To Counter Child Abuse, Administrators and Case Workers Need Support to Implement Evidence-Based Improvements

In 2015, more than 425,000 children were placed in foster care due to incidents of abuse and neglect. But many unsubstantiated cases under investigation divert time and resources from handling cases that warrant close monitoring and attention. According to recent statistics, more than two million reports of child abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation in 2015 – with more than 700,000 of them eventually substantiated as cases of child abuse or neglect.

Imperfect Responses to Harmful Abuse and Neglect

Caseworkers often report that negotiating the multiple demands of their jobs puts them under constant stress. The sheer volume of Child Protective Services reports and investigations, the number of youth in foster care that need to be looked after, and the piles of paperwork that must be filled out to track decision-making – all of these burdens are overwhelming under the best of circumstances.

Faced with such workloads, agencies and caseworkers are ill-equipped to deliver services based on evidence of what works for youth and parents in the foster care system. The current standard of practice, however, leads agencies and caseworkers to engage in practices not supported by research-based evidence. Poorly conceived and delivered services cause considerable harm by failing to limit the incidence and after-effects of abuse and neglect.

Victims of child abuse and neglect are nine times more likely to become involved in crime and 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy. Such victims also face increased risks of smoking, early-age drinking, suicidal ideation, inter-personal violence, and sexual risk-taking. The sad results become obvious in later years. Two-thirds of adults under treatment for drug abuse report that they were maltreated as children. And similar reports of childhood abuse come from 14% of men in prison along with 36% of incarcerated women. Four-fifths of 21-year-olds who were abused as children show evidence of at least one mental health disorder. And saddest of all, about 30% of child abuse victims will later abuse their own kids.

What Could be Done?

Several steps can be taken to improve responses to child abuse and neglect:

  • Improved, ongoing training and job support for caseworkers and supervisors could ensure that they know the characteristics of the populations they serve and are aware of effective anti-abuse practices and know how to deliver them or help clients find others in the community who can provide optimal help. Front-line workers also need training to monitor client progress and detect when a case warrants more intensive intervention.
  • Enhanced preventive efforts could save lives and money. Research shows that the total cost of new U.S. cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment was approximately $124 billion in 2008. The estimated cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment was $210,012 in 2010, including the costs for health care, productivity losses, child welfare services, criminal justice procedures, and special education. In fatal cases, the figure rises to an astonishing $1,272, 900 per death.
  • Resources should be reallocated to areas of greatest need. In addition to redistributing available funding to hire more staff to manage high caseloads, innovative and effective programs and services must be delivered to prevent child maltreatment and fatalities. States should take advantage of funds offered by the federal government to expand evidence-based child welfare interventions that may have previously been underfunded.

Lessons from Philadelphia

A promising model comes from the state of Pennsylvania, which has participated in a federally funded project that allows child welfare agencies to use Title IV-E funds for evidence-based reforms. Philadelphia’s child welfare system has been at the forefront of adopting three evidence-based treatments for children and families that the city was previously unable to implement due to lack of funding. Waiver funds have made it possible to enhance preparation for child welfare caseworkers, develop databases to track outcomes for children and families, and train staff to identify and implement further improvements.

With flexible authority over spending, two child welfare agencies in Philadelphia decided to implement the Positive Parenting Program, an evidence-based approach to preventing child abuse. Although some reallocated resources have been used to train staff, additional funding is needed to discover barriers to effective program implementation and to implement additional steps known to be cost-effective – such as holding weekly consultations and boosting training for current and replacement leaders and caseworkers involved in the new program.

Research could pinpoint which approaches do best at giving various parents and youth access to the positive parenting program. And as parents and their offspring complete the program, further research would ideally track results in areas such as safety, reductions in abuse incidents, and improved parent-child relationships.

Next Steps

The Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Project was a provision in the U.S. Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, which Congress reauthorized for five years in 2011. Now that the act is again up for reauthorization, Congress has the ability to implement changes to the way child welfare federal funds are allocated. Advocates for children have an opportunity to contact representatives and senators in Congress to propose that this program should expand to give more states the chance to reallocate funds and improve child safety.

Much remains to be learned about what it takes to carry out evidence-based interventions in the child welfare system, which provides vital help to many endangered children, youth, and families, disproportionately minorities. The federal Waiver Project provides a unique opportunity to observe what happens when system leaders, community partners, and providers mobilize to prevent childhood trauma. Lessons learned will help provide ongoing guidance to federal and state administrators and welfare leaders as they look for the most effective, empirically proven ways to protect children and families under their supervision.

Connected Commonwealth: Programs for Kentucky Youth Aging Out

Photo Credit: Foster Youth In Action

In May 2016, Anna Shobe-Wallace, program manager for Louisville Metro Community Services said, “Each year, more than 500 young people between the ages of 18-21 age out of Kentucky’s foster care system.” Many youth ‘aging out’ are disconnected from larger society and face barriers to success such as: low socioeconomic status, low educational achievement, unplanned pregnancy, racial segregation, and mental and physical challenges.

A recent study assessed the plight of disconnected youth who are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, and these youths are neither employed, enrolled in or attending school. The study focused on disconnected youth in the following categories: by state, county, congressional district, gender, and by race and ethnicity. Currently, there is approximately 5,527,000 disconnected youth in the United States or 13.8% of young adults.

According to data from the study:

  • Kentucky ranks 36th in youth disconnection rates with 15.2% of youth in this group for a total of 81,850.
  • Cincinnati, OH–KY–IN ranks 44th in youth disconnection among the most densely inhabited areas. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 12.8% or 38,312 total. The racial breakdown for this group is 20.6% Black and 11.8% White.
  • Louisville/Jefferson County, KY–IN ranks 56th in youth disconnection. The percentage of disconnected youth in this area is 14.0% with a total of 21,750 disconnected youth. The racial breakdown for this group is 18.5% Black and 13.3% White. This Kentucky county has the lowest percentage of disconnected youth.
  • Kentucky counties with the largest percentage of disconnected youth are as follows: Martin County, Kentucky ranks 2,020th with 47.8% disconnected youth; Union County, Kentucky ranks 2012 with 43.7% disconnected youth; Bracken County, Kentucky ranks 1,998th with 41.4% disconnected youth; Lee County, Kentucky ranks 1,994th with 40.9% disconnected youth; McCreary County, Kentucky ranks 1,992nd with 40.4% disconnected youth; Morgan County, Kentucky ranks 1,985th with 38.7% disconnected youth; and Wolfe County, Kentucky ranks 1,972nd with 37.5% disconnected youth

Researchers from this study concluded that larger urban communities had increased numbers of disconnected youth due to the following indicators: a historical pattern of disconnection, decreased neighborhood well-being rates, low SES, increased unemployment, a lack of academic achievement, and racism.

These alarming statistics clearly indicated systemic issues that impact disconnected youth. Experts from this study proposed that, “Disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome year in the making.” With this thought in mind, the study recommended these steps moving forward:

  • An estimated $26.8 billion dollars was involved with supporting the nation’s 5.5 million disconnected youth— comprising Supplemental Security Income payments, Medicaid, public assistance, incarceration, in 2013. Proposing more beneficial ways to invest in this population would be advantageous to society as a whole.
  • Designing preventive measures to address disconnection by sustaining at-risk parents and investing in quality preschool programs. It is usually more cost effective and compassionate to implement prevention strategies than crisis responses.
  • Re-joining youth and young adults who are secluded from higher education and the job market is more expensive than pre-emptive methods that address disconnection at the outset. However, these young people need another opportunity—considering many came from challenging backgrounds.
  • At the community level, an evident positive correlation was seen between adult employment status and youth’s relationship to education and employment. The amount of education adults had greatly projected the likelihood of young people ages 16 to 24 years old to attend school.
  • Significant headway involves individuals and organizations cooperating to institute specific measurable attainable realistic timely (SMART) goals for decreasing youth disconnection.

Amy Swann, author of “Failure to Launch”, notes that for 2013, the study data indicates that the Louisville Metropolitan Area (which consists of bordering counties) has 14.0 percent of youth ages 16-24 disengaged from employment and education. The study’s emphasis on cities resulted in reporting by Louisville news outlets at the Courier-Journal and WFPL. Media exposure of the status of disconnected youth in Kentuckiana has led to remarkable new efforts that focus on this population.

In light of this compelling evidence: social workers, legislators, and other helping professionals in the state of Kentucky have amassed their efforts to cultivate community partnerships and programs to support disconnected youth on their journey into emerging adulthood.

According to their website, here is a description of each program, and how it addresses the needs of disconnected youth and youth ‘aging out’.

Family Scholar House plans to open its fifth Louisville campus at the Riverport Landings development in southwest Jefferson County. The project goal is to equip families and youth to excel in education and to obtain independence. The new facility is expected to be ready by 2017 and will accommodate low-income families, single-parent families, and young adults formerly in foster care.

Fostering Success is a summer employment program developed by Gov. Matt Bevin that began June 1, 2016. The program provides job training via the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services for youth ages 18 to 23 years old. The program will run for 10 weeks and culminate with meetings with college and career counselors to prepare participants for future education and employment goals. Approximately 100 youth will be employed full-time at a rate of $10.00 dollars per hour. Fostering Success is one of the seminal programs in the state to target youth aging out.

Project LIFE serves 60 kids across Kentucky, including 25 in Louisville and offers an empowering environment to prepare them for success. Youth are given a housing voucher, along with social supports to improve access to education, employment, and income management skills.

Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CYSA) is an initiative created to address the barriers faced by Louisville’s disconnected young people. The mission is to develop: a standard agenda that meets the needs of Louisville’s vulnerable youth and young adults; common measurement tools that define collective goals and strategies; mutually supportive activities that create new partnerships and execute thoughtful programs; effective communication that creates a viable structure; foundational support that stimulates growth, responsibility, and dependability.

Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams (TAYLRD) is an effort to create a unique program for young people born out of the federal government’s proposal called “Now is the Time” Healthy Transitions Grant Program. The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) in Kentucky requested and received funding and Seven Counties was chosen as a venue to open drop-in centers where young people can foster relationships and access support /services to achieve their future goals. Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSS) and Youth Coordinators work together with clients to define what concerns are most important, and then appropriate services/supports are brought into the drop-in centers. Some of the supports/services offered include: case management, life skills development, employment services, academic support, legal support, and therapy.

True Up founded by foster care alum Frank Harshaw, is a nurturing group of foster care alumni who have overcome obstacles to employment, pursuing education, gaining independence and solidifying healthy relationships. They have chosen to pay it forward through mentorship. True Up empowers foster youth through academic and hands-on learning in the following areas: Mobility & Transportation, Career Mapping, Financial Management, Relationship Building Skills, and Educational Achievement.

These are just a few of the innovative programs and resources available in the state of Kentucky. As helping professionals and the broader community create data driven programs for disconnected youth and youth aging out, expected outcomes will be much more positive in the near future.

The Case of ‘Mary’: Further Reflections on Child Protection in Ireland

On 29th March 2017, the publication of yet another report was released examining the operation of our child protection and wider safeguarding structures in Ireland. The Case Review for Mary involved a child left in a foster care placement where the foster father had prior allegations of sexual abuse. Despite other children being removed from the home, Mary was left under his care for almost two years even though the allegations had been deemed credible by TULSA within months of the original report in 2014.

The review was undertaken by an independent reviewer, Dr Cathleen Callanan, a former Child Care Manager within the HSE, and was assisted by two senior staff nominees from the HSE and Tusla. The purpose of the review was to (i) establish the facts of the case, (ii) consider, in particular, the issues of safeguarding and risk assessment in respect of the case, (iii) set out findings in this case with regard to risk, safeguarding and best practice and (iv) identify specific and general issues to inform any necessary learning, having regard to best practice in managing risk and interagency engagement.

The Review, is defined at the outset of the report as:

“A review jointly commissioned by the HSE and Tusla into the circumstances whereby a vulnerable young adult (“Mary”) with an intellectual disability, in receipt of services from both agencies, continued to reside with a former foster family following a report being received of a retrospective allegation of abuse, which did not relate to residents in the foster home.”

The Report was commissioned in May 2016 and completed in July 2016 and the Reviewer should be commended on this timeframe. However, in respect of the delay in publication, the reviewer notes that:

“…the commissioners (Tusla and HSE) made submissions to the independent reviewer, in the period between October 2016 and January 2017. These (separate) submissions were concerned with addressing matters of factual accuracy and seeking clarity around some of the findings of the report. In particular, the Tusla submission was concerned with what it perceived to be an imbalance in the review, insofar as it did not adequately acknowledge attempts made by Tusla to refer the case to the HSE, and focused attention on the activity of Tusla in the case, without giving due regard to the responsibility of the HSE Disability Services. The reviewer responded to the submissions and this document constitutes the final report.”

Report Analysis

The reviewer ultimately notes in respect of the report’s limitations that “The reviewer is not aware of the circumstances that allowed for the lapse of time until the final submission of the report.”

Whatever the reasons for delay the Government discussed the report during a cabinet meeting with some strong, but unfortunately, all too familiar recommendations; namely, interagency cooperation and record keeping.

As a child ‘Mary’ had been placed, by Tusla, in foster care with ‘Mr & Mrs. A’. Due to the level of her intellectual disability, it was agreed that Mary would remain in this setting after turning 18, which she did only a few months prior to the allegation being made. The allegation at the centre of the concern was that “In January 2014 (by which time Mary was an adult), information was received anonymously by the social work department of Tusla in Mary’s locality, alleging that Mr. A had, around fifteen years previously, sexually abused two young teenage girls within his extended family.”

This information was classed as a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’, in other words, a referral made by an adult relating to abuse which they experienced as a child. Retrospective referrals and inefficiencies in respect of their assessment by Tusla formed the basis of the recent controversy surrounding the allegations against Sgt. Maurice McCabe and Tusla’s handling of same.

Unfortunately, we see some inefficiencies in respect of these referrals again here in this case; from the Chronology in the Review:

“an anonymous allegation was received by Tusla on January 10th in the locality where Mary was living. This information was not passed on by the duty team to Team Leader1 for a further five weeks; it came to the attention of Team Leader1 because there was another child in that placement who had an allocated social worker. There was no suggestion that this or any other child in the placement had been harmed and the allegation did not concern any child who had lived in this home. At interview Team Leader1 acknowledged that given the level of demand on the service, the delay was regrettable but understandable.”

Despite the delay in assessing this matter it must be, and is in the review, noted that Tusla acted appropriately in respect of the children in the foster home:

“Two team leaders, one from Tusla child protection and one from Tusla foster care services, were nominated to conduct an enquiry into these allegations. They found the allegations credible and acknowledged in their subsequent report that Mr. A had denied the allegations, and had been supported by his wife in doing so.”

The children were removed from the home and the foster carers were removed from the register of foster carers later that year. However, ‘Mary’ remained in the home despite this ‘credible’ risk being determined and the removal of children being deemed necessary.

This also highlights the fact that a credible referral of sexual abuse lay unassessed on a retrospective wait-list for five weeks before action being taken. I have argued previously, and continue to do so, that it is time to treat retrospective allegations like all other referrals to social work departments and seek to discharge our ‘proactive duty’ to care for and protect children and vulnerable adults alike.

“On foot of the information passed on to her in February [2014], Team Leader1, having sought legal advice, agreed on the need to inform Mr. A that such information was now on record.” Again, this is a delay that we don’t consistently encounter with ‘so-called’ current child protection concerns. Social Workers, rightly, use their authority under Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 to ensure safety and protection, they contact parents, they call out to houses if no response or as follow-up to phone calls and they, in a relatively short space of time, put the concerns to the alleged offender. This doesn’t happen with retrospective disclosures and in all my years of researching this issue I have yet to receive an adequate answer as to why not! Other than staffing and resources there is no legitimate reason why retrospective referrals of abuse should be treated any differently than those deemed to be current concerns.

While the Review highlights that there should have been a clear written referral from Tusla to the HSE Disability Service regarding the potential risk posed by Mr. A to ‘Mary’ the receipt of this information in any form at any level should trigger an appropriate response. If the protection of children and vulnerable adults is to be everybody’s business, then the sharing of soft information or conducting of ‘informal’ conversations between professionals regarding risk need to have consequences and effect an appropriate response.

And this is where the main body of the Review places its focus; inter-agency communication and response between Tusla and the HSE Disability Services. The Review does state that Tusla attempted on a number of occasions in 2014 to have the relevant voluntary services assess risk in respect of Mary given Tusla’s own lack of legal remit in respect of those over the age of 18. Despite this, Tusla still had an ongoing input into Mary’s life in terms of provision of Aftercare services and the extent of a legal duty of care attached to provision of these services needs to be fully examined following this the publication of this review. In fact, it was the input of a specific Tusla Aftercare staff member that triggered an internal review of the matter within Tusla in 2015:

“…The file of Manager1 (with oversight of aftercare) states that in January 2015 the Aftercare Coordinator alerted him to the situation whereby a vulnerable adult continued to reside in a placement with foster carers whose names had been removed from the panel of foster carers, from whom other children had been removed. The file of Manager1 indicates that he then sought and received a copy of the original assessment of the allegations completed by Team Leader1 and Team Leader2 in 2014.”

Initially, prior to the allegation at least, “the placement was considered by the Tusla social work department and the foster care department to be a successful one.” “There were other children also in foster care with Mr. and Mrs. A and they were considered to be receiving a high level of care.” There appears to have been confusion between the agencies whereby the HSE Disability Services state they were informed by Tusla that there was no risk to Mary, following the allegation, while at the same time Tusla were continuing to request the HSE to carry out a risk assessment.

While both agencies are committed to the roll-out of a new joint protocol that will seek to clarify roles and routes of communication, ultimately, the arbitrary age cutoff of 18 and the stark lines of demarcation between services need to be examined and, where appropriate, dismantled in the best interests of service users whether they be child or adult.

In lieu of such proactive developments the Review does states that “In the area where these events took place, an Aftercare Steering Committee has been established by Tusla “to fulfil the requirements of planning, implementing and monitoring a comprehensive, integrative Aftercare Programme for each young person leaving care” (internal Tusla document, 2016). This committee is multi-agency in nature with representatives as follows:

  • Disability Services: HSE
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Education/Training e.g. SOLAS
  • Residential Service: Tusla
  • Fostering Service: Tusla
  • Children in Care Team: Tusla
  • Primary Care: HSE
  • Department of Social Protection (Community Welfare Office)
  • Housing
  • Tenancy sustainment provider

This seems like an excellent multi-agency initiative if a reactionary development can be classed as ‘initiative’, but why is it only established in the area where this incident took place? Bolting horses come to mind!

Findings of the Callanan Review:

While the review itself details the extent of confusion and contact between the relevant agencies the findings are ultimately that:

  1. Promotion of a shared awareness of intersecting policies and procedures for interagency working including the HSE Safeguarding Policy and the Tusla Aftercare Policy will facilitate a mutual understanding of roles, responsibilities and referral pathways, which would assist the management of complex cases
  2. Formal arrangements to include meetings to address complex cases pertaining to people with disabilities with multi-agency involvement would facilitate improved management or shared management of specific cases
  3. Requirements with regard to record keeping standards are an identified deficit requiring attention. Clear guidance needs to be provided to staff in relation to good record keeping practices.

We have unfortunately seen all these recommendations before and with the Government set to introduce Mandatory Reporting by the end of the year it is critical that all agencies who work with children or vulnerable adults begin sharing soft and hard information and begin to establish pathways for referral, feedback and review as necessary.

Recommendations

One mechanism which would enable this process is a coordinated integrated child protection computer database system. Unfortunately, due to arrive far beyond the implementation of Mandatory reporting, “NCCIS is being rolled out on a phased basis and is expected to be fully operational by the end of next year”, according to TULSA’s press release. However, this should arguably be linked with adult safeguarding services in the HSE and An Garda Síochána to ensure a comprehensive response to abuse and neglect and facilitate the possibility of proactive, preventative actions or the raising of red flags.

