Foster Parents Helping Birth Parents

May is National Foster Care Month. There will always be a need for some type of placement for children outside their homes. However, recent policies on rethinking the entire system of foster care, reducing the number of children placed in foster care, increasing kinship placements, and promoting foster parents helping birth parents are shedding new light on the role of foster care.

This post will take a closer look at how foster parents can partner with birth parents to promote reunification. The information is drawn from fact sheets published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Each of the following principles is further explained by a foster or birth parent:

Communicate early and often. More is better. Keep it real.
“There should be an initial meeting to introduce the foster and the birth parents so they can ask the little questions. What is your child like? What are their sleeping hours? What are their dislikes? This can be a great opportunity for [birth parents] to see that the foster caregiver is really concerned about their child and doesn’t want to replace them. It lets them know right off the bat that you are on their side.” —Keely, foster parent, BFPP

Leaning on Your Caseworker and Agency
“When I had a supervisor or social worker where partnership was the goal, the case went really well. We were able to really connect and be together and the children were obviously much better. The chances of going home happened more often. Whoever is responsible for that relationship from the very first minute can make a difference with reunification.” —Roberta, foster parent, BFPP

Children in the child welfare system already have family members who love them.
“The most dangerous thing I see is that black and white thinking of foster and adoptive parents ‘saving’ kids. These children are not orphans. They have families.” —Amy, foster parent, BFPP

Help, trust, and empathy make all the difference.
“[Birth parents] are already so ashamed of themselves. They already feel like the most awful parent in the world. Just by saying ‘You’ve done a great job’ or ‘Your kids have a really great bond with you’ is really groundbreaking! Be the bigger person and take the first step. Be a part of family healing, and reach out in a very human way.” —Julie, birth parent, BFPP

Maintaining Contact After Reunification or Other Permanency
“We see a lot of kids that have lived with us at different times and their families. [With one] child we had at one point, his grandmother still calls us, and we do all the babysitting whenever she needs help. We have another young adult who went back to her family, and she calls us almost every weekend. She had a baby, and we’re the godparents.” —Ellen, foster parent, BFPP

To view the full document visit: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets-families-partnerships/?hasBeenRedirected=1

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

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Isolation and Loneliness

May will bring Mental Health Awareness Month.  Two of the most prevalent conditions in society today that affect mental health are social isolation and loneliness.

In his book Them, Ben Sasse talks about 739 people dying in one week during a heat wave in Chicago.  But race and poverty did not determine who lived and who died.  Instead, it was social relationships.  Isolation turned something dangerous into something deadly.

The UnLonely Project has the goal of broadening public awareness of the negative physical and mental health consequences of loneliness while using the creative arts to address them.  The Project finds there is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the U.S. with these effects:

  • Loneliness affects more than one-third of American adults, with particular likelihood among individuals facing challenging life circumstances like loss of a loved one, and chronic or catastrophic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness or cancer.
  • Loneliness has negative effects on mental health, worsening depression, anxiety, mood disorders and cognitive decline, and on physical health, leading to higher rates cardiovascular impairment, chronic pain, and fatigue.
  • Certain age groups, notably adolescents, young adults and older adults seem to be particularly at risk as marked by growing incidence of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
  • External factors may be accelerating the crisis; research indicates, for instance, Internet and social media engagement exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Of particular note, health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%.

 

Verywell Mind, an online resource to help improve mental health, says that loneliness is actually a state of mind that causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted.  What helps?  It’s not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness but the quality.  The number of people with no close friends has tripled in the past 35 years.  Having just three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness (Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749).

So how about if each of us looks for someone isolated/lonely to befriend?  We won’t have to look far.  They are in our families, neighborhood, places of worship, schools, and elderly facilities.  For a small investment of time, we can make a huge difference in the life of someone who feels that no one cares about them.

 

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

 

 

 

Celebrating Prevention

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month so let’s start planning now! Every year the federal Children’s Bureau (CB) releases the Prevention Resource Guide. The National Child Abuse Prevention Partners, of which NFPN is a member, provides input for the Guide.

The Resource Guide “focuses on protective factors that build on family strengths and promote optimal child and youth development.” Many of you are familiar with the five protective factors developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy:
• Parental resilience
• Social connections
• Knowledge of parenting and child development
• Concrete support in times of need
• Social-emotional competence of children
• Nurturing and attachment (sixth added to the Resource Guide)

The Resource Guide provides information about these protective factors and how to integrate them into community programs. Let’s take a closer look at one protective factor, Parental Resilience: “All parents have inner strengths or resources that can serve as a foundation for building their resilience. These may include faith, flexibility, humor, communication skills, problem-solving skills, mutually supportive caring relationships, or the ability to identify and access outside resources and services when needed.”

To implement this definition, there are suggestions as to how workers and programs can help. For example, workers can “remind families that some stress is normal, and parenting is stressful for everyone. The key is how you respond to it.” Programs can assist when they “partner with resources in the community that help families manage stress and deal with crises, including programs that offer family-to-family help for personalized and sustained support as well as services such as mental health counseling, substance use treatment, domestic violence programs, and self-help support groups.”

