Healthy communities
“I’ll give you happy” by mrsmullerauh via Creative Commons

Adoption is a life-long journey for both the parents and the child. For children adopted from foster care, this journey often requires parenting that recognizes the trauma the children carry and allows them to grieve, heal, and integrate into their adoptive family.

Because of these unique needs, child welfare agencies must provide a continuum of services to increase permanence, beginning when children first enter the child welfare system and continuing after adoption or guardianship has been finalized. “Permanence” refers to emotional, physical, and legal permanence that gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment, and identity. Foster children waiting to be adopted are said to be in “pre-permanency,” and those adopted are said to be in “post-permanency.”

In efforts to better the adoption journey for foster children and families, the Children’s Bureau has funded a $23 million national project, the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption/Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG). QIC-AG is designed to develop evidence-based models of support and services that will allow child welfare systems to increase pre- and post-permanency stability for families, advance their wellbeing, and improve children’s behavioral health.

The project is being conducted by a partnership that includes Spaulding for Children in Michigan, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and The University of Texas at Austin. We talked with professor Rowena Fong, who is leading this project at UT Austin from the School of Social Work.

What was the initial step for this large and complex project?

We started by selecting eight sites, which could be state, county, or tribal child welfare systems. The systems had to apply to be in the project, and we worked hard to select sites that were ready to participate in this initiative – they had to have AFCARS data, for instance – and that fulfilled the Children Bureau’s guidelines. Then, in each of these sites, we have been working with teams of local foster care staff, and teams of stakeholders – foster youth, parents, agencies that provide services such as schools, CASA, mental health care providers, and so on. We work with them to understand how they function, define the problem that each particular child welfare system wants to address, select an evidence-based intervention that tackles such problem, implement the intervention, and evaluate the outcomes. We are now in the process of selecting the interventions, and should start implementing them by mid-2016.

Where are the selected sites?

We have selected state or county child welfare systems in Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont, North Carolina, and a tribal system in Nebraska. I’m working with the last four sites, and my colleague, Dr. Nancy Rolock from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is working with the other four sites.

What are some of the issues the selected sites are facing?

In Texas for instance, we will be working to prepare families to better understand the trauma that foster care children and youth carry. There is something about teen years, particularly. Families might feel that they can’t handle teens as they might experiment with drugs, cut themselves, disrespect, or manifest other behavioral symptoms. By helping families understand trauma better and give them tools to deal with these behavioral symptoms, we hope to increase the stability of foster placements and get more families to adopt foster children.

Not only the issues each site wants to address are different but the state contexts are different too. Vermont, for instance, uses a statewide system-of-care approach that encourages interagency cooperation and does not separate foster care issues from mental health or disability issues. Foster populations are different in each state as well. Vermont, for example, is unique  in that 50 percent of foster children are under the age of five.

What do you hope to accomplish?

We will be making an important contribution to the improvement of public child welfare systems by having implemented and evaluated evidence-based interventions in these eight sites to address the specific challenges they are facing. At the same time, during the process we are building capacity in each of these sites, as we are providing financial resources and intensive technical assistance. Ultimately, the goal is to benefit public child welfare systems across the nation, as they can replicate or adapt the evidence-based interventions we are testing and evaluating through this project. We also hope to increase post-permanency support services so that problems, such as re-homing, can be addressed and prevented.

Posted March 28, 2016. By Andrea Campetella.