The Review poses one final question where it states that “In conclusion, the question emerges as to what would have been a proportionate response to the acceptance of the allegations in 2014.”The fact remains that retrospective disclosures of abuse remain within the remit of Tusla. These disclosures, being made by adults, will always contain the potential for further risk to adults, deemed vulnerable or otherwise. The intersection between services and responsibilities needs to be clarified as posed by this Review.

Furthermore, the legislative structures surrounding the safeguarding of vulnerable adults, those with intellectual disabilities and the powers and duties placed upon Tusla to assess risk in terms of adult referral needs to be examined in detail. I originally felt that a review of Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 was necessary and we are told by Minister Zappone that this is underway. I fear we may have moved beyond this territory now and that the suitable recourse is for the Law Reform Commission to examine the entire legislative structures surrounding the protection and safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children in Ireland.

Rightly or wrongly, we again find social care and social work professionals in positions where a lack of clarity in law and policy places them under deeper scrutiny where ultimately wider systemic failures are at fault. In lieu of a staged, coordinated re-location of care, Mary was ultimately removed to a residential unit as an emergency measure 21 months after the initial, credible, allegations of sexual abuse and it is with ‘Mary’ that our thoughts should be.

Rep. Bass Introduces The Foster Youth Mentoring Act

On June 23, 2017, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass serves as a Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.

“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges young people in the system face,” Bass said. “In all of my years working in child welfare, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, we’ve heard their voices clearly: They want a consistent source of advice and support–someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary. But for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue. There are kids in every congressional district that would benefit from this bill’s passage.”

“Youth in foster care face enough challenges. Having a consistent caring adult in their lives shouldn’t be one of them,” said MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership’s CEO David Shapiro. “Mentors offer much-needed stability and support academic achievement, professional and social-emotional development, and provide the kind of individual attention often not possible through the child welfare system.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act would expand urgently needed access to this critical asset for so many more young people in need. Closing this support and opportunity gap for youth in foster care through evidence-based relationships can help reverse the negative outcomes we see far too frequently for these young people compared to their peers. MENTOR thanks Representative Bass for her tremendous leadership in working to improve outcomes for these young people and elevating the personal stories of foster youth to a national level through her work in Congress.”

Read their joint op-ed in the Huffington Post about the importance of mentorship here.

Bill Summary

The bill connects youth in foster care with adult volunteer mentors by providing support for mentoring programs for foster youth. The bill would:

  • Authorize funding to provide support to mentoring programs that serve foster youth. Programs would be eligible to receive funds to support the expansion of their services to more youth in foster care and to improve services for current foster youth in their programs.
  • Ensures that mentoring programs participating in the grant program are currently engaged or developing quality mentoring standards to ensure best practices in the screening of volunteers, matching process and successful mentoring relationships.
  • Provide intensive training to adult volunteers who serve as mentors to foster youth to assure that they are competent in understanding child development, family dynamics, the child welfare system and other relevant systems that affect foster youth.
  • Increase coordination between mentoring programs and statewide child welfare systems by supporting the expansion of mentoring services for foster youth.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to address the need for greater support of mentoring programs that serve youth in foster care.  Foster youth face challenges as they navigate growing up often without the support of a consistent caring adult. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to fill that gap to provide foster youth with the social capital, resources, and support they need to develop positive relationships and connections.

Proposed Trump Cuts Imperil Mental Health, Health Care, Education and More

The budget proposed by President Donald J. Trump threatens critical health, scientific research and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association.

“This budget, if enacted, would jeopardize our nation’s educational, scientific and health enterprises and limit access to critically needed mental and behavioral health services,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “These cuts would disproportionately affect people living in poverty, people with serious mental illness and other disabilities, women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS, older adults, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

“While every administration must make difficult budget decisions, any attempts to balance the federal budget should increase, not decrease, the number of Americans who have access to high-quality education, health care and social support,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “APA calls on Congress to reject this budget proposal and replace it with one that protects and increases access to services and care for all Americans.”

Among the cuts denounced by APA:

•    $7.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health, approximately a 21 percent decrease from the FY 2017 level, which would result in 1,946 fewer grants. The National Science Foundation would receive a cut of approximately $820 million compared to FY 2017, a decrease of 11 percent.

•    More than $600 billion in reductions over the next decade from the Medicaid program, which could eliminate Medicaid benefits for about 7.5 million people. The proposal also includes the option for states to choose between a per capita cap or a block grant beginning in FY 2020. Medicaid is the single largest payer for behavioral health services in the United States, accounting for over 25 percent of behavioral health spending.

•    Elimination of the Graduate Psychology Education Program, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, which together would reduce mental health workforce training by nearly $100 million.

•    Almost $400 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including a roughly 22 percent reduction from the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.

•    14 percent ($9.2 billion) from the U.S. Department of Education, eliminating investments in educational equity and quality, including slashing other key programs that support gifted students, effective teaching and professional development.

•    Elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and programmatic changes that would prolong repayment periods for students with graduate school loans.

•    13.2 percent cut from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

•    $200 million reduction for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

•    Elimination of 75 employees from the Office of Justice Programs, including a cut of over 30 percent, reducing the office’s budget from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion. The agency administers critical juvenile and criminal justice grants and houses the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Justice.

“A strong educational system is the foundation of a globally competitive workforce that fosters innovation, discovery and research,” Puente said. “As other countries continue to invest in education as part of their economic and workforce development strategies, the need for increased federal investment in American education has never been more important to our nation’s economic stability, national security and public health.”

“APA looks forward to working with Congress to ensure a more balanced approach to addressing our nation’s fiscal 2018 budget priorities, including making progress on increasing access to mental health care and addressing the opioid epidemic, investing in the scientific enterprise and expanding access to higher education for all Americans,” Evans added.

More Than 100 Foster Youth Attend Shadow Day Program On Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Karen Bass speaking to Foster Youth Representatives on Capitol Hill

On May 24th, 2017, in honor of National Foster Youth Awareness Month, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY) hosted more than 100 current and former foster youth from across the country as part of the 6th Annual Foster Youth Shadow. Every year, the event allows youth to share their experiences in foster care directly with members of Congress to help inform and improve child welfare policy. This year’s group came from more than 36 states including Hawaii and Alaska.

The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) brought more than 100 foster youth and alumni from across the country to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress for the 6th Annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day Program. The program, hosted by the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth, brings young people who have left the foster care system to Washington, D.C. for a three-day trip that pairs them with their Members of Congress from their home districts. The half-day spent shadowing their Member of Congress allows foster youth the opportunity to connect face-to-face with their home representative, get a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process, and allow their voices to be heard on the issues impacting the foster care system.

“Our youth have been given the unique opportunity to participate in activities celebrating foster youth with those who have the power and influence to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in the system,”said Lilla Weinberger, executive director of NFYI.  “What better way for a member of Congress to understand the issues impacting the child welfare system than hearing personal stories from those most impacted. We thank the members for their willingness to participate in an honest and open discussion with foster youth and alumni, and look forward to next year’s Shadow Day program and proud to partner with the members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth for this meaningful programs.”

Rep. Bass was shadowed by three former foster youth; Leo Jimenez, Doniesha Thomas, and Michael Rogalski, all of whom who have spent time in at least 7 housing placements. In 21 years of care, Leo spent time in 22 housing placements. This fall, Leo is graduating from West Los Angeles College and starting at New York University.

“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, the government is really the one responsible,” Rep. Bass said. “When we remove children from their parents, it’s the government that becomes the parents. What can we do better? What are the tangible solutions? That’s what this event is about. We had over 100 youth from all over the country speaking to over Members of Congress representing over 90 different congressional districts. Especially in a time marred by partisanship, what can bring this country together are our children. We can come together and work to raise foster youth voices.”

“We have someone that is advocating for us that hasn’t been in our shoes, but is willing to take off her shoes and put herself in our shoes to know our needs, our wants and she’s very involved in our future,” Jimenez said. “She’s given me a voice.”

Also, Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) paired up with Ally Alvarez, a twenty-three year-old young woman from Sun Valley. Ally is a student at Los Angeles Valley College and spent seventeen years in the foster care system, and she accompanied the Congressman throughout the day to get a behind-the-scenes look at the House of Representatives. Ally is interested in policy-making and participates in a variety of organizations at school.

There are more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system at any given time. With the support from Casey Family Programs, this NFYI program is an all-expenses paid program. Youth spend 5 days in Washington learning about community organizing, the legislative process and how to make their stories and voices heard. Youth participants are empowered to use his or her voice to build a national movement that will fight for a stronger child welfare system that meets the needs of all foster youth and their families.

This year, select youth from previous Shadow Days were invited back to act as group leaders and the program hopes to continue to grow and develop leadership corps around the country.  Youth are encouraged to maintain contact with their members of Congress and their staffs to keep the dialogue around child welfare and potential recommendations.

Rep. Bass did an interview a few years ago to help bring awareness to this great program. Learn more about Foster Youth Shadow Day by viewing their video.

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children Offered in Free Online Course

For the first time, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children will be shared with learners around the world, including policy makers, practitioners and carers, in a free online course. The course has been developed by academics and practitioners from CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland) with the support of Education Enhancement at the University of Strathclyde.

Across the globe, for many different reasons, hundreds of thousands of children cannot live with their parents. To address this, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously welcomed the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children in 2009 driven by two fundamental principles – the ensuring of both the necessity and the suitability of alternative care.

What is meant by ‘alternative care’ is the provision of a safe and caring setting for children to live whilst they are unable to stay with their families – foster care being one example of this.

An understanding of the implications of the UN Guidelines, at a theoretical and practical level, will be explored in the ‘Getting Care Right for All Children’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), offered in partnership with the social learning platform, FutureLearn. The course will be conducted in English with some course materials (including text and videos) also accessible in Spanish and French, reflecting the truly global nature of this issue.

The initial concept for the course was proposed and sponsored by the Geneva Working Group on Children Without Parental Care, comprising of a number of major international child protection and child care organisations.

Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of CELCIS, comments: “Preventing unnecessary placements in alternative care is as important as ensuring appropriate alternative care when necessary.

“The UN Guidelines have been internationally agreed and we at CELCIS have collaborated with international experts, including those at UNICEF and with Nigel Cantwell, one of the influential developers of the UN Guidelines, to create this six-week course designed to make a difference to the lives of children in communities across the globe.

“We hope to attract a range of participants, from child protection professionals, those working in health and education, community volunteers and state and government officials. By the end of the course, participants will have a grasp of the key principals, pillars and implications of the UN Guidelines, taking in a view from across the world.

“To bring the learning to life, each week we’ve included an episode of a specially-made film which follows the experiences of a family with two children living in vulnerable circumstances as they move through an alternative care system.”

Nigel Smith, Head of Content at FutureLearn, commented, “We’re delighted to be the chosen partner platform for these courses. The people that provide care for vulnerable children, in the instances, when they cannot live with their families, do an amazing job for society. We’re proud to play a part in extending the reach of the UN Guidelines to as many people as possible and we hope our platform provides an opportunity for discussion and support for those involved.”

The ‘Getting Care Right for All Children’ MOOC follows the success of the University’s ‘Caring for Vulnerable Children’ MOOC, run in partnership between both the University of Strathclyde and CELCIS, which, in its sixth run, has had over 50,000 participants from more than 189 countries since it launched in 2015.

For details and to secure a place in the “Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children” course, visit the FutureLearn website.

Tending the Caregivers

Mothers who work as healthcare professionals – physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners – can significantly reduce their stress levels and burnout by participating in close supportive groups at work, according to a new study by researchers at Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic. The shared experiences in these support groups provide a wealth of nurturance for the women.

The study, “Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: ‘Authentic Connections Groups’ for medical professionals,” is published in the current issue of Women’s Health Issues.

Groups in the intervention provided “comfort, solace and advice as needed, building what some called a ‘secret sisterhood’ of shared experiences with genuineness and reciprocity in the relationship,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation professor of psychology at ASU and the lead author of the study. “These factors help build resilience for professional mothers who are under great daily stress, with substantial dual demands at work and at home.”

Senior co-author and collaborator on the project was Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, associate professor and chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Arizona. Other authors of the paper are Alexandria Curlee, an ASU graduate student; Susannah Tye, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota; and Judith Engelman, a psychiatrist in private practice.

“Women medical professionals who are mothers often face the dual role of being the primary caregiver both for their patients and their children,” said Stonnington. “This puts them at higher risk for burnout than their male counterparts. Our study investigated how this supportive program might help mitigate stresses and promote their day-to-day health and well-being.”

The Authentic Connections Groups (ACG) intervention involved weekly sessions at work over a three-month period. The researchers randomly assigned 40 women at Mayo to one of two groups: either the 12 weekly one-hour sessions of the ACG’s or 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired. The study was supported by a Seed fund from Arizona State University to Luthar, and the Mayo Clinic contributed release time to participate.

The study had several positive results.

It showed that those who participated in the ACGs had significantly greater reductions in depression and other global symptoms of stress than those given free time (the control group). Secondly, relative gains were still more pronounced three months after the program ended. Follow-up assessments showed significant between-group differences not only on depression and stress, but also on almost all other central variables, including parenting stress, self-compassion, feeling loved and physical affection. Participants in the ACGs also showed more reductions than control moms in cortisol levels (a biochemical indicator of stress) at both post intervention and three months follow up.

In explaining why this program worked, Luthar said that, in essence, the ACGs actively and continually fostered the development of close, mutually supportive relationships, and the resulting shared experiences and bonding helped to lower participants’ stress levels.

“Resilience research clearly shows the critical protective power of reliable close relationships,” Luthar said. “In this program, our focus was on developing and strengthening what we called ‘go-to’ committees for each woman. As topics were shared in the weekly group sessions over time, the moms each also shared them with their respective go-to’s. By the end of three months, each woman had developed great closeness not only with other moms in their work setting but also with at least two or three other women in their personal lives.”

A critical factor in enabling this effort was the institutional commitment to wellness. Stonnington reported that the ACG program was implemented as part of an initiative begun in 2015 at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to address burnout and turnover among female physicians.

“Another major reason for the success of this program is that the groups were implemented in the women’s everyday settings, during their regular work-days,” said Luthar. “That the Mayo administration gave them the one hour per week free time to participate was a critical consideration, given how very packed these women’s schedules can be.”

The U.S. Surgeon General recently stated that efforts to promote the well being of medical professionals must become a major priority among health care organizations. This study demonstrates that facilitated colleague support groups can provide a viable, low-cost preventive way to mitigate burnout among women medical professionals who are also mothers.

More broadly, the authors note that the ACG program has the potential to be widely used in workplace wellness programs, given the high cost of worker stress and depression in contemporary America. Since completion of the Mayo project, Luthar and colleagues have successfully completed groups with military mothers, and are now offering it to women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, with both new projects implemented at ASU.

“It is our hope that over time, the ACG program will come to benefit women, mothers, and other adults in salient caregiving roles, as they routinely give so much of themselves to others while experiencing high everyday stress,” Luthar said. “It just makes common sense. Those who serve as first-responders, and who offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended – with this happening on a reliable and ongoing basis.”

CELCIS Reaction to The Fostering Network Report on State of UK Fostering System

SCOTLAND – On January 31, 2017, following a survey of 2,500 foster carers, the Fostering Network has warned that the UK’s fostering system is under ‘unsustainable strain’. Jennifer Davidson, the Executive Director of the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS), commented:

Caring, compassionate foster carers are at the very heart of the stable, quality care that children and young people need when they’re unable to live with their families.

The day-to-day experiences of children who are ‘looked after’ form the building blocks for their healing and learning, and their ability to overcome adversity and develop resilience for their future. Foster carers are essential to the overall success of our care system, supporting children and young people through those important everyday moments and helping them reach their full potential.

Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of CELCIS Photo Credit: @JenniferCelcis

That’s why foster carers need to be fully supported to do the very best they can. We need to pay close attention to the lessons from this report, as it offers insights into a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up the care system.

Given the complexity of the issues however, we mustn’t look at foster care in isolation, without also considering the wider issues that impact on the future of our children.

Not only should we be concerned about the experience of foster carers and their need for better communication and support; we need good communication between foster carers and everyone involved in a child’s life – including social workers, health workers, teachers and parents – to make the best possible decisions for children and to ensure stability throughout a child’s life.

At CELCIS, we know from evidence that delays in making these decisions can seriously hamper the life chances of children. Narrowing the gap in the time it takes to have a child settled in a secure and permanent home, can radically improve what they achieve in life.

This is why we are working with every local authority in Scotland on the Permanence and Care Excellence programme, aimed at developing a whole-system improvement approach to make sure the right decisions are taken, at the right time, for every child. Foster carers form a critical piece of this whole system and we overlook them at our peril.

CELCIS, based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, is committed to making positive and lasting improvements in the wellbeing of Scotland’s children living in and on the edges of care. Taking a multi-agency, collaborative approach towards making lasting change, CELCIS works alongside leaders, managers and practitioners to break down barriers and forge new paths in order to change thinking and ways of working with everyone whose work touches the lives of vulnerable children and families.

What Can Be Done To Solve The Foster Care Crisis?

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In March 2016, there were 70,440 children in care throughout the UK. This is an increase on the previous year when 69,540 children were in care. With more children entering the system than leaving it, either by turning 18, returning to their family or being placed with a family permanently, it’s clear that more foster carers are needed every year. This problem isn’t isolated to the UK and countries throughout the world are reporting shortages in foster carer numbers.

One of the biggest problems facing foster carer recruiters is that there are so many misconceptions around how foster care works and who can become a foster carer. Many people go through life without realising that they could make ideal foster carers, meaning that some children will be left in children’s homes rather than in loving family homes. Let’s clear up some of these foster care myths once and for all…

Who can become a foster carer?

If you’re over the age of 21, have no criminal record and can provide a stable and loving home to a child in need, you could become a foster carer. There is no upper age limit, and you don’t have to be married or own your own home. Same sex couples are welcome to apply, as are single people or unmarried couples. You don’t have to have a job, either. Unemployed people are welcome to apply, and foster care can even be a brilliant way back into the workforce for stay at home mums. The foster carer allowance is very generous, meaning that it can provide supplementary income for retirement-age individuals or those not in work.

What professions make ideal foster carers?

  • Foster children need a stable environment, which is why ex-servicemen and women make ideal foster carers. Skills in leadership and teamwork that are developed in the military will mean you are well-placed for offering a troubled young person guidance at a difficult time in their life. Children in foster care often lack strong role models, so living with an ex-serviceman or woman can be vital to ensuring the foster child has a diverse selection of people in their life.
  • Social workers have an in-depth understanding of the foster care system, in addition to seemingly endless compassion and understanding, so they will bring a unique insight to the role. It also helps to be able to navigate the system and speak the lingo. The social care system can be overwhelming to newcomers, so those with experience working with the various parties involved in keeping children safe can be a huge advantage.
  • An appreciation for education is also essential, so retired teachers also make the ideal foster carers. Teachers are often accustomed to dealing with difficult behaviour and can also help to ensure foster children don’t fall behind in school. Teachers will be used to dealing with a wide-range of people, which is an essential skill if the child still has some contact with their birth family.

How do I know if I will be a good foster carer?

No one expects you to become a perfect foster carer overnight. Training is provided to help you develop essentials skills and learn to cope with anything the foster care system can throw at you. Whether you apply through your local authority or a private fostering agency, your will be given as much training as you need to be the best foster carer you can be.

Becoming a foster carer requires great emotional strength and maturity to be able to deal with the complex challenges. You will also require a good sense of humour, as you may find yourself faced with some unique challenges.

It’s Grief To Me – Death, Divorce, Incarceration, Deployment and Foster Care

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Every year, educators in the public education system spend roughly 180 days and approximately around 1,000 hours with our children.  For many children, the time spent with their classroom teacher accumulates to more time then the time they spend with their own parents.  For many grieving children and teens in our communities today, their schools and their teachers remain the one constant in their lives.

