NASW to Educate Social Workers, Others About Adolescent Brain Development

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has developed training resources that will give child welfare workers, social workers, foster parents, and others who work with older youth critical information about how the adolescent brain develops.

The knowledge professionals acquire through NASW’s Integrating Adolescent Brain Development into Child Welfare Practice with Older Youth curriculum will help older youth – especially those in foster care or involved in the child welfare system – obtain the skills they need to overcome past trauma and become successful adults.

“Many people do not realize that the brains of youth continue to develop until they are in their mid-twenties. Using this knowledge can create opportunities for positive youth development and acquisition of new skills, decreasing impulsive behavior or poor life decisions,” said Joan Levy Zlotnik, PhD, ACSW, Director Emerita NASW Social Work Policy Institute.

Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system in the United States. Many have missed the opportunity to have stable schooling, friendships, and/or lack family support. Odds are higher, they will become incarcerated, single parents, drop out of college or have trouble finding stable jobs and housing.

The curriculum was created in keeping with the Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative’s commitment to “Train and equip practitioners to understand the role of trauma and racism, and employ effective practices to help young people understand their experiences and develop effective strategies for healing and growth.”

However, the training will have a much wider impact. It can be a resource for professionals who provide mental health and health care services to adolescents; those who work in schools or juvenile justice facilities; and social work faculty who are training new generations of social workers to work with older youth.

“The period of brain development in adolescents provides a critical opportunity to help young people grow through learning experiences and heal from trauma they may have experienced,” Zlotnik said. “That is why this curriculum and the accompanying resources are so important and we hope is shared as widely as possible.”

To learn more about adolescent brain development, join the NASW Integrating Adolescent Brain Development webinar on August 25 at 2 p.m. ET or on demand or visit the curriculum website for more information.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Legislation Introduced to Honor Former Foster Youth Lost to Corona Virus

From left: Foster youth advocate Dosha DJay Joi with a U.S. Rep. for Los Angeles Karen Bass, Rebecca Louve Yao of the National Foster Youth Institute, and Brittany Venter. Photo: Tasha Snowden

On May 15, 2020, Rep. Karen Bass, co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and Rep. Gwen Moore will introduce the Dosha Joi Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act in honor of “DJay”, a former foster youth who passed away last week due to complications with COVID-19. The bill would immediately ensure that eligible former foster youth have access to Medicaid until the age of 26. Because of recently passed legislation led by Rep. Bass and others, this Medicaid clarification will go into effect in January of 2023. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers are now fighting to accelerate the coverage in DJay’s honor.

“I first met DJay when he was in Washington, DC participating in our Foster Youth Shadow Day program,” said Rep. Bass “His smile lit up dimly lit meeting rooms and his laugh bounded through these sometimes hallow hallways. DJay was someone who was effortlessly admired by his peers. His optimism was inspiring and reassuring to other participants who had never been on a plane in their life, let alone be meet with a member of Congress in the nation’s capital. As a medical student, he advocated for health reforms for current and former foster youth, much like the bill we are renaming in his honor. DJay’s death is a sad reminder that there is no time to waste to act on behalf of our nation’s foster youth. As this pandemic continues, it’s critical that we make sure everyone in this vulnerable population has the coverage and the care they need.”

Dosha “DJay” Joi spent 10 years in foster care and had health complications that he battled into adulthood. As a nursing student and advocate for children in the child welfare system, he fought to make sure they were protected and received the support they needed to thrive in care and as they transitioned into adulthood. In 2018 and 2019, he participated in National Foster Youth Shadow Day, a program that brings more than 100 current and former foster youth to Washington, DC to shadow their member of Congress and discuss legislation to reform the child welfare system. There, he touched the lives of many, including Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), who he shadowed during the Shadow Day program.

“I first met DJay when he shadowed me in Congress during Foster Youth Day,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore. “This was this beginning of a special bond; he later became a part of my family, enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday, brunches, and worship services together. DJay’s confidence, intelligence, drive and resilience, helped him build towards a bright future for himself and left a lasting impression on those who met him. He knew firsthand how the difficulties of becoming fully independent at age 18 can be compounded for former foster youth. His passion led to his advocacy being recognized by Wisconsin’s Department of Child and Family Services. Given his dreams to work in the health care field as a nurse and his advocacy for foster youth, I am humbled to honor his memory by introducing this legislation and will continue building on his legacy of being a champion for former foster youth.”

You can read the text of the Dosha Joi Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act here. The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth has also introduced legislation to protect transition-age foster youth during the COVID pandemic response by allowing young people who are already participating in foster care and/or Chafee to continue to be served if they age out during the pandemic response, in addition to a resolution recognizing May as National Foster Youth Month.

Rising Ground to Expand the Role of Foster Parents in Supporting Both the Child and Family to Speed Up Reconciliation

Parents and kids having fun in living room

Rising Ground, a leading human services provider in New York City, is piloting a new practice in which parents and foster parents will co-parent a child while the child is in foster care, announced Alan Mucatel, CEO of Rising Ground, today. He noted that similar programs in other states have shown that shared parenting reduces stress for children in foster care, speeds family reunification, and enhances the family’s ability to stay together after a child returns.

