care, Prioritize Family Reunification

    States Should Use New Guidance to Stop Charging Parents for Foster Care, Prioritize Family Reunification

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an issue brief on recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about charging parents for costs associated with foster care. The issue brief, States Should Use New Guidance to Stop Charging Parents for Foster Care, Prioritize Family Reunification, claims that the practice of charging parents for foster care delays family reunification and disproportionally impacts families of color. It suggests that states and localities change their policies to reflect the HHS guidance and prioritize reunification. Steps to implement the guidance will vary by state, but there are several that most states will need to take:

    • Develop clear guidance establishing nonreferral to child support enforcement agencies.
    • Reprogram computer systems to stop automatic referrals.
    • Provide adequate training on new guidance and practices.
    • Establish quality control mechanisms to review cases flagged for a referral before they are referred.
    • Adopt practices that improve coordination between child welfare and child support programs.

    Historically, federal guidance on child support referral rules has been broad, and decisions have varied widely by jurisdiction. The new guidance gives greater clarification on "best interests" and encourages agencies to only rarely refer cases to child support enforcement. The reasoning for these changes in the guidance is based on the assertion that charging parents for foster care delays family reunification, as many of the families that come into contact with foster care meet or are below the federal definition of poverty—and too often poverty can be seen as neglect.

    The issue brief explains that families can accrue debt from these payments, which can lead to longer stays in out-of-home care and risk further interactions with child protection services after reunification. These payments can exacerbate the racial disparities within child welfare, as structural discrimination disproportionately impacts Black and American Indian people in areas that can lead to a child welfare assessment that finds neglect.

    Read the full issue brief for more information on the HHS guidance, the impact of the policy on families of color and those experiencing poverty, and suggestions for updated agency policies.

  • Rethinking Service Array for Young People Transitioning From Child Welfare

    Rethinking Service Array for Young People Transitioning From Child Welfare

    The report Rethinking Service Array for Young People Transitioning From Child Welfare by the Capacity Building Center for States calls for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to providing services and supports to young people involved in the child welfare system. It focuses on strategies to improve services for housing, health care and mental health, substance use disorder treatment, and postsecondary education. The report also emphasizes the importance of a strengths-based approach to service delivery based on a partnership between young adults and child welfare agencies.

    The report outlines several key principles to inform strategies when creating a service array that is authentically youth-focused: proactive, youth-driven, emphasizes normalcy, and future focused. In general, the strategies provided focus on partnering with other organizations, schools, and service providers to provide more holistic and comprehensive services that consider the whole person, make services and information about them more easily accessible, and ensure the voice of the young person receiving services is heard. The report also describes the challenges agencies face when providing adequate and effective services. It also presents federal laws and programs youth and agencies can leverage as well as examples of innovative state, tribal, and local programs.

    Overall, the article highlights the need for agencies to rethink how and which services are offered to young people currently and formerly in foster care in order to meet their diverse and complex needs through authentic partnerships to codevelop the services they need.

    Read the full report for more details on the suggested strategies for improvement, which were provided by young people with lived experience and expertise.

  • Supporting Immigrant Children and Youth in Foster Care

    Supporting Immigrant Children and Youth in Foster Care

    The National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council (NFCYAPC) released its 19th priority statement, "Supporting Immigrant Children & Youth in Foster Care." The policy directive emphasizes the need to ensure immigrant children and youth who experience foster care receive appropriate services and support regardless of their immigration status. The directive outlines three key priorities for improving the support provided to this population:

    • Ensure immigrant youth do not exit foster care without legal status. This means that youth should start the immigration process as soon as possible (with support from child welfare agencies), including identifying and reaching out to lawyers who can help facilitate the process
    • Provide caseworkers who are equipped to support immigrant youth in their immigration cases. The NFCYAPC recommends providing training to all child welfare staff on navigating the immigration process and accessing specific resources. The report also recommends that caseworkers have culturally competent training to effectively connect with and support young people from different cultures and connect them with their communities.
    • Provide support for immigrant youth in understanding, accessing, and exercising their basic human rights. Youth should be able to understand their rights under U.S. law and should have access to resources that can help them exercise those rights. The NFCYAPC recommends that states develop and implement a plan to provide this support to immigrant youth.

    By prioritizing the needs of this population and promoting collaboration across multiple systems and sectors, the directive seeks to ensure immigrant children and youth in foster care can access the services and support they need to thrive.

    Recent Issues

  • June 2024

    Spotlight on Reunification

    Spotlight on Reunification

  • May 2024

    Spotlight on National Foster Care Month

    Spotlight on National Foster Care Month

News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Students Offer Lessons on Enhancing Engagement in Youth Programs

    Students Offer Lessons on Enhancing Engagement in Youth Programs

    A brief by Child Trends highlights four strategies to engage youth in youth-serving programs more effectively. For these programs to achieve their desired outcomes, youth engagement is essential. The brief Students Offer Lessons on Enhancing Engagement in Youth Programs incorporates feedback from focus groups of high school students who participated in a larger evaluation of a social-emotional program. The goal was to evaluate their experiences in the program to identify effective strategies for enhancing youth engagement in programs.