Who are our grieving students in our schools today?  They are our students impacted by experiences of not only death, but situations like divorce, parental deployment, parental incarceration and foster care placement.  Many students impacted by grief and loss are not only unaware of their own grief, they find themselves struggling academically.

Grieving children have more academic barriers than their peers who are not experiencing grief.

Like the students themselves who may be unaware of their own grieving, many teachers are left in the dark about who their grieving students are.  Many may not know grief and loss experiences can connect to other life experiences such as parental divorce, incarceration of a loved one, parental deployment and foster care placement. Unfortunately, due to shame and stigma that can surround the specific grief situation of a child or teen, they may not tell their teachers out of fear or embarrassment.  Even when the teacher does know the situation, they might not quite know what to do to support their student.

In my research, I continue to find a scarcity of information on how to serve grieving youth impacted by grief and loss outside of death.  In my opinion, death is only one aspect of a much larger issue.  I realized this 13 years after my own graduation from high school when I found myself walking the halls of someone else’s high school thinking of that period of my own life that was so fraught with darkness.  This time however my role was different.  I was different.

As a mental health practitioner one of my roles was to prepare curriculum for an after school grief group within the high school mental health program where I worked.  When one student was referred to the grief group because of her father’s military deployment, I remember initially not understanding what deployment had to do with grief and loss. That quickly changed as facilitating the after school grief group provided a whole new awareness of how different grief and loss can look for a teen.

After finishing up my role as co-facilitator of the high school grief group and as my years working in the mental health program began to accumulate, I began to realize many of the youth I was surrounded by daily were grieving. Not only were they grieving, they were hungry for acknowledgement of their loss.  They wanted validation of their pain.

In my search for information,  I came to the realization that all key players need to be on the same page when it comes to the many emotions youth experience in connection to grief and loss.  Who are these pivotal players?  Not only are they the parents and caretakers of the grieving children and teens, but also educators and other key adults in the lives of youth.

I’ve come across a series of videos on Military Kids Connect, a great resource geared toward military children, teens, parents, and educators.  Although these videos are geared towards parents and caregivers of youth grieving the loss of a loved one, in my opinion, these videos also express very clearly the grief reactions of children and teens due to the effects of divorce, incarceration, and foster care placement.

In the videos Dr. Mogil, a licensed clinical psychologist and Director of Training and Intervention Development at The Nathanson Family Resilience Center, highlights grief reactions in both children and tween/teens.  Also, the Dougy Center, another great resource nationally known for their work with children and grieving families offers coping strategies for children and teens.

What initially began as one grief group experience has now turned into a lifetime mission for me.  My work is a result of my students, who allowed me into their space.  It is through their gifts I’ve learned to be curious, to ask questions instead of pass judgments.  It is through their actions and from their words I’ve learned to set the bar high, to never take “no” or “I don’t know” for an answer, and to never give up on them.

5 Careers in Human Services

By: Brian Neese

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Human services is a broadly defined field that seeks to improve the overall quality of life of service populations through the prevention and remediation of problems. Human services professionals provide support for a diverse population of clients, including children and families, the elderly, immigrants, veterans, the homeless, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, people with addictions and people with mental illnesses.

Those passionate about helping others can explore the following careers in human services.

1.     Social Work Assistant

A social work assistant works with licensed social workers to help people cope with problems.

The social work assistant helps assess clients’ needs and create treatment plans. Tasks might include determining eligibility for services like Medicaid and food stamps, assisting families with getting the proper resources to care for their children, finding treatment and recovery programs for people with addictions and locating jobs for people with disabilities. Responsibilities vary depending on the population served; for instance, a social work assistant may help veterans with housing and transferring their skills to civilian jobs.

The median hourly wage for social and human service assistants is $14.32, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment is expected to grow 11 percent by 2024.

2.     Community Outreach Worker

A community outreach worker acts as a liaison between community members and community programs and services.

The community outreach worker works with a nonprofit or governmental organization to engage and educate the public about its goals. Responsibilities include developing community events, programs, fundraisers and media campaigns. These and other responsibilities help the organization meet its goal of helping the community. The organization and community outreach worker may focus on a specific field, such as health or education, or on a specific segment of the population or ethnic group.

The median pay for community support workers is $31,124, and the median pay for community outreach coordinators is $39,429, according to PayScale.

3.     Substance Abuse Counselor

A substance abuse counselor provides support and strategies for people dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction and other substance abuse issues.

The substance abuse counselor evaluates clients’ problem behaviors and develops treatment plans and goals. Other responsibilities include working with clients to develop coping and recovery skills, teaching families about addiction and problem behaviors, reviewing treatment options with clients and their families and conducting outreach programs. A substance abuse counselor may work with specific populations such as veterans or teenagers. Also, a substance abuse counselor may specialize in an area like crisis intervention.

The median annual wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is $39,270, according to the BLS. Employment is expected to grow 22 percent by 2024.

4.     Family Services Advocate

A family services advocate provides support for families in crisis or at risk of crisis.

The family services advocate acts as a liaison between a family and a governing system, such as a school or child welfare agency. Responsibilities include providing access to family services, assisting with conflict resolution and providing support for families that are suffering from the results of traumas. A family services advocate may help local and state agencies and systems develop programs, policies and services that support families.

The median pay for family advocates is $33,125, according to PayScale.

5.     Child Welfare Specialist

A child welfare specialist provides assessment, case management and support to children and families.

The child welfare specialist acts as the voice and guardian of a child. Responsibilities include determining whether to remove a child from his or her home, placing the child in a suitable environment, supervising the child’s care through home visits and ensuring the child receives medical care and schooling. The child welfare specialist can arrange for long-term care, which might involve interviewing potential foster and adoptive families, planning visitations and being present for court proceedings.

The median pay for child welfare specialists is $35,233, according to PayScale.

Exploring Human Services Careers

Several jobs in human services offer professionals the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Work environments include private nonprofit organizations, public corporations and government agencies.

Southeastern University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Human Services to students interested in this career path. The program takes place in a convenient online format and provides graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to work in human services environments.

UTRGV Students Share Experiences During Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program

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UTRGV students Carlie Patrick (far left), a junior English/communication studies major, and Leroy Berrones Soto (second from left), a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students in late May for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program in Washington, D.C., for three days of education, advocacy and relationship building. (UTRGV Courtesy Photo)

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Carlie Patrick and Leroy Berrones Soto, students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, returned from Washington, D.C., feeling they had contributed to improving and strengthening the child welfare system in the United States.

Patrick, a junior English/communication studies major, and Berrones Soto, a sophomore social work major, joined about 100 other students May 23 to May 26 for the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program, three days of education, advocacy and relationship building.

“It was an honor to be selected to represent Texas at the Shadow Program this year, and to share my story of what it was like growing up in foster care,” Berrones Soto said. “The way we change the system for the better is to let our elected officials know that we have solutions on how to make things better for millions of foster youths across the country.”

The annual program, now in its fifth year, is three full days of speakers, workshops, discussions and meetings designed to help young people learn about their Congressional representatives, their districts and how the U.S. Congress works. Current and former foster youths share their experiences with Congressional representatives, to help them gain a deeper grasp of the foster care experience and how they can improve policy.

After a busy first day, Patrick and Berrones Soto attended an evening reception, held in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center, where they met with members of Congress Karen Bass (D-CA 37th District), Robin Kelly (D-IL 2nd District), Diane Black (R-TN 6th District), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th District) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD 5th District).

“During a lively question and answer period, the representatives responded to our questions about child welfare policies and told us a little bit about themselves and how they got their jobs on the Hill,” Berrones Soto said. “After, there was a reception where we had dinner, then went into another theatre in the Capitol Visitor Center to see an episode of ‘The Fosters’ and continue talking policy and life-experiences with people who work in the child welfare arena.”

One of the workshops they attended was on understanding federal policy, presented by program staff from FosterClub and National Foster Youth Institute, two of several sponsors of the National Foster Youth Shadow Program.

“We attended an interesting panel, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where people who work on Capitol Hill talked about how they got their jobs and became members of President Obama’s team,” Patrick said. “Among those on the panel was Rafael López,Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Carlie Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

A highlight of the program was to meet and spend some time with an assigned Member of Congress and their staff. Patrick met with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District) in the Rayburn Office Building.

“I actually ended up shadowing Robin Doody, Congresswoman Johnson’s press assistant and legislative correspondent,” Patrick said. “We discovered that we have lots in common. We are both from Houston, and we went to high school literally across the street from each other.”

Doody accompanied Patrick to a Congressional hearing on transportation of water supply and took her on a tour of the Rayburn Office Building and the maze of tunnels connecting the Capitol Hill buildings. He also attended the shadow luncheon with her, where the keynote speaker was Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) and his legislative aides Mary Moody and Stephen Janushkowsky. He shared his personal story in foster care, and they discussed ways to improve the child welfare system in Texas. Along with the aides, Berrones Soto attended a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Berrones Soto met with Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX 36th District) in the Cannon House Office Building.

Participants stayed in dormitories at The Catholic University of America, where some of the program activities and workshops took place. Going back and forth to Capitol Hill, they rode the DC Metro.

“This was my first time on a subway, and I loved riding the Metro,” Patrick said. “I liked it a lot better than the city buses I used to take in Houston.”

Also a subway first timer, Berrones Soto said riding the Metro was an “awesome experience” and he, too, became a subway fan.

“It was fast, clean and efficient,” he said, “though I think I was the only one holding onto the pole with both hands!”

Both Patrick and Berrones Soto said it was reassuring to hear from administration leaders on why advocacy by foster youth on the local, state and national levels is critical to affecting the decisions made by elected officials and policy leaders on their behalf.

By meeting other young people and alumni from across the country, leveraging their personal stories to create change, and educating federal policymakers about the experiences and perspectives of young people with personal experience in the foster care system, they feel they are helping move policy in a positive direction.