The Resource Guide includes tip sheets for parents on 11 topics including keeping your family strong, managing stress, parenting your school-age child, and connecting with your teens.

To obtain your free copy of the Resource Guide visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/resources/resource-guide/

For more information and resources to celebrate National Child Abuse Prevention Month visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Family Preservation and Disproportionality

One of the most challenging issues of the social services system is addressing disproportionality. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges tracks disproportionality in the child welfare system. The Council defines disproportionality as the level at which groups of children are present in the child welfare system at higher or lower percentages or rates than in the general population. An index of 1.0 reflects no disproportionality. An index of greater than 1.0 reflects overrepresentation. An index of less than 1.0 reflects underrepresentation.

The index in 2013 was as follows:
African American 1.8
White .8
Hispanic .9
Asian .1
Am Indian/AK Native 2.5

The index shows how disproportionality is concentrated in African American and American Indian/Alaska Native families. In 1978 Congress addressed disproportionality of the latter through the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Casey Family Programs released a compliance study of ICWA in 2015. They reported that there are inconsistent and varying degrees of state compliance with ICWA. There is no federal oversight or enforcement of the law. A lot more needs to be done to preserve Indian families and their culture.

There is no federal law regarding African American disproportionality. In Minnesota, the state United Black Legislative Caucus is introducing the African American Family Preservation Act. The legislation aims to improve outcomes for black families involved with child protection, including by keeping more children with family members and relatives.

While there are various initiatives and programs to address disproportionality, one program has already been demonstrated effective in reducing disproportionality. In a large study of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), over 30,000 children in one state’s child welfare system were categorized by race, risk, and services received. The results were as follows:
High-risk minority children receiving traditional services were at higher risk of placement than White children, but minority children receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than White children. When only minority children were examined, those receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than those receiving traditional services.

Why is IFPS effective in reducing disproportionality? Here are some principles of IFPS that contain some answers:
1. The family is the best resource for the nurture, care, and well-being of children.
2. The most durable way to help children is to help their parents.
3. Keeping families safely together, whenever possible, must be the highest priority of government laws, policies, and funding.
4. Because the integrity of the family is critical to its functioning, services to families must primarily focus on keeping families together or reunifying families when out-of-home
placement is necessary.
5. Services provided in the home demonstrate respect for families and allow for optimal assessment of needs and delivery of services.
6. Families must be assessed for strengths as well as weaknesses. Strengths can be used to help address weaknesses.
7. All members of the family must be offered services, including fathers, whether residing or not residing in the home. Involving fathers can have a beneficial effect on both the
children and the children’s mother.
8. Families must be involved in decisions about every aspect of an intervention: safety, assessment, goals, services, progress, placement (if necessary), and outcomes.
9. Families must be empowered through services, not kept dependent on them. Services should be provided only until the family is stabilized and has the necessary skills to remain safely
together. Families can then choose whether or not they want additional services.
10. We owe families the best possible services at the lowest cost to whoever is paying for the services. All services must be evaluated for their effectiveness and cost-benefit.

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Family Preservation and Evidence-Based Practice

The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was founded in 1992 to serve as the primary national voice for the preservation of families. At that time, our voice promoted Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). These services are targeted to families with children at imminent risk of placement in foster care. The first comprehensive evaluation of IFPS was funded by the federal government in 1989. Findings included that families showed improvements on 26 of 28 problems affecting family functioning.

Thirty years after that study states are planning implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act targeted to families with children at risk of imminent placement in foster care. We’ve come full circle! What have we learned through research in the past 30 years about preserving families and preventing unnecessary placement of children?

The earliest research on IFPS was quite favorable but subsequent research in the early 1990’s was flawed with respect to design and implementation. From about 2000 on, research has found IFPS to be effective in terms of placement prevention and cost-effective in comparison to the costs of foster and residential care. NFPN has conducted 6 research studies involving IFPS, all of them demonstrating the effectiveness of IFPS.

IFPS has also been used as a successful intervention with reunifying families. The earliest study, conducted in 1995, had a treatment and control group. Families received IFPS services for 90 days. At the end of the intervention, 92% of the treatment group had returned home compared to 28% of the control group.
For an overview of research on IFPS for both preservation and reunification, see the section “Research on IFPS” in the IFPS ToolKit: http://www.nfpn.org/preservation/ifps-toolkit

Recall that the first study of IFPS included measures of family functioning. Dr. Ray Kirk (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) designed a family functioning tool for IFPS, the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS). NFPN partnered with Dr. Kirk on subsequent versions of the tool, including one of the first assessment tools for reunifying families. There is a wide body of research on the assessment tools establishing their reliability and validity. NFPN has conducted 7 research studies, all successful, involving the NCFAS tools. For an overview of the studies on the NCFAS assessment tools visit http://www.nfpn.org/assessment-tools/ncfases-scale-development-report

The Family First Prevention Services Act requires that all programs receiving the 50% federal matching funds meet Evidence-Based Practice criteria. The issue for IFPS programs is that in recent years states have largely developed their own models that are not yet validated as Evidence-Based Practice through research findings. Thus, states will need to conduct research studies in order to establish their IFPS programs as Evidence-Based Practice and qualify for the federal funding.