“Our goal is to make co-parenting the standard practice for every family supported by our Family Foster Care program,” he said. Incorporating co-parenting in our services will change how Rising Ground has traditionally worked with foster parents, who can now play an even greater role in helping a family. We are looking to transform the role of foster parent so that they contribute to more successful reunification with the child’s family.” Mucatel pointed out that foster parents will receive additional training and be treated as partners in supporting families. 

There are several reasons why providers should be encouraged to make greater use of foster parents in family foster care. First, parents can more easily relate to their child’s foster parent than to a child welfare worker. Second, as co-parents, the child’s family and foster parents interact with each other several times a week or even daily—far more frequently than parents meet with child welfare professionals.

“For children, a co-parenting approach means that their parents continue to be closely involved in their day-to-day world,” Mucatel explained. In conventional foster care, parental contact is all too often limited. In a co-parenting practice, parents are encouraged to communicate frequently by telephone and FaceTime®-like apps. Parents can read bedtime stories to their children; foster parents can call mom with questions about the child. Furthermore, the child is less likely to feel a divided loyalty between the child’s parents and foster parent.” 

Establishing a co-operative relationship 

At present, the co-parenting pilot is in a six-month planning phase, during which time Rising Ground will develop a detailed protocol and hire a co-parenting facilitator—a clinician with marriage and family counseling experience—to guide the parent and foster parent’s relationship. The idea is to bring the parent and foster parent together within days of a child’s placement in the foster home. At that point, parents may still be angry that their child was removed from the home. 

“Co-parenting may not come naturally, and it will take time to develop trust, but the investment in building a close relationship between parents and foster parents will pay dividends for years to come,” explains Amiee Abusch, Vice President of Family Foster Care and Adoption at Rising Ground. “The bond between child and parent will remain strong. The parent will develop parenting skills and confidence.” 

The two-year pilot program is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, whose mission is to improve the child welfare system in New York. Sarah Chiles, executive director, noted that: “We’re thrilled that Rising Ground is prioritizing a culture of shared parenting and collaboration between the family of origin and the foster parent. We are really hopeful that this will demonstrate a successful approach to expediting family reunification for the rest of the state.” 

Chiles continued “We have to change the system so that parents can remain highly engaged in the parenting of their children, and so that they can benefit from the relationship forged with the foster parent. All of us as parents can learn from other parents.” 

About Rising Ground

Rising Ground, which changed its name last year from Leake & Watts to more accurately reflect its full scope of services, is a leading nonprofit human services organization, currently operating more than 55 programs at more than 50 different sites across all New York City boroughs and Westchester County, and employing a workforce of 1,800 people. Daily, it provides children, adults, and families with the resources and skills needed to rise above adversity and positively direct their lives. It has won the prestigious New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award. 

Founded as an orphanage in 1831, Rising Ground has been at the forefront of supporting evolving community needs and has become a leader in utilizing result-driven, evidence-based practices. Today, the organization’s work is a positive force in the lives of more than 25,000 individuals. For more information, visit RisingGround.org. 

How to Become a CASA Volunteer

Sponsored by Aurora University

Children who are in the court or social service systems due to neglect or abuse are vulnerable, and they often lack reliable adult advocacy. For the past 40 years, however, volunteers have been stepping up to help protect and guide these at-risk youths during their proceedings.

In 1977, Seattle juvenile court judge David Soukup found himself regularly waking up in the middle of the night worried about children. He worried that he regularly made drastic decisions in his courtroom about how to handle cases of abused and neglected children with insufficient information.

Judge Soukup envisioned citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of these children, and he contacted members of the community he thought could help him find such volunteers. He first asked interested people to come to a brown bag lunch to discuss this possibility and 50 people showed. From there, the program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

When he retired from the bench, Judge Soukup himself became a CASA volunteer. He said the experience was “both the hardest — and the best — thing I’ve ever done.”

Sometimes CASA volunteers are the only consistent adult in an endangered child’s life. They are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children and make sure they don’t get lost in the legal and social service system.

Each year, more than 600,000 children go through foster care in the United States. There aren’t enough CASA volunteers to pair with each child, so judges assign volunteers to their toughest cases. In 2017, more than 85,000 CASA volunteers helped more than a quarter million abused and neglected children find permanent homes.

Court-Appointed Special Advocate Overview

The presence of a CASA volunteer in the life of a child who is in the court or family services system has a huge impact on the outcomes for that child. Children who have a CASA volunteer are more likely to be adopted, are half as likely to reenter the foster system and are less likely to be expelled from school. In fact, children who have a CASA volunteer average eight fewer months in foster care than children without one.

CASA volunteers are supported continuously throughout their service. They have opportunities for continuing education and access to online resources provided by the National CASA Association, including a resource library, national Facebook community and an annual national conference. To maintain your status as a CASA volunteer, you are required to submit to 12 hours of yearly in-service training.

According to the organization, when you become a CASA volunteer, these are some of your responsibilities:

    • Research: Review court records and other documents related to the case, speak to the child, their family and the professionals involved with their case.
    • Report: Share the research with the court.