    The brief provides the following tips on how to enhance youth engagement in programs:

    • Tailor content to youth to make programming more useful and relevant. Youth respondents are more engaged in programming when the content is relevant, informative, and beneficial to them.
    • Create comfortable surroundings for youth during program sessions. This can include providing autonomy in choosing where to sit or whom to work with and ensuring that youth have the space and time to connect—especially before personal or sensitive discussions.
    • Create an inclusive and judgment-free environment. Creating a judgment-free and inclusive environment increases youth comfort, participation, and connection with program facilitators. Setting this standard at the beginning of the program can promote engagement and build relationships with youth.
    • Diversify program activities to engage youth who learn differently. Youth respondents strongly preferred interactive activities like group work and role-playing over lecture-style delivery.

    Overall, the brief emphasizes the importance of creating programs that are responsive to the needs and interests of young people. Child Trends suggests that programs can better engage youth and support their growth and development by prioritizing tailored content, hands-on learning, and youth voice. The brief also includes resources with additional information for promoting youth engagement.

  • Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare Project Strives for Increased Father Engagement

    Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare Project Strives for Increased Father Engagement

    The Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare (FCL) project is an effort to strengthen the engagement of fathers and other paternal relatives in child welfare and to increase the evidence base of promising father-engagement strategies.

    Fathers have historically not been well engaged in child welfare services, despite research indicating that this type of engagement is beneficial to children. The FCL project aims to improve father and paternal relative engagement efforts using the Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) methodology, which works to increase participation by reducing power differentials. Mathematica and the University of Denver. are conducting the project.

    Project organizers recently conducted a descriptive study at five child welfare agencies between June 2021 and March 2023. The agencies serve Los Angeles, CA; Hartford and Manchester, CT; Denver, CO; Prowers County, CO; and Wake County, NC. Project organizers outlined the FCL descriptive study’s approach in an October 2022 design report. The following are the three main goals of the study:

    • To describe potentially promising strategies and approaches to engaging fathers and paternal relatives in the child welfare system
    • To assess the BSC as a continuous quality improvement framework for addressing challenges in the child welfare system
    • To assess the extent to which agencies experienced a shift in organizational culture after implementing the BSC

    Data collection efforts included surveys of staff and partners, an analysis of program data, interviews with staff and community members, and focus groups with fathers and paternal relatives.

    Project organizers plan to release a final report with findings from the study later in 2023. More information is available in the 2022 design report, Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare: Descriptive Evaluation Design Report.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

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

  • Strengths-Based Strategies to Support Mental Health and Well-Being for Youth, Young Adults, and Families

    Strengths-Based Strategies to Support Mental Health and Well-Being for Youth, Young Adults, and Families

    Written by Jas Snell and the Capacity Building Center for States

    “Going through care is hard. We shouldn't need to make it harder by not giving every youth every tool they need to succeed in life.”—From "Chalyce’s Story"

    Collaborating with families and youth to identify their strengths and assess what worked well within the family prior to child welfare contact can help prevent youth and young adults from falling through the cracks of the system, being overmedicated or undermedicated, and help them better navigate becoming an adult. In Chalyce's Story, a foster care advocate with lived experience regrets the missed opportunity to identify her own strengths. A mental health screening upon entry into care may have helped her identify healthy coping skills and given her the tools she needed to help manage her mental health. Early identification and development of strengths through trauma-informed and strengths-based assessment, treatment, and service planning can mitigate risk-taking behaviors, mental health challenges, and functional difficulties among youth in the child welfare system (Kisiel et al., 2017). The strategies, considerations, and examples below can help agencies integrate a focus on mental health and well-being in their work with young people by encouraging identification and discussion about what's working from the start.

    Implementing Healing-Centered, Strengths-Based Practice

    Trauma-informed care acknowledges that experiences leading up to and including separation have negative effects on the emotional and mental health of young people and their families. Understanding youth through the lens of traumatic events—“What’s happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”—helps agencies respond to behavioral and emotional issues in a way that promotes healing and prevents additional trauma. While recognizing trauma helps agencies provide positive support for the mental health of young people, it is important to move beyond primarily focusing on deficits and harm. In The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement, Dr. Shawn Ginwright encourages moving to a more strengths-based, asset-driven approach that fosters and sustains well-being. Healing-centered engagement recognizes that people are “much more than the worst thing that happened to them” (Ginwright, 2018, para. 15). Healing strategies work to enhance people’s strengths, skills, and positive experiences, building on what they want to achieve. A healing-centered approach is especially important when addressing mental health challenges in communities of color.