“Our voices and our stories matter, and I’m excited to have shared my experiences in Washington, D.C.,” Berrones Soto said. “I am extremely optimistic that after this great experience I will be able to continue advocating at a federal level to ensure my foster siblings have a more appropriate foster care experience.”

The Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program is an annual program sponsored by the National Foster Youth Institute, FosterClub, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, Foster Care Alumni of America, Casey Family Programs, Foster Youth in Action and Youth Villages.

For more information on the Shadow Program and other programs that support, empower and engage foster youth, visit .

More on Leroy and Carlie’s experiences at the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day in Washington, D.C.: http://www.lbsj.org/shadow-day/

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Best Practices for Grief: Foster Care

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Often, helping professionals in the lives of foster care youth struggle to understand the magnitude of losing a child or teen in the foster care system has experienced.  Abuse and neglect, loss of innocence, trauma, separation from parents, loss of security, and multiple placements are all factors affecting the wellness of children placed in the foster care system.

These heavy experiences not only impact children and teens in our foster care population short term, but they are also far reaching.  The long term impacts of these experiences of foster care youth are evidenced by the staggering statistics of foster care alumni such as homelessness, prison, unemployment, mental health concerns, and lack of education.

In order to effectively serve this underserved population, it’s time for us to acknowledge how much we really don’t know about foster care youth in the United States today.  It’s time to create more conversation about the needs of children and teens in foster care placement and the realities of their experiences.  It’s time we meet them where they’re at in their grief.

Foster care alumni abandoned by the educational system often become the inmates at youth detention centers and adult prisons across the country. They are the experts on what needs to change in order to create more equitable outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable populations. These orphaned inmates are the ones who could drive the creation of new methodologies, curriculum and policies to decrease risks while increasing protective factors. – Foster Care Alum Veola Green

Below is the first video in our series highlighting best practices for teachers and other key players impacting the lives of grieving foster care youth today.  In this video, I interview Evangelina Reina, LCSW, Assistant Regional Administrator for DCFS – Los Angeles and Adjunct Assistant Professor for The University of Southern California.

Reina offers her insight into best practices when working with children and teens in foster care placement as well as her expertise on what sets foster care youth apart from youth impacted by the other experiences of death, divorce, parental incarceration, and parental deployment.

Foster Care Youth: Using Technology to Provide Support

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Many social workers, other helping professionals, and foster care alumni have recognized the value in utilizing technology to support foster care youth. However, there is a gap in the scholarly research and development of technology solutions in this area.

In October of 2015, the Pritzer Foster Care Initiative sponsored a conference regarding “Web and Mobile app Solutions for Transition Age Youth.” at the conference, it was suggested that technology innovations for the foster care population should be amassed and made available via a single access point. At a similar event, the “Children’s Rights Summit” in December of 2015, they also discussed the myriad ways technology could be used to overcome legal barriers for foster care youth, families, and professionals.

The push for mobile applications, websites, and video games to engage and empower foster care youth is driven by the poor outcomes associated with “aging out”. Scholars define aging out, which occurs between 18 to 21 years old, as the process by which foster youth surpass the maximum age for foster care. Youth who leave foster care are presumed to join the ranks of: the homeless, undereducated, unemployed, incarcerated, substance abusers, those with unwanted pregnancies, and victims of poor credit and identity theft. 

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analyse and Reporting, the number of youth who aged out of foster care during 2013 was 238,280. The racial/ethnic breakdown of these youth was: white 45% or 106,487; black 24% or 56,053; Hispanic 20% or 48,661; and Bi-racial or multiracial 6% or 13,889.

National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) captures data in the following areas for foster care youth aged 17: financial, education, relationships with adults, homelessness, high-risk behaviors, and health insurance access. The data revealed that 28% of those youth were either: employed full or part-time, received job training, social security, educational assistance, or other social supports.

Additionally, 93% of the youth reported participation in educational programming, 93% denoted having a healthy relationship with at least one adult, 16 % reported being homeless at some point, 27% replied having a referral for substance abuse counseling, 35% indicated being incarcerated at some time, 7% reported an unplanned pregnancy or fatherhood, and 81% reported having Medicare coverage.

These figures do not evoke a brilliant future for those departing foster care. For this reason, social workers have become innovators by melding technology and research into mobile applications, websites, and video games that meet the needs of foster care youth. Some of the promising technology available are as follows:

  • Bay Area Legal Aid partners with the Youth Law Center and the Public Interest Law Project to provide trainings in foster care benefits and advocates for foster care youth.
  • Beyond ‘Aging Out’: An MMOG for Foster Care Youth is a gaming platform and support network for foster care youth.
  • Foster Care to Success (FC2S) has influenced public policy, volunteer initiatives, and programs for older foster youth.
  • Foster Club is an online resource providing peer support and information for current and former foster youth.
  • Focus on Foster Families is a mobile app providing video interviews with foster youth and caregivers sharing experiences, and expert legal, education, and child welfare advice.
  • iFoster is an online community offering resources, technology, tutoring, eyeglasses, job opportunities, and a digital locker for foster youth to secure personal information.
  • Kids Help Phone is a Canadian-based website providing 24/7 counselling and information services for children and youth.
  • KnowB4UGo is a mobile application connecting foster youth with people, places and programs that support the aging out process.
  • National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Mobile App (NFCAD) provides search information, including location and key contacts, for organizations, groups, agencies, and experts across the child welfare profession
  • Ratemyfosterhome.com is a mobile app designed to garner information about foster homes and foster care experiences in real-time.
  • TeenParent.net is a website offering information, resources, and a blog to support foster youth who are expecting or parenting and their caregivers.
  • Think of Us is an online platform to support foster youth, foster/adoptive parents, and social services.
  • Pathos game is a puzzle and fantasy video game created by FixedUpdate. As the main character, Pan, explores new worlds and makes new friends, players experience some of the emotions of children in the foster care system. FixedUpdate hopes that Pan’s adventures will connect with people inside and outside of the foster care system. The game, Pathos, will be available on the iTunes Store and Google Play Store in 2016.
  • Persistence Plus engages and motivates college students through a mobile platform that uses transformative behavioral interventions.
  • Sortli is a mobile application that provides information, step-by-step guides and support. Sortli gives you 7 paths toward independence to include identity, relationships, a place to live, health, finances, education and employment, and living skills.
  • Ventura County Foster Healthlink (FHL) is a new website and mobile application that provides foster parents and caregivers with health information about children in their care. The goal is for information to be shared electronically among the care team to better meet the needs of the children.

These are only a fraction of the technologies available to assist foster youth. Many people in the public and private sector are unaware that social work professionals are leading the way in the research and design of high tech for foster youth.

Social worker Ruby Guillen of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has developed the following apps: (1) an app to report and prevent child sex trafficking, (2) an anti-bullying app, (3) a foster care placement app, and (4) an app for risk assessment of neglect and child abuse. Guillen was inspired by her passion for technology and her experience as a social worker. Guillen and her colleagues developed these apps at two hackathons sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Although, the apps are not readily available, they foreshadow trends for the future social work practice.

Jay Miller, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Kentucky, understands the gaps in support that exist in the child welfare system. Dr. Miller has asked for backing to create and assess a mobile app to support foster care youth in transition. This research is being conducted in the Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky area.

He states that, “a foster kid will turn 18 and there’s some kind of expectation that they’ll be able to function in a way that other kids who are never in foster care don’t have the capacity to function or make big decisions at 18. We expect foster kids to do that.” He further adds that, “With child welfare in general and with foster care specifically, the problems that plague these systems they are community problems. It’s not just a someone problem. It’s an everyone problem” Miller suggests an ideological change in people’s perceptions about foster care. “We need to look at it as a service for people in need. It is a solution. Dr. Miller’s work will continue to bring the barriers to success for foster youth to the forefront. 

Innovative technology solutions have been developed to address systemic issues in the foster care system and to sustain foster care youth in general. These mobile apps, websites, and video games meet immediate needs allowing foster care youth to focus on future goals. There are a plethora of resources accessible to equip foster care youth in their transition into young adulthood.

By shifting the focus from data that exposes the many apertures of the current system to programs that produce confident and successful young adults, our outlook becomes much broader. Developing thoughtful products and tangible services for foster care youth can produce more positive outcomes.

Critique of Self-Care Initiatives in the Helping Professions

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Generally speaking, helping organizations view humans from two polarized lenses.  Some organizations believe that their employees are good people and will always do their best despite any barriers that exist. Other organizations operate as if people are to be significantly controlled. These organizations believe without external control, people will give less than one hundred per cent and will somehow take advantage of benefits or in any way they can.

If you consume literature from publications like Forbes, Macleans (Canada), Time, or even through social media, you undoubtedly have read about efforts of progressive companies to foster production and actually take care of their employees in a holistic manner. We now know about the benefit to production, whatever the product may be, when organizations implement wellness strategies at work and give employees menus of wellness options to choose from which briefly take them away from production to have infusions of wellness.  In fact, this opinion is no longer just an opinion.  The evidence is clear. Organizations and societies who take care of their employees fair better on every indicator of production.

In the helping professions, our organizations are often well intended when they engage us in wellness conversations and efforts, but they often miss the mark. Helping organizations often bring in “experts” to talk to us at staff meetings. This act within itself is view as progressive and helpful. Again, while well intended, helping “experts” and their products miss the mark of what is needed to increase the wellness of helping professionals.  Why is this?

Strategies and self-care models offered to increase our wellness do not fit the nature of our work.  These models are based on static and linear models of work and production. For example, ten minutes of stretching likely benefits a professional helper who works a strict schedule and sees clients in an office for treatment blocks.  One can certainly take ten minute breaks and will reap the stress reducing benefits from those breaks.  Strictly office based helpers can often also find time to exercise at lunch, socialize in the lunch room, and so on, and therefore reap the resiliency benefits of these strategies.