 

  • Appear in court: Provide testimony when asked and advocate for the child.

 

  • Explain: Help the child understand the various proceedings around their case.
  • Collaborate: Help the people and organizations involved in the child’s case come to cooperative solutions. Make sure the child and their family understand the various services available to them and help arrange appointments.
  • Monitor the process: Stay up-to-date on case plans and court orders. Make sure the appropriate hearings are being held in a timely manner.
  • Update the court: Any time the child’s situation changes, inform the court. Make sure the appropriate motions are filed on the child’s behalf.

Cases are assigned by the CASA staff with consideration to the suitability of the volunteer’s background and education and any prior experience as a CASA volunteer. Volunteers of all experiences and backgrounds are needed.

CASA volunteers are not allowed to:

  • Shelter the child in the volunteer’s home
  • Give money to the child or their family
  • Attempt to intervene in violent situations
  • Fail to report the child’s whereabouts in an emergency

They must also adhere to a very extensive code of ethics.

How to Become a CASA Volunteer

 

CASA volunteers come from all backgrounds; the only unifying trait of volunteers is empathy for children. You’ll be an advocate for children during the most confusing and traumatic time in their lives. It’s a challenging and fulfilling role that will positively impact the children in your charge.

Volunteers must complete 30 hours of training and pass background checks. Being a CASA volunteer is a 10- to 12-hour monthly commitment. CASA volunteers commit to seeing a case all the way through to the end, which averages around a year and a half.

Other requirements to become a CASA volunteer include:

  • Be at least 21 years old, though some states have the minimum age as 25
  • Be available for court appearances with advanced notice

After completion of the initial training, volunteers are sworn in by a judge as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child’s situation and submit reports to the court.

Do Paid CASA Careers Exist?

Not all people who work for CASA are volunteers. Child advocacy can be a career, whether or not it is with CASA.

One such paid career is a supervisor for a CASA program. This is a critical role because they recruit and manage the volunteers. Their main tasks are:

  • Attract volunteers that represent the ethnic and cultural make up of their community.
  • Attract volunteers on an ongoing basis.
  • Promote CASA in the community.

The average CASA supervisor makes $50,080 a year. Sixty-seven percent of people in that role have a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree in social work is excellent for a CASA employee or volunteer. Though volunteers of all backgrounds are needed at CASA, qualified volunteers with a background in social work are especially valuable to the program.

casa-supervisor

Classes studying human behavior in social environments and family dynamics from Aurora University’s online Bachelor of Social Work lay the foundation for informed advocacy for an at-risk child. Graduates of the online BSW are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license (LSW) and to apply for advanced standing in Aurora University’s online master’s in social work if they choose to further their careers.

New Release – ReMoved 3: Love is Never Wasted

Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Wasted.

Kevi’s story, though fictional, allowed me to paint for you a visual picture of how much it hurts to have a mother leave you all alone. It invites you to yearn with him—to share his longing to capture a woman that you know you probably never will. It shows how wildly untameably beautiful such an enigma is to her son, with her hair dancing in the wind and the scent of her teasing in and out of his existence.

Mostly, it helps you understand that there’s more to the story than just her. For kids like me, who were raised by many parents, it’s not just about our bio moms, you see. Sometimes, it isn’t even mostly about that mom. It’s also about this foster mamma who feels warm and soft and safe. It’s about how you never want to live without those feelings or her arms around you again.  

Maybe it’s about that foster daddy that you just aren’t sure about. He might hurt you like all the other daddies you’ve ever known. But, maybe he won’t…

Through the Author’s Pen & Own Experience of Foster Care

My mother’s purse was her survival kit. She never forgot it.

She often forgot us. But she never forgot it.  

Inside that purse, she carried an envelope. The envelope held all the things one would normally file away in the safety of their home. Instead, she carried those things—the few markers of our meager existence—in a manila in her handbag.

I suppose this was the only way for her to hold onto anything in a life where change usually happened in a moment’s notice. It wasn’t uncommon for us to ditch all of our possessions when the police discovered us living in a condemned or abandoned building. Also, as a battered woman, Mamma always had to be prepared to run on the days it seemed Daddy might actually kill her.

The purse and the envelope may have been an insignificant thing to anyone else, but for a kid like me, it proved that everything outside of it could be taken in an instant. It signified my mother, how she’d come to be, and the struggles of her life.

That’s why I made the biological mother’s purse a significant part of the story in ReMoved 3. As I wrote “Love Is Never Wasted,” I tried to infuse it with those things that would make it feel real to others who had walked a similar journey. I sought to put in specific feelings and moments that kids in foster care would really connect to.

As a foster kid, you often find yourself torn between families because each one holds a piece of what you need. You long to understand your biological parents and to know what it was like when you were budding in your mother’s womb. You have to know because, on some level, your body still remembers. The body can’t forget the place it was first fed.

Let’s not overlook, though, that you need more than roots to grow. Our bodies instinctually know this as well. We must also feel that we are safe, that nourishment is always available, and that the sun can shine most every day.