    Child welfare professionals can uplift and support youth, young adults, and families by implementing strengths-based, culturally responsive approaches that pay attention to the racial and ethnic disparities of who provides and receives services. In "Cole’s Story," Cole Williams, a former foster parent and child welfare worker who adopted his sons, explains that he “rarely read or saw positive stories or images highlighting our experience as an African American family.” To strengthen his sons’ mental health and confront messaging that negatively impacts their self-worth and esteem, he created Radical Feelings, a culturally specific series of products. The resources support a solutions-focused dialogue to change the narrative regarding mental health for Black men and boys of color. These tools and others like them can help young people, families, and service providers to identify and process feelings, reduce the stigma associated with mental health challenges among communities of color, and build professionals’ skills and knowledge around diversity, racial equity, inclusion, and belonging.

    Building Trust Through Mentorship and Coaching

    Implementing a strengths-based practice requires a culture that values relationship-building, healing, and seeking opportunities to learn and grow with families. Building relationships and trust through mentorship and coaching promotes growth, increases access to opportunities, and offers bidirectional learning to all parties involved. For example, in "Sarah and Nic’s Story," a peer mentor reminds the young people she mentors to stop listening to the people who don’t believe in them, and in "Corey and Kristopher’s Story," a caseworker’s commitment to being genuine and transparent helps a youth overcome years of distrust stemming from earlier traumatic experiences while in foster care.

    Mental health and well-being are essential to every person’s journey of healing, access to opportunities, and self-sufficiency. When they are intentionally nurtured, healthy mental models can promote a positive vision of oneself for the future, kick off the journey of healing, and help individuals shift from the idea of lacking to the belief in abundance. Explore the resources in the Capacity Building Center for States' Menu for Youth Engagement and Voices of Lived Experience Library for more stories and examples of healing approaches from lived experienced and professional partners.

    Additional Resources References

    Ginwright, S. (2018). The future of healing: Shifting from trauma informed care to healing centered engagement. https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c

    Kisiel, C., Summersett-Ringgold, F., Weil, L., & McClelland, G. (2017). Understanding strengths in relation to complex trauma and mental health symptoms within child welfare. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 26(2), 437–451. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0569-4

  • Podcast Discusses Authentic Engagement of Children and Youth in Child Welfare

    Podcast Discusses Authentic Engagement of Children and Youth in Child Welfare

    Launched in January 2023, the Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY) Podcast highlights core themes for advancing engagement of children and youth in child welfare. In this limited series, we hear from three professionals: Phoenix Santiago, Nathan Ross, and Jamole Callahan. While their experiences connected to child welfare differ, they share the same deep commitment to ensuring systematic changes in how children and youth are authentically engaged and empowered. The podcast episodes are in the first lesson of the QIC-EY Lessons Learned series.  

    As you listen to the podcast episodes below featuring members of the QIC-EY leadership team who have lived expertise, reflect on how these powerful examples can help guide your work in authentically engaging children and youth:

    Three additional lessons learned are scheduled for release in May, July, and September.

    For more information, visit the QIC-EY website. To sign up for regular communications and updates, visit the QIC-EY's Mailing List page

  • QIC-EY Report Summarizes Caseworkers' Experiences With Youth Engagement

    QIC-EY Report Summarizes Caseworkers' Experiences With Youth Engagement

    A recent report from the Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY) analyzes child welfare professionals’ experiences with engaging youth. The report features interviews with 15 child welfare professionals in 9 states and summarizes and analyzes the interviewees responses to six guiding research questions:

    • How are youth engaged in key activities while they are involved with the child welfare system?
    • Do engagement approaches vary based on the child’s age, race, cultural background, and/or LGBTQ identity?
    • What are the main barriers to engaging youth in permanency planning?
    • What are the perceived benefits of engaging youth in permanency planning?
    • What recommended changes in policy and practice could enhance youth engagement?
    • What would workforce professionals like to see included in a youth engagement training?

    An analysis of the interviews indicates that youth’s level of engagement varied by age, with teens and older youth often granted more rights. The most common form of youth engagement in case planning was including youth in permanency team meetings. Youth were also engaged in relational permanency efforts to identify supportive family and kin connections. Challenges to youth engagement included overall lack of time and resources as well as limited guidance for how to promote and partner with youth in achieving cultural permanency.

    The report features sections on each of the following themes:

    • Youth engagement in practice
    • Benefits of youth engagement
    • Barriers to youth engagement
    • Recommendations to promote youth engagement
    • Suggestions for staff training
    • Supervision and coaching

    The full report, Qualitative Analysis of Workforce Expert Interviews, is available on the QIC-EY website.