The problem here is that the majority of helping professionals do not work in office based environments and see clients for therapy or for some other time specific service.  The majority of us work in child welfare, children’s or adult mental health, or crisis intervention environments.  Our “schedules” change several times a day as we meet the needs of our clients and respond to our communities’ crises.  A day in the life of a helping professional in these areas of practice looks more like a dog’s breakfast.  We don’t get set break times (they are there but we can’t and don’t take them because we are too busy), we don’t eat at set times and we almost always eat in our cars while travelling from situation to situation.

We forget to pee and poop.  No really we do.  We experience the sensation to pee, but it is often an hour or two or three before we actually remember or have the time to go. To be sure, it is just not possible to interrupt a suicide assessment, crisis phone call, apprehension with the police, or the like, to pee.  Not only do we care so deeply about our clients welfare that we wouldn’t interrupt our process with them to pee, but we also get used to ignoring our bodily indicators and in fact over time we actually divorce ourselves from a great deal of our biology.

This divorce from our biology often happens with ease because we are pumped full of stress hormones which naturally serve to put everything except the crisis at hand on hold.

While I don’t mean to belabour this point, it would be negligent not to note that if you follow the logic about the physiological and biological separations we perform in order to meet the needs of our client populations, you will understand that implementing any menu option from the typical self-care menu is literally impossible.  You can’t meditate on the witness stand, during an apprehension, or a suicide assessment.  You can’t break for a jog when you spend your lunch in your care driving and eating.

Following along with the logic of this work reality means that our self-care has to happen on our own time.  After work whenever that may be.  But if you’ve apprehended on this particular day, you are likely still at the office long after closing time.  You are settling the children at the foster home and then heading back to the office to prepare your court papers.  Your family, if you have one, doesn’t get to see mom or dad tonight because work responsibilities made that impossible.  The family may not get to see you tomorrow either because you may have to leave early for work in order to pick up your court papers and be able to serve them to your client family before court.

There eventually comes a day though when you things “slow down”.   A slowdown of course refers to the day when you get to try and fit in all of thing appointments and other tasks that you have had to put off due to the crises you have been responding to.  On these days you still eat in your care, don’t get breaks, but… you likely pee more regularly.

There seems to be a general understanding amongst us that if you are in this line of work for more than ten years you are a “lifer”.  I mean no disrespect to those that get out after a few years and in fact many of use envy you and are proud of you.  We still consider you one of us if you’ve been on the front line for even a few years before you leave because you “get it” and you are therefore one of us.

The life cycle of a lifer is as varied as is a day in our line of work.  Sadly though, many of us lifers don’t fare so well in our own personal lives.  There are many reasons for this but for me based on my dedication to understanding the harmful effects of trauma, it boils down to the cosmic roll of the dice of our stress hormones, traumatic exposure both direct and indirect, and to the overall impact of our divorce from our biology and often our bodies.  Many helping professionals  get sick from our work.  We all know colleagues who have chronic illnesses that really boil down to the harmful effects of stress.  The academic literature is now abundant in this area so you don’t need me to tell you about it.

The cost of our caring is too often too great.  I know we wouldn’t have it any other way but it is also not fair and just.  Given the strength of the literature in the area of trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue in the helping professions and the clear health consequences of chronic stress, I believe we can do much better in helping ourselves lead lives full of more wellness.  This requires a change in the structures of our work, it requires a change in organizational culture, and it requires a commitment of each one of us to be brave enough to talk about the cost of caring.

Next, we need to change organizations that view employees as ultimately malignant.  People don’t choose to be sick and they don’t want to be sick.   To be clear, psychological and emotional illness is a real risk in our work.  And, psychological and emotional illness can lead to a myriad of legitimate physical ailments ranging from the common cold due to compromised immune systems to auto immune illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome.

Organizations who view employees with suspicion are using faulty logic.  Not too long ago in my province we had a Premier who successfully waged a ware on welfare recipients by convincing the population that people on welfare are cheaters and have lazy characters. This of course is not true. People don’t choose to or want to be on Welfare.  Similarly, it is not flaws in our characters that make us ill.  We are not weak, and we do not need discipline to help us be more productive during times of illness.

What we need is wellness initiatives that fit with the nature of our work. These initiatives need to be dynamic and individualized.  I believe that we need individual wellness plans which are akin to Individualized Education Plans for children in our school systems with learning needs. We need modifications at times and accommodations that reflect the true nature of the stress in our jobs.

We cannot be expected to own our wellness when by its very nature our work often leaves us exhausted and without adequate time to rejuvenate. The ownership needs to be jointly held by us and our organizations, communities, and professional organizations.  We need nap pods, we need exercise equipment on site, and we need kindness which includes life affirming strategies aimed at reducing the host of risk factors are work puts us at risk of.

We also need parity with other helping professions and service providers such as first responders – Police, Fire, and Ambulance. I’m not sure how this has happened but we have lost a lot of ground in this regard.  In many provinces and jurisdictions, Police officers now make six figures and have the benefit of early retirement at full pension.  Most urban Police stations and fire halls have onsite gyms.  I do not begrudge this, in fact I applaud it.  But, we are also first responders and we are by and large not a healthy population by any indication.

Most importantly, we have to be clear about these truths. It is surely hard to admit that our work makes many of us ill in one way or another and by the very nature of our illnesses we want to avoid talking about them and truly addressing them.  We need to adopt real risk reducing strategies such as those employed by our Police partners. Can you imagine a Police officer attending a client home alone?  Working in partners is one of the most basic risk reducers available to us but we don’t have that option much of the time.

The evidence is not just anecdotal and therefore should not be dismissed. What needs to happen now is for us to bravely open up global conversations and create global movements to address our wellness.

Perhaps ironically, we are in fact a vulnerable population who are charged with serving, protecting and healing other vulnerable populations created by our society.  Society and systems create vulnerable populations, individuals do not create vulnerability in themselves.

Leaders who are responsible for the wealth of research pertaining to the cost of caring in our areas of work need to collect and collate information regarding the positive effects of workplace culture in addition to wellness options where organizations own the efforts and reap the benefits of those efforts. And, we need to strongly advocate for the end of career benefits that our Police, Fire, and Ambulance colleagues experience.

I believe we need an organization for social workers and helping professionals, a think tank of sorts,  whose purpose is to improve our lives at work and at home.  I’m sorry to have to say this but our professional organizations have missed the mark here.  More often than not, they exist to monitor and discipline us while protecting their interests. Who will protect and nurture our interests?

Social Work Advocacy and Psychotropic Drugs in Foster Care

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In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act required states to begin developing plans to monitor health care for kids in foster care. This was strengthened in 2011 when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study of child Medicaid populations which found that children in foster care with Medicaid received psychotropic medications at a much higher rate than kids with Medicaid who were not in foster care.

Over the last 10-15 years, efforts to legislate, increase awareness about the impact of trauma, engage in advocacy for psychosocial therapies and the need for responsive caregiving have arisen across the country in an attempt to parallel the reduction of unnecessary or inappropriate psychotropic use for foster kids. In spite of those efforts, there is no question that the overprescribing of psychiatric medications for children in foster care has proven a tough practice to change.

The issue of psychotropic use in child welfare populations is clearly one where social workers should be at the forefront, it simply does not gain as much involvement as the psychosocial aspects of practice. Social work practitioners may not see it as being within their scope of practice, but kids in care need social work advocacy in this regard more than ever.

There are a number of reasons why psychotropic monitoring and advocacy has been tough to implement. Too many causes to cover in one article, but one factor may be that all of the efforts to build psychosocial approaches have seemed to exist separately from psychotropic monitoring and reduction plans.

It is unfortunate because better alignment of these initiatives would likely help those living and working with foster care populations to gain a broader perspective and would better illustrate that all therapies, psychosocial or biological, play variable roles. Some states are beginning to implement legislation, but that impact is not yet determined.

Another barrier is that psychosocial treatment modalities are still behind psychiatric medications in terms of research and evidence-based practice. At present, people may simply be conditioned to be more receptive to a medication therapy. Socially accepted norms and the desire for an instant fix can be difficult obstacles to overcome. Effective systems to assist in tracking and authorization of prescriptions for foster kids, as well as hesitant collaborative and information sharing practices between government agencies have proven to be barriers for many states.

Understanding the context of the quick fix

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Governments will wholeheartedly embrace a practice that is thought to offer a quick solution that also suits a budget and it can be several years before any fallout from a poor decision, lack of resources or policy is noted. Twenty years ago the idea of a chemical imbalance really started to become entrenched in American culture. If too much or too few of certain chemicals caused the imbalance, then a psychiatric medication could restore that imbalance. Psychiatric meds were designed to mimic neurotransmitters in the brain – they would “fix” the imbalance in the brain.

It is true that chemicals are important, but more than biology must be considered in developing treatment plans. The idea, intended or not, that mental illness is due to chemical imbalance has largely become accepted, along with a willingness to medicate children as if they will respond exactly as adults. The notion of a ‘chemical imbalance’ is frequently used as the reason for someone’s actions in the everyday vernacular.It’s not his fault, he has a chemical imbalance!” has been further cultivated by pharmaceutical companies and the general misconception of medication as an easy solution.

While none of this was geared directly towards foster children, they are the vulnerable recipients nonetheless. The focus on becoming trauma informed has directly impacted foster care populations and is gaining greater awareness today than ever before. Trauma informed practices can greatly assist in child welfare, but caution should be taken as well. Trauma informed practice does not represent a quick fix either.

Human beings are too complex. A true implementation of biopsychosocial practice which recognizes that age, development, experience, genetics and responsive support each play a role that must be considered in working with kids must be embraced. It is unlikely to be quick or a “fix”, but, in terms of cost it will certainly save in the long run in so many ways.

Polypharmacy and Child Welfare Populations

Kids in care present with a complex variety of behavioral and emotional challenges as a result of chronic poverty, abuse or neglect. They may have unrecognized developmental delays, medical concerns or mental health diagnoses in addition to traumatic experience. In a society where medication has become the accepted first line approach, kids in care are receiving polypharmacy prescribing far more than is appropriate and often without benefit of consistent psychosocial supports. Because foster children can present so intensively, they are susceptible to receipt of psychiatric medication when it may not be warranted.