Photo provided by Remove3: Love is Never Waste

Ideally, our kiddos would get all these needs met from the same person. Sadly, that is not always the case. For the 400,000 plus kids in the U.S. foster care system a solitary caretaker will not be found to meet all their needs. Our best hope for these kids is that love can be absorbed from multiple sources. We hope that, collectively, they get enough of what they need from the world around them to grow healthy and strong.

Like Kevi’s story, my own life was changed by having multiple temporary parent figures. Though not ideal, this piecemeal parenting experience is what taught me how to love.

There were the moments that my birth mom snuggled me in bed. In the submission of sleep, she would occasionally relax and offer some warmth. These memories of cuddling my mom inspired the scenes of Kevi snuggling his birth mom in the film. Even the direst situations usually have some moments of bonding.

When my mother didn’t have any affection to give, my big brother stood in the gap. He frequently acted as a caretaker, comforting me, protecting me, and feeding me on the days everyone else forgot to. Because of my big brother, when my new little brother entered the world and cried out for protection, I knew how to answer that call.

Unfortunately, I could only answer it slightly better than our mom did.  You see, I was only six. Then seven. By eight, I felt like I was dying. My enchantment with my mother began to wither, along with my body and soul. I called out to the universe for something to take me from the daily pain that she and my father put me in.

Foster care was the answer I received.

Sadly, foster care brought more pain. It’s difficult to describe the feelings that come from being ripped from one’s life source, especially when that life source is also robbing you of life. Regardless of her failures, though, she was still the first person who had held me. Now, I found myself miles from her familiarity. I frequently asked myself if anyone could love me in this strange new place, where nobody looked or acted like me and Mamma.

Some of them couldn’t love me, it seems.

Yet, some of them could and did. Some of them even did without any expectation of return. Most of them who loved me were only able to hold me for a moment in time. No matter how fleeting my time with them was or how heartbroken I was upon leaving, these people became the beautiful springtime of my memory. From each moment I got with them, I would continue to flourish and grow; although, I wouldn’t necessarily see that at the time.

Thousands of uncertain days would pass under the gloomy cloud that we call foster care. Though I acted it out differently than our character Kevi, I was a mess during most of those days.

But a new day would eventually come!

I would grow up. Slowly, I would discover that my life had been changing. As an adult, I would finally find that it was all my own. With my newfound sense of freedom and control, I would choose to become the wife to a husband who loved me selflessly.

Of all the guys I could have chosen, including the kind who may have felt more familiar, how did I know to settle on one like him? The faces of several good foster fathers smiled distantly behind the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

After years of being loved in a way I’d never felt loved before (by my husband Doug), I would become a mother. Despite the years of worry that I’d be a parent like him or her, I found that I was actually more like her and her and him. Tortured childhood and all, I was brimming with love to give, thanks to those who had poured love into me.

This forced me to ask an important question: How could a girl, who had been miserably failed by the people who gave her life, find herself building a completely different world than the one she grew up in?

The answer was clear. I had gotten to this place because an alternate reality had blown into my childhood. It had changed me. Its name was foster care. For me, foster care wound up carrying the faces of seven different homes over seven years. When I was 15, its name became adoption.

Ironically, this system of child protection that had starved me is also the very thing that helped me thrive. Foster care brought so much internal destitution, but it also brought moments of witnessing healthy, selfless, loving, human interactions.

I hope “Love is Never Wasted” reveals that even small moments with a child can show him he has a choice in how he lives his life. Because of my time in care, I now knew that there was not just one possible way to be. Throughout my foster care experiences, I had, here and there, tasted the essence of something sweeter and more fulfilling than my past life. I became hungry for more of it.

I now exist as living proof (hidden behind my stories) that love always offers nourishment and that a little bit of it can go a very long way.

A lot of it can make miracles.

A little bit of love carried me out of my tortured childhood. A lot of it led me to the place I am today and a little boy named Kevi.

Reps. Bass, Marino Introduce Legislation To Develop And Enhance Kinship Navigator Programs

Earlier this week, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Congressman Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced legislation to provide grants to states, tribes (including tribal consortia), territories or community-based organizations to develop, enhance, and evaluate Kinship Navigator programs. Kinship Navigator programs support family caregivers through complex legal and administrative systems, help avert crises, prevent multiple child placements, and avoid the need for more costly services.

“With the rise of substance abuse highlighted by the opioid epidemic, more and more kinship caregivers are stepping up to raise children in need of temporary care or permanent homes,” said Rep. Bass. “This is happening in every state and every county in the United States. While we work to address this immediate epidemic, our child welfare systems are being overwhelmed. Kinship caregivers need support and this bill will help provide the assistance necessary to creating a stable home and environment for the child. I hope Congress can come together on this bipartisan issue to stand up for our kinship caregivers and our nation’s most vulnerable youth.”

“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, safe, and loving home,” said Congressman Marino. “We know that when children grow up in stable households, they are much more likely to succeed as adults. This legislation will help ensure that every foster child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, start great careers, and raise loving families of their own.”

The bill will allow community-based organizations to apply directly to the Department of Health and Human Services for funding and also require program evaluations that include community perspectives. You can read the full bill here.