  • Division X Resource Provides Information and Implementation Strategies for Youth Engagement and Empowerment

    Division X Resource Provides Information and Implementation Strategies for Youth Engagement and Empowerment

    A tool developed as part of the Division X Technical Assistance contract provides resources, checklists, and strategies related to youth engagement and empowerment. The 24-page publication, titled A Tool for Youth Engagement and Empowerment, is designed for child welfare agencies, programs, and organizations, as well as youth and young adults who are experiencing or formerly experienced the child welfare system. Strategies offered throughout the publication were informed by lived experts who have experienced the child welfare system firsthand.  

    The resource details different elements on the “continuum of youth and young adult engagement and empowerment,” including case-level engagement, peer support within agencies, involvement in research and evaluation, and participation in advocacy and decision-making. It also provides implementation strategies to help agencies partner with young people on a variety of activities, including developing authentic engagement within agencies, prioritizing effective communication, building a culture of accountability, funding engagement and empowerment programs, and developing partnerships for state and local change initiatives.

    The publication also includes links to other resources that may be helpful for professionals and youth, including a full appendix of youth engagement toolkits and assessment resources. A second appendix features interactive checklists for both child welfare agencies and youth and young adults to assess their experiences with youth engagement. For example, the checklists for professionals include the following questions: “Have you discussed as an agency why it is important to incorporate youth voice?” and “Have you invited young people to participate in any decision-making processes around budgeting and funding?” And the checklists for youth include the following questions: “Have you explored participating on and leading a change implementation team?” and “Have you considered whether you feel safe discussing youth challenges or concerns with team members or leads?”

    Developed with the help of those with lived experience in the child welfare system, the publication is one of many resources developed as part of the Division X Technical Assistance contract. More information about these Division X resources is available on the Capacity Building Center for States website.

Resources

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

  • Podcast Features Young Adults With Lived Experience in the Foster Care System

    Podcast Features Young Adults With Lived Experience in the Foster Care System

    The Youth Villages’ podcast series Stronger Than You Think was created to inspire and empower listeners by showcasing the power of determination, hope, and support through storytelling. Season two of the podcast features stories and conversations with a diverse group of young people who have overcome challenges and adversity. Each episode highlights the resilience and strength of these individuals and provides insight into their unique experiences with the foster care system, mental health issues, and other obstacles. The interviews also include commentary from Youth Villages experts that are based on data-driven practices.

    Access both seasons of the Stronger Than You Think podcast on the Youth Villages Youth Villages website and listen for free on Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Google, and Amazon.

  • Tip Sheet Promotes Healthy Sexuality for Youth in Foster Care

    Tip Sheet Promotes Healthy Sexuality for Youth in Foster Care

    Taking risks can be a healthy, rewarding part of growing up. Joining school clubs, meeting new people, and learning to drive for the first time are examples of positive risk-taking. However, some adolescent risk-taking—especially for youth in foster care—is often associated with negative behaviors like smoking, drinking and driving, or having unprotected sex.

    A new tip sheet from the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services focuses on risky sexual behavior in adolescence and how parents and caregivers can support the youth in their care and keep them safe. The six-page resource, which is part of FYSB’s “Healthy Sexuality for Youth in Foster Care: An Online Training for Parents and Caregivers of Youth in Foster Care” (discussed in the Training and Conferences section of this issue of CBX), emphasizes the importance of parents and youth working together to set rules and expectations that encourage healthy behaviors and avoid negative risks. It also provides parents with practical guidance on communicating openly and regularly with youth about the following topics:

    • Navigating romantic and sexual relationships
    • Staying safe online
    • Explicit material
    • Sex trafficking and recognizing the warning signs

    Additionally, considerations specific to youth in care are highlighted. Supplemental resource lists for parents, caregivers, and youth appear at the end of the document and cover a variety of related topics, such as social media, bullying and cyberbullying, online privacy and digital awareness, teen dating violence, consent, exploitation, and more.

    The Healthy Sexuality for Youth in Foster Care: Tip Sheet was developed by Mathematica under contract with the FYSB.

  • Social Media Safety Tips for Youth in Foster Care

    Social Media Safety Tips for Youth in Foster Care

    Social media use can be a fun and engaging activity for youth, but it does come with risks. The Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet Social Media: Tips for Youth in Foster Care provides guidance for youth in foster care on how to safely and responsibly use social media platforms. The four-page factsheet highlights several concerns, such as those related to privacy, cyberbullying, and mental health, and then offers tips for staying safe online. It emphasizes the importance of “trusting your gut,” using strong privacy settings, not sharing personal information or locations, and being kind while also exercising caution when communicating with others.

    The factsheet links to a variety of resources and organizations that provide supplemental information, including the Social Media Safety section of the Information Gateway website. View the tip sheet on the Information Gateway website.

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.