NFPN stands ready to assist states in this endeavor. Please contact Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, director@nfpn.org, 888-498-9047.

Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director

Wrapping up 2018

During this past year, the Preserving Families blog looked at trauma, kinship care, opioids, reunification, and the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.

The Family First Act appears to have been custom-designed for Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). Both Family First and IFPS target children who are at imminent risk of out-of-home placement in order to prevent unnecessary placement of children and help families stay safely together. IFPS has been in use for many years and is highly effective at keeping families together.

The federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is issuing implementation policies for Family First. All services and programs funded by Family First (50% federal matching funds) must be Evidence-Based Practice and approved by a clearinghouse. ACF has selected 10 programs for initial review and approval by the clearinghouse. Unfortunately, no model of IFPS was selected for initial review. States need to conduct their own research to establish IFPS programs as Evidence-Based Practice.

For more information on implementation of Family First and the clearinghouse visit https://www.cwla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ACYF-CB-PI-18-09-State-FFPSA-Prevention-PI.pdf and https://www.cwla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ACYF-CB-PI-18-09-Attachment-C-Clearinghouse-Initial-Criteria.pdf.

ACF is also issuing guidance on other aspects of child welfare. One long-overlooked critical aspect of court involvement in child welfare is reasonable efforts. ACF is breathing new life into reasonable efforts after years of neglect: “evidence remains scarce based on round 3 of the Child and Family Services Review, court observation work conducted across the country by Court Improvement Programs, and current trends in child welfare outcome data that reasonable efforts determination is treated with the rigor or seriousness required under the law.”

Federal law requires courts to determine whether the child welfare agency has made or not made reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of children from their parents. Early on, reasonable efforts were often defined as providing IFPS services to a family. Currently, reasonable efforts have nearly faded into oblivion. Yet, 98% of appeals following termination of parental rights raise the issue of reasonable efforts. Thus, reasonable efforts is only being raised as a legal requirement when it’s too late!

For more details read Judge Len Edwards perspective on reasonable efforts at https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/top-stories/ignoring-reasonable-efforts-why-court-system-fail-promote-prevention

Read the ACF guidance on reasonable efforts here: file:///C:/Users/User/Documents/Reasonable%20Efforts–ACF.html

There will be a lot more to come next year on the Family First Act, reasonable efforts, and other critical issues. In the meantime, thank you for making “beyond reasonable efforts” in helping to preserve families!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director

Where Can I Find An Assessment Tool For Trauma?

Most government funded programs now require trauma-informed care. Providing trauma-informed care requires assessing for trauma, and it can be challenging to find an assessment tool for trauma. So let’s take a look at a trauma assessment tool with established reliability and validity.

The Trauma and Post-Trauma Well-Being tool is a pre/post measure with two domains.

The Trauma domain assists workers to become aware of the symptoms and indicators of trauma and to assess for trauma and the degree of severity.
The Trauma domain comprises the following subscales:
• Traumatic Sexual Abuse of Child(ren)
• Traumatic Physical Abuse of Child(ren)
• Traumatic Neglect of Child(ren)
• Traumatic Emotional/Psychological Abuse of Child(ren)
• Parent/Caregiver Trauma
• Overall Trauma

The Post-Trauma Well-Being domain focuses specifically on recovery and healing of children after trauma has occurred, on the status of the parent/caregiver following trauma to the parent/caregiver and/or the child, and on the parent/caregiver’s ability to support the child during the recovery/healing period.

The Post-Trauma Well-Being domain comprises the following subscales:
• Post-Traumatic Cognitive and Physical Well-Being of Child(ren)
• Post-Traumatic Emotional/Psychological Well-Being of Child(ren)
• Post-Traumatic Social Functioning of Child(ren)
• Post-Trauma Parent/Caregiver Support of Child(ren)
• Post-Trauma Parent/Caregiver Well-Being
• Overall Post-Trauma Well-Being

Now let’s look at the Trauma tool in action. In a research study involving family preservation programs in three states, families made substantial progress following treatment for trauma symptomology.

About 80% of the families had one or more trauma indicators. Neglect of children, emotional/psychological abuse of children, and parent/caregiver trauma had the highest percentages of moderate and serious problem ratings.

Following treatment, at case closure there were significant improvements in all aspects of child well-being and in parent/caregiver well-being.

To read the complete report, visit:
http://nfpn.org/trauma-report

The Trauma tool was designed for use with complementary assessment tools that measure family functioning: The NCFAS-G is used with intact families and the NCFAS-G+R is used with reunifying families. If your agency is currently using one of these NCFAS tools, then you may purchase the Trauma tool separately. If not, you can purchase one of the NCFAS tools along with the Trauma tool.

For more information on the Trauma and NCFAS tools visit http://nfpn.org/assessment-tools

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director