Why Kinship Care Matters:

Research demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to experience numerous different placements with different families. Kinship care results in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care because they are more likely to remain in their same neighborhood, in the same educational setting, be placed with siblings, and have consistent contact with their birth parents than other children in foster care. This is one critical piece in improving outcomes for the children in the child welfare system.

Why Involving Entire Families in Child Protection Cases Can Improve the Lives of Endangered Children

By: Susan Meyers Chandler and Laurie Arial Tochiki

Annually, about 435,000 children across the United States are taken away from their custodial parents following a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect. In 2015, approximately two million cases of abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation by child protection services agencies in the fifty U.S. states. Although other family members currently care for such children in informal arrangements, the vast majority of children in protective cases are placed with non-biological foster families (now called resource families) until the parent’s home is considered safe.

Outcomes in the child welfare system are relatively poor – with such children at high-risk for school dropout, homelessness, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and future joblessness. According to available research, kinship and foster placements protect children and eventually reunite them with their biological parents about equally, yet kin placements are less disruptive. In practice, however, many child protective services agencies do not encourage kin to get involved in decisions until after a case of abuse or neglect has been confirmed.

Challenges in the Child Welfare System

Children and families who enter the child welfare system often have multiple challenges including behavioral health issues, special educational needs, substance abuse challenges, and delinquency. Often the families are poor, struggle with food and housing insecurity, and may have poor parenting skills or mental health challenges.

Various public agencies are charged with meeting these multiple needs, but child protective services agencies, by legal mandate, are the sole state system charged with ensuring children’s safety and well-being – and these agencies are bound by firm administrative rules and practices that often exclude family members and other relatives from involvement in decisions about the child. Due to confidentiality requirements, other child-serving agencies may not be involved, either. Nevertheless, research shows that children needing protection do better when their families are involved; and collaboration among various service agencies also improves outcomes for children and their families.

What Can Be Done?

Although family inclusion does not consistently happen, it is stressed by most child protective services agencies and a cornerstone of federal and state policy. The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 now requires that, within 30 days, child protective services notify adult relatives and grandparents that a child has been removed from parental custody. Family members are required by law to be included in case planning and decision-making meetings. In addition, financial assistance for guardianships is now provided when children are placed with relatives.

The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization requires agencies to document their capacity to ensure meaningful involvement of family members in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of child protective decisions. For all states, a Child and Family Services Review evaluates conformance with federal requirements. This review measures family engagement and agency practices that reach out to extended family members. Restorative practices are encouraged – such as agency efforts to promote healing in family relationships and involvement in family conferences. Newer models of family engagement include creating family “circles” that acknowledge the harm done, further child safety and parental confidence, and provide ongoing family support services.

Lessons from Innovations in Hawai’i

The state of Hawai‘i has a state-wide system of family conferencing that is offered to all families entering the child welfare system. Family Group Decision Making is based on an indigenous process developed in New Zealand. In Hawaiʻi, the ʻOhana Conferencing model draws upon western mediation and social work practice, as well as the indigenous Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The system has involved more than 17,000 families in the decisions involving children in the child welfare system, by assuring that families are:

  • Included in the decision-making process as true, respected and active partners in the decisions that affect them;
  • Listened to and heard, with their input valued;
  • Encouraged to find appropriate strategies to solve their own problems;
  • Actively engaged in collaborative problem-solving;
  • Equipped with the knowledge that there are partners in the community to help support the child and the family;

Using ʻOhana Conferencing has allowed Hawaiʻi to enjoy one of the highest percentages of kinship care in the child welfare system. The state is in the top three for kinship care, and more than two-fifths of children in protective care have been placed with kin since 2008.

ʻOhana Conferencing is strengthened by Hawaii’s strong process for strong commitment to finding kin and including all appropriate family members in the decisions about protection and foster care placements. This Family Finding process has reduced the number of children living in foster care and improved outcomes for the state’s endangered children.

Head Start May Protect Against Foster Care Placement

Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education, said Sacha Klein, MSU assistant professor of social work.

Klein and colleagues examined multiple forms of early care and education – from daycare with a family member to more structured programs – and found Head Start was the only one to guard against foster care placement.

“The findings seem to add to what we already know about the benefits of Head Start,” Klein said. “This new evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system.”

Klein and colleagues studied the national survey data of nearly 2,000 families in which a child had entered the child welfare system for suspicion of abuse or neglect. Those children were either pulled from the home or were being overseen by a caseworker.

Klein said Head Start may protect against foster care because of its focus on the entire family. Services go beyond providing preschool education to include supporting parental goals such as housing stability, continued education and financial security.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, about a third of them under the age of 5, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All children in foster care automatically qualify for free Head Start services, regardless of income level.

Klein said the findings suggest policymakers should consider making all children in the child welfare system, including those living at home, automatically eligible for Head Start. That could help prevent more kids from ending up in foster care.

While foster care can be a vital resource for protecting children from abusive and neglectful parents, it is rarely a panacea for young kids, the study notes.