The effort to medicate behavior, even when no benefit has been realized, makes no sense, but it happens likely increasing the risk of adverse events and placement instability. Caregivers may feel uncomfortable in questioning providers and many do not know what should be monitored and reported. Lack of information and history can be problematic. Providers are often limited in number and in the time they have to give during an office visit. When a foster child refuses a medication, he or she can be accused of noncompliance, but there may be very valid reasons why that child does not wish to comply. Consent is often overlooked or poorly defined.

Side effects associated with some psychotropic medications can outweigh the benefits and clinical trials for children have been in short supply. New science regarding child development suggests that psychiatric medication may have long reaching concerns for children that are not currently understood. In spite of all of the above concerns, efforts to vilify psychotropic use in children should be avoided. Medication can be a helpful therapy, it is simply not the only therapy and it should not be the first type of therapy sought in most cases.

Social Workers need to focus more on psychotropic drug use

Polypharmacy and inappropriate prescribing for foster care populations is more than the latest hot button issue. Efforts have been underway across the nation with varying degrees of limited success for years, often independent of efforts to improve psychosocial supports. There are no easy solutions, a fact that many social workers understand very well. However, social workers can play integral roles in shaping and supporting psychotropic monitoring and oversight at all levels of practice. By improving knowledge, collaboration, highlighting options and advocating for stronger monitoring and consent practices, social workers can make considerable inroads towards positively changing the lives of kids in foster care.

Self Care: Placing An Oxygen Mask On Yourself Prior To Assisting Others

Traveling with friends and family to events is something I like to do for two reasons. One is the fact that I like to share experiences with others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to travel. If I can help them create new memories and expand their minds I always try to. Two, I simply prefer to have company when I travel for speaking engagements or HipHop performances.

But there’s one specific time I recall that I’m sure my travel companions may have wished they had missed out on my excursions.

Primarily filled with judges and lawyers, this 1000 person audience threw me for a loop and off my game. What happened was both humbling and embarrassing. It also opened my eyes to some internal emotional work that I had yet to address. I wish it wouldn’t have unfolded on stage, but everything happens for a reason and this was no exception.

I stayed up until 5AM the night before the big conference preparing my notes and pacing in my hotel room, undoubtably irritating both my sister and friend/videographer who were sharing the two room suite that had been provided to us. I was noticeably more nervous than usual. Rightfully so, it was an entirely new audience. This nervousness led up to a level of self-exposure that was not planned nor pretty.

Keep in mind that keynote speaking is my full time career. These organizations don’t hire me just because of my fancy website or produced videos, they hire me because I have personal experience in the system and spent 15 years working as a Registered Nurse and child welfare advocate prior to launching my platform and publishing my book. Hopefully this tells you that this mishap was not due to inexperience, but rather a lack of awareness in the self-care department. It was not something that was obvious.

A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)
A small dog suffering from smoke inhalation was rescued by firefighters and given oxygen by firefighter/paramedic Mark Hubert. Photo by: Gigi Graciette (shared by OCFA)

I have spent nearly a decade engulfed in self-development and improving my approach to self-care so it was not for lack of trying. It was simply something that went under the radar. I think that we all have little things that sift through the cracks of our diligent efforts time and time again. Which is why we need to regularly and consistently be reminded of the importance of self-care.

No matter how many times you have flown, the flight attendants always remind you to take care of yourself first. If the cabin loses oxygen then make sure you have your oxygen mask on prior to assisting others even children. You’re no good to anyone if you die before getting to them. And that is what happens when we keep letting little things slip through the cracks.

We die a little inside and aren’t able to be the great people we were meant to be for our friends, family, and clients. How many social workers do you know that need a social worker? Probably a lot. Remembering this can save your life and your relationships.

Therefore, at the risk of exposing my own insecurities to yet another large audience, I offer this story to inspire your own self-reflection in hopes of allowing you to be better prepared to face the unknowns in your life and work. Allow yourself to care for your own hidden emotional barriers before making a fool out of yourself in front of friends, co-workers, and most-importantly family members and clients.

During my presentations, I often speak about my relationship with my mother and the impact it had on me as a child as she was absent and often emotionally abusive. Shortly before this presentation, I learned more about the truth behind my mother’s behaviors during my childhood. I learned that she had been labeled with multiple mental health diagnoses and placed on several psychotropic medications that impaired her ability to function, much less parent.

It gave me a sense of relief. So much of my life, I had hatred pent up in my heart for her inability to provide love, compassion, trust, and understanding. But, this new knowledge gave me a new direction for that anger. It allowed me to blame others or simply blame the system.

During this presentation, I spoke about those new findings. Self-exposure is generally very moving, right? I thought so too, but I found that to be the case only if done strategically and with purpose.

There was no purpose for my ranting about the corruption of the system. I was simply ranting.

Afterwards, a lady who looked my mom’s age and as if she may have had a rough life herself gave me a note. She told me to open it when I get back to my hotel room, and I did. It read: “I’m glad your aunty was there for you when I wasn’t able to be. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be who you needed me to be. I love you very much. -signed, Mom”

I didn’t know it, but those were the words I had been longing to hear my entire life. And this woman knew it. Something tells me she was in my mothers shoes most of her life and possibly was once in my shoes as well.

Sitting in that hotel room, I broke down in tears immediately upon reading those words. She got it. She found a gaping wound and she picked up on it from my ranting on stage when I should have been providing actionable steps for the audience.

50 percent of the reviews from this event were negative. I obviously didn’t follow through with what the audience needed. I am embarrassed to say that, but hopefully this is a reminder that it is okay to need help. It is okay to take time away. Self care is essential, and it is okay for the counselors to seek counsel. Actually, it is necessary so that you don’t cause 50 percent of the people in your life to feel negative about your interactions with them.

We are here to help others, but we must help ourselves first.

ReMoved: A Poignant Short Film on Foster Care

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“It’s natural for you to think about how fostering will affect your life.  About how hard it will be or how it will impact your family. But try to imagine what it’s like for that kid in foster care. And how much harder it is for them. Because you’re an adult after all, but they’re just kids,” explained Chris Poynter, a foster parent trainer and child advocate in Southern California.

After showing a short slideshow of sentences that kids in foster care wish adults knew about what it’s like to be in care, prospective foster parents Nathanael and Christina Matanick were so inspired that they decided to make their next short film about the experience of foster care from a child’s point of view.

Their film proceeded to win at the speed film festival they created it for (the 168 Film Festival), and then went on to win numerous awards at various other film festivals worldwide (Enfoque International Film Festival, St. Tropez International Film Festival, Sikeston Film Festival). Most notably and of most affirmation for the Matanicks, the film spread virally online in March 2014 and quickly became embraced by social workers, foster parents, child welfare agencies, court appointed special advocates, and current foster youth and alum.

The film follows the emotional journey of Zoe, a 9-year-old girl who is taken from her abusive birth home and placed in the tumultuous foster care system. Separated from her brother, Zoe bounces from foster home to foster home, experiencing additional trauma within the system, and finally lands in a good foster home but experiences flashbacks and behavioral issues stemming from triggers in her environment. Through it all, she lugs her black trash bag from place to place, which contains the few items that belong to her.

The uniqueness of the 13-minute film lies in its perspective from the child’s point of view. The entire film is driven by Zoe’s voice-over, articulating the thoughts and emotions of her experience.

Says Janet Magee, founder of Blue Sunday, an initiative to raise awareness and prevent child abuse, “[ReMoved is] the most authentic video I’ve ever seen! They have it down to the trash bag she used as a suitcase – my personal pet peeve.  It’s the wake up call of the century for a nation where child abuse is epidemic.  It’s a 12 minute investment thank can change your life and hopefully a child’s.”

Child abuse is rampant in the United States—and exists everywhere worldwide as well. Current figures have the number of children in the United States foster care system as around 400,000. Rather than escaping from neglect and abuse they encountered in their birth homes, many of these children entering foster care experience additional trauma through repeated moves, unloving caregivers, separation from siblings, et cetera.

Says Nathanael Matanick, creator and director of ReMoved, “Film has a way of bypassing the intellectual arguments and getting straight to the emotion of an issue.” ReMoved does just that, usually bringing viewers to tears as they resonate and understand Zoe’s story and determine in their hearts to do what they can to make a difference for the children in their own communities.  ReMoved and its sequel, Remember My Story, can be licensed through the film’s webpage: www.removedfilm.com

Understanding Foster Care Youth With The Help of the Documentary Foster Care Film

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When I tell people I am a former foster youth they usually have a similar response (something along the lines of) “I would have never guessed that about you.” Since many people wrongfully equate the foster care system with the juvenile detention system, I usually understand the source of their surprise.

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Charell and her Sister

Being a former foster care youth comes with its own set of challenges: lack of family support, lack of money, having to take care oneself from an early age. There are tons of disheartening statistics stating things like less than 50% of foster youth will graduate high school, only 3% will graduate from college and 20% will be homeless by age 18. Challenges like these make it hard for youth in foster care to believe that they’ll move past their current reality.

The truth is foster care kids are less likely to achieve the things they want most in life but that is directly proportional to the fact that they are less likely have people who support them in life. It’s much easier to write groups off as simple statistics then it is to lend a hand to ensure these youth don’t become statistics in the first place.

One way to help foster youth is to take some time to learn about their experience. Yasmin Minstry’s documentary film project – Foster Care Film offers a way for caring individuals and community members to learn more about the lives of foster youth.

Youth-Screening-Film-300x226Her first film – Feeling Wanted (of which I am the subject) – provides an honest portrayal of my journey through the system and life after foster care.

It is the first completed film of several that Minstry has in the works as part of her film project. You can order a copy or check out some powerful clips to gain some engaging insight on foster youth.

Being a former foster youth has given me a unique perspective on life, but it hasn’t made a different breed of human. The people I encountered growing up who knew that are the ones who were able to motivate me to go after what I wanted in life.

Being able to help youth in foster care starts by trying to understand who they are. Checking out Foster Care Film is a good first step in that direction. Here is the Foster Care Film – Feeling Wanted trailer:

Feeling Wanted: Trailer

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