Last month was National Foster Care Awareness month and in our May blog we emphasized the importance of caring for this specific population. This month, we are highlighting one of the most important aspects of promoting resilience for children placed in foster care: placement stability.
As you may know, 99% of children in foster care experience some type of traumatic event. Despite the child welfare system’s best efforts, trauma can be exacerbated by the child’s involvement with the system, causing systems-induced trauma & re-traumatization. County DSS offices can help mitigate the negative impacts of trauma by keeping foster children's out-of-home placements stable. This is critical to improve and promote positive outcomes for this population. There are many ways to encourage safe and secure environments for children placed in out of home care such as supplying support and resources to both kinship and foster parents. Providing education and understanding surrounding trauma that has affected both the child and family. Fostering Perspectives recently released an issue that dives deeper into this topic, and it can be found at: Fostering-Perspectives-Volume-27-No.-1_press_quality.pdf (fosteringperspectives.org).
Through specific implementation plan activities embedded within Benchmarks’ projects, implementation staff have encouraged collaboration between County DSS offices and their resource parents to enrich their support. One piece of the project includes onboarding and encouraging DSS partners to provide the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Resource Parent Curriculum (RPC) to their resource parents. This program is specifically designed for resource parents to develop parenting strategies they can use immediately with the children who have experienced trauma. The curriculum includes information on how trauma impacts a child’s social, emotional, and neurobiological (brain and body) development. Also, this training supplies a unique opportunity for resource parents to understand challenging behaviors and the emotional reactions (e.g., anxiety, guilt, grief) of children and adolescents who are placed in their care. County DSS offices can develop facilitators within the agency to build sustainability with this training curriculum locally.
The Standardized Assessment Protocol (SAP) is a specific project whose tenets have helped improve DSS staff skills in supporting resource parents and supporting stable placements for children in foster care. Benchmarks aids DSS with building some of these skills for staff through specific trauma trainings and trauma-informed consultation with social workers and supervisors. SAP project participants from the Surry County Department of Social Services noted that their staff learned how to be more proactive in developing plans to keep a child in the current environment as well as how to coach others working with foster youth to be more proactive in managing the child’s behaviors, which oftentimes is due to trauma. Staff within the agency noted that through their participation with SAP, social workers have begun to shy away from asking for specific placement recommendations in clinical assessments. Also, staff have worked to help kinship providers maintain children in the local community. By making this shift in their local agency and systemic culture, social workers can advocate for holistic assessments with recommendations that focus on the child’s overall well-being which can help create a stable placement. These recommendations often provide great guidance for DSS social workers and resource parents on specific skills to support more positive outcomes. Some of these recommendations could include referrals to specific evidence-based trauma-informed services, boundary setting for the child, birth parent, or foster parent, as well as recommendations to improve functioning in various environments such as school settings.
Local County DSS offices have collaborated with provider agencies, pilot projects, foster parents, and kinship providers to enhance staff skills and create more stable community placements for foster care children. Although the process has been challenging, it has proven to be most rewarding for those who have participated in this innovative initiative.