“Indeed, young children who are placed in foster care often have compromised socio-emotional, language and cognitive development and poor early academic and health outcomes,” the authors write. “Trauma and deprivation experienced before removal may largely drive these developmental deficits, but foster care often fails to alleviate them and sometimes can worsen them.”

Klein’s co-authors are Lauren Fries of MSU and Mary Emmons of Children’s Institute Inc. in Los Angeles.

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.

Scotland National Poet Encourages Looked After Children to ‘Get Write In’

Jackie Kay – Scotland’s National Poet ©cc by 2.0 University of Salford Press Office

Scotland’s national poet, Jackie Kay, has today (Tuesday 15 August), announced the winners of a new national competition for all school-aged children in Scotland who are looked after or have experienced care. The competition aims to show how writing can enhance creativity and give a voice to young people who are looked after.

Get Write In! has been launched by CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland), and supported by The Scottish Book Trust, Who Cares? Scotland, the University of Strathclyde, and the world-famous Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Participants from throughout Scotland were encouraged to submit a 500 word creative story in either English or Scots, capturing the theme of ‘Random Moments’ about an unexpected surprise, a moment that was a turning point, or a fork in the road, which could be transformed into an inspiring story.

There is one overall winner in each age category: one for primary aged children (under 12); and one for secondary aged young people (12-18). The junior winner is Joseph Ness for his entry ‘Dumb’, and for the senior category it’s William Cathie for ‘New Life’.

The winners were presented with their prizes by Jackie Kay and Mark McDonald, Scotland’s Minister for Childcare and Early Years, at a special event at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh this evening. The fantastic prizes included: a trip to the Harry Potter Experience in London with overnight stay and travel; a storytelling and creative writing workshop; and tickets for Scottish Book Trust Authors Live events.

Jackie Kay, who chaired the judging panel, commented: “We were moved by these extraordinary pieces of writing, both the poetry and the stories. Young Scots lives came shining through, the very tough times and the good ones. We were blown away by the talent that emerged, and by the openness of so many young Scots to share their stories. They struck a chord with us. We hope many more will continue to enter next year. For the young Scots this year who did, it has been a validating and uplifting experience to have their voices heard and appreciated.”

Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, said: “It is inspiring to see young people take such an interest in creative writing, and this competition is a brilliant opportunity for care experienced young people to develop their literacy skills and to gain confidence in expressing themselves. I have been so impressed by the quality of the competition entries and I’m sure that for many, this is just the beginning of their creative journey.”

Professor Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of Inspiring Children’s Futures which CELCIS is part of, commented: “We were thrilled with the response that we had to the competition, and it’s been a real pleasure to read the rich creativity within the stories and poems from across the country! As we all know too well, the challenges faced by children and young people who are looked after, and their families, are many; we are hopeful that by encouraging young people to draw on their inner creativity through writing, this will contribute to building a positive sense of their power to influence the world around them, as well as strengthening their literacy for their future.”

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.

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.

Social Working the LGBT Child

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To effectively perform social services, providers must understand where a person comes from. It is taking the time to recognize a person’s background, culture, and personal story. When it comes to children, this can be even more important to helping them develop. It is taking into account their background and making sure they have all the resources they need, especially those in the LGBT community.

Within the foster system, social service providers have the goal of making sure children are placed in an environment that is least restrictive to their development. When it comes to children of different races, ethnicity, gender, etc., caseworkers should ensure that children’s caregivers can match their specific needs. This can often be a task with lack of foster homes, distance between homes and resources, difference in culture surrounding a child, and many other issues within personal communities. When it comes to children of the LGBT community, this becomes even more of a task.

The LGBT (QIA) community is still not something that gets a lot of attention. Specifically, in Illinois, the policies within the Department of Children and Family Services address LGBT children, however, it is not something that is well known to most workers and there is still a major lack in literature, policies, training, and advocacy for those children. While policies directly protect them against discrimination, the fragility of those identities in children is not necessarily taking into account. This is the same for the policies in most states across the U.S. It is a phenomenon that is still not fully discovered.

Children typically start to question their sexual identities as early as age 5. Most children won’t come out until much later, but they will begin to face an internal struggle, trying to understand the parallel between what they feel inside, and what the world around them is assigning to them.

One of the main issues with sexuality is that sexual education in schools does not address the possibility that not all children will be heterosexual. Puberty is a huge time in a child’s life where they begin to question themselves, and their emotions become heightened,  and they feel less “child-like”. It is during this time that we must be active as parents, educators, and social service providers to make sure that children understand that it is OKAY to not be sure about who or what they like. This is something lacking in our education system. Often it is left up to the parents, but this leaves a lot of foster children to fall through the cracks. Children who do not end up in permanent placements or who get passed from home to home are left even more confused.

As social service providers, it is crucial that we are paying attention to a child that might be questioning themselves. Gender identity and sexuality is an extremely fragile thing. While we definitely want to make sure we are providing children with resources, we also want to ensure they don’t feel singled out or like they have a problem. Often times service providers might refer a child to counseling to deal with the emotions of questioning their identity, but it is crucial that providers leave that up to the child themselves.

Often children feel like something is wrong with them, if they’re sent to counseling. Depending on the age of the child, this should not be something that is forced, rather encouraged and left open as an option for them. Furthermore, if a caseworker does not feel they have enough resources they should look up the policies within their state child welfare system.

Many caseworkers are not trained on the specific policies for the LGBT community, due to differing opinions of those who do the trainings. For example, in Illinois there is very little training that addresses how to work with LGBT children specifically, however, the state does have their own LGBT liaison. Many offices are unaware the state liaison exists, which is why it is crucial to do extra research when the possibility of having a child with these specific needs enters your caseload.

The biggest piece in working with children of the LGBTQIA community is to make sure they are in a supportive, open-minded, and safe environment. This means making sure the caseworker, foster parents, and those working with the child, have no personal beliefs that would interfere with the child thriving in their environment with their personal sexuality. Some private agencies have religious affiliations which could be a hindrance to some children.

Open mindedness and a willingness to learn are the key factors in looking for an LGBT placement. Children of the trans community will need a large amount of support and advocacy and a lot of that will need to come from a caregiver, due to the emotional toll of day to day living.

Caseworkers and agency staff should still remain sensitive to the child’s specific needs and ensure their foster placement is supporting them. This does not mean children need to be in a home of homosexual couples or caregivers. While that certainly  might help, it does not mean they cannot get what they need from other caregivers. It just comes down to making sure foster parents are trained to have the same open minds as social service providers and that children are matched to the best, most supportive homes.

The last thing to remember is that children have the right to choose when they “come out” to others. Even if a worker suspects something, they should ALWAYS seek specific permission from the child, before addressing anything with sexuality. This includes counseling, LGBT advocacy, foster placements, support groups, service planning with specific tasks on LGBT, life skills training with specific LGBT elements, etc. It is never a service provider’s job to out a child. Unless that child is in specific danger, their sexuality should remain a private matter.

Children have a right to privacy and they have a right to support. As service providers, we must always remain sensitive to our client’s needs, and if a child is suspected to have some questions, workers should be very careful on how they proceed. The last thing anyone wants to do is traumatize a child more, by simply being unaware of the proper proceedings. Please also remember that personal opinions and religious beliefs should have no bearing on how a child is addressed. Children deserve the same care and respect, no matter their gender, race, religious belief, or sexuality. I encourage everyone to read up on their state policies and for agencies to add trainings to ensure children are getting everything they need within this community.

The Life of a Social Worker – Interview with Freya Barrington

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Freya Barrington, a highly commended Social Worker, is the author of the international bestseller Known to Social Services. This powerful and unflinching book follows the fictional Social Worker Diane, and the characters she meets during her work at the barren, underprivileged Deacon Hill estate. Known to Social Services offers a glimpse into the world of social work from the unique perspective of the social worker herself.

In an interview with Social Work Helper, Freya was animated and keen to share her reasons for writing the book. “I wanted to raise the profile of Social Workers,” she explained. “This is a hard job that people are doing… The main reason for the book was to highlight what it’s really like”. Indeed, Known to Social Services includes a range of challenging situations, including such harrowing topics as incest, rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and child abuse. It is no surprise that Freya wanted to champion her profession.

Freya spoke about her own career, which, somewhat unusually, began with working with horses in a racing yard. After around 20 years of equine-related work, Freya felt ready for something new and through a friend obtained employment in schools focusing on children with emotional and behavioral issues.

From her subsequent encounters with Social Workers whilst working in schools, Freya realised that she wanted to take up the mantle herself. When asked about this, Freya said that she had “great ideals of saving the world and helping children”, and describes her idea of Social Workers as fundamentally being able to help others: “They are carers, caring people”. After an impressive career as a Social Worker, Freya became a full-time foster carer and wrote her first book.

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Known to Social Services, primarily, brings across the chaos of the Social Worker’s world. The narrative of the main character Diane is frequently interrupted with chunks of other people’s lives – from other professionals, to strangers on the street, to the families on her caseload.

“I did this to bring across the effect of how it really is”, Freya explained, “Because you don’t just deal with one family in a block, you might deal with 6 families in a day. And, if something serious happens, you might have to reschedule everything you’d already planned”. In discussion, Freya made it clear that social work requires creativity, hardiness, quick thinking and constant re-prioritisation. Reminders and diaries, she assured are essential!

This led to the question: given the many demands of being a Social Worker, what helps to prevent burnout? Freya spoke about a time that she personally experienced burnout, just 9 months into her first job. She feels that theoretical university education had not adequately prepared her for “suddenly dealing with real people”. This, coupled with a huge and complex workload, could lead in only one direction. Freya sensibly took time off work to recover, and to reflect upon how she had reached burnout.

Freya talked extensively about how crucial it is to separate one’s home and work life, however difficult this may be. “When it’s time to go home, though obviously you still have concerns for the children on your caseload, you have to accept that it cannot be your responsibility 24/7 and that there are other people in the out of hours team to deal with any ongoing crisis.” This tension – between caring and wanting to give everything to the job is a constant theme in Known to Social Services. Currently UK universities now include Known to Social Services on their reading list to help give insight on the pressures of social work to students.

“You’re not superwoman!”, Freya laughed, referring to both her main character and herself. She also spoke about her personal fondness for ‘winding down’ with animals, nature, and being with her friends. Self-care is one of the cornerstones of being an effective Social Worker. Freya noted that her supportive partner was an added bonus, and has written elsewhere about some of their journeys together.

Whilst at work, Freya recommends that Social Workers “Take hope from the positive outcomes”. Such positive outcomes are all too often missed, especially by the media, which will often criticise or vilify Social Workers, while encouraging the “child-snatcher” myth. This, of course, affects staff morale. Freya believes that supportive and understanding management is essential in helping a Social Worker negotiate workloads, manage expectations, and engage in proper self-care in a system that pushes Social workers to overwork.

However, Freya believes in the power of  social media, blogs and article writing, and their usefulness as a tool to share the life of a Social Worker because they can get the message out quickly when needed while helping to foster relationships with the public. Freya’s blog offers insight into her life and writing as well as her current projects.

When asked, at the conclusion of the interview, what tip she could give to fellow Social Workers, Freya had a range of ideas. She acknowledges that it is important to be firm, even with hardworking and busy managers, when the workload gets too much. “Don’t be afraid to say no, and know your limitations. It’s okay to say, ‘No, I have too much work to do and if you give me one more case, the other cases will suffer as a result’.

“You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to find the inner strength to deal with everything that faces you – appropriately, and in a balanced way”. Freya’s latest book, Caught in Traffick continues to follow her fictional Social Worker, Diane. Whilst coy about the content, Freya told us that it took about six months to write, centres on child trafficking, and contains some of the characters from Known to Social Services in its ranks. Caught in Traffick is due to be published in August 2016.

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.

Child Welfare and Psychotropic Drug Monitoring: The Role for Social Workers

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Psychotropic treatments for children in foster care can be appropriate, but this form of therapy requires considerable oversight and advocacy from social workers and caregivers. Children do not respond to medications in the same way that an adult may respond because they are constantly growing, their response to medication can be developmentally dependent.

There is a greater risk for a toxic buildup and significant health events can occur without careful monitoring. Social workers should be aware of prescribing guidelines and steps for advocacy and monitoring, but can often feel that becoming involved is beyond their scope or even that medications should be avoided completely in favor of psychosocial care.

Caregivers are often desperate to get psychosocial services, but they may lack accessibility and availability leading to the perception of pharmacotherapy as the only option. Unfortunately, this can also lead to higher rates of prescribing in the effort to help a child.

Although the Trauma-Focused Movement in Child Welfare also seeks a reduction in psychotropic use, it should not be solely aligned with psychosocial services. Children in care are more likely to present with developmental, emotional and behavioral health issues. Responsible and appropriate psychotropic use has a place in caring for them too along with supportive and empathetic caregiving which is always required. Caregivers may need additional training to assist children who have intensive needs.

Psychosocial therapies should be tried first, whenever possible, and then with medication. Social workers can be instrumental in this process. Social Workers can assess the supports and stability in the home, understanding the recommended guidelines for prescribing, providing comprehensive history to prescribing providers and by monitoring so that medication is prescribed and utilized responsibly. Social workers do not need to be doctors in order to participate in decisions for care. Social workers just need the ability to ask good questions, pay attention and advocate effectively – which is basically routine social work practice.

Keep in mind there are always exceptions to the rule, and all assessments should be assessed on a case by case basis. Here are some basic guidelines to begin effective advocacy and monitoring:

1. Provide a comprehensive medical, family and social history, as well as a list of any over the counter or non-psychotropic medications the child may be receiving. Failure to do so could lead to serious adverse effects.
2. Use tools to gather evidence to assess for trauma or current triggers in the home or school and provide this as well. Is a developmental assessment needed?
3. Weigh risk versus benefit to the child. All medications have the potential to help, hurt or do nothing at all. If the benefit does not outweigh the risk, then it should not be tried.
4. Prescribers should also use tools and gather evidence – medical history, academic performance, labs – and make referrals for needed assessments before recommending a treatment path (ex., psychological evaluation, psychosocial therapy is in place) prior to prescribing.
5. Request that only one medication be added or subtracted at a time. By only making one change at a time, the response can be more easily determined.
6. Go low and go slow – start with the lowest dose and move up. FDA approved medications are typically the first line of treatment, but well-evidenced medications may also be used. Ask the physician for evidence and rationale. Seek a second opinion if needed.
7. If it is not working, then it should be discontinued, but never stop a medication without a physician’s direction to do so. Instead return as needed to ensure the physician understands what is happening.
8. Ensure assent and consent from the child as much as possible and be mindful of legal age of consent laws in your state. By involving a child and caregivers in psychoeducation and treatment options, you will strengthen your alliance, empower the child and increase the likelihood that the child will trust and be willing to seek care in the future should it become necessary.
9. A child should typically see the prescriber within 2-4 weeks of a new or discontinued medication and every three months, if things are going well.
10. Every six months to one year, earlier if planned, discuss the reduction and discontinuation of a medication. Every treatment plan designed with a physician should also include a plan to halt a medication in the future and how to do that.

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.

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.

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