When Child Welfare Systems Embrace Trauma-Informed Care

Posted April 20, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

When child welfare systems infuse trauma-informed care into everything they do, kids experience fewer placements and fare better in foster care, according to new Casey-funded research.

In a five-year study conducted by Child Trends, researchers focused on kids served by KVC Kansas, a nonprofit offering child welfare and behavioral health support through a public/private partnership with the Kansas Department of Children and Families. As part of the study, administrators, staff and foster parents received training on an evidence-based treatment model called Trauma Systems Therapy. Researchers then assessed the training’s impact on nearly 1,500 children in the KVC system who had been exposed to death or a serious injury, including physical, sexual and mental abuse.

Learn more about how systems can support foster parents to benefit kids

“Many children in the child welfare system have experienced trauma, which is often expressed in behavior that can lead systems to move children from home to home,” says Cynthia Weaver, a senior associate with Casey’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. The Trauma Systems Therapy model “can help therapists, case managers and foster parents adjust their responses in ways that take into account the underlying trauma and help de-escalate behavioral problems.”

Children who received Trauma Systems Therapy showed improved functioning and a greater ability to control their behaviors and emotions, according to the study. These same children also experienced greater placement stability and fewer moves while in care.

To achieve these results, KVC trained more than 90% of its child welfare staff and nearly 70% of its foster parents. The organization utilized a wide range of teaching modalities — including large-scale training sessions, extended learning opportunities and online modules — to help incorporate trauma-informed care into its work over a period of years.

Now, with Foundation support, KVC has helped to develop a Trauma Systems Therapy curriculum for child welfare agencies to use with kin and foster caregivers. The curriculum will be available for free on the Foundation’s website this summer and promotes an understanding of how trauma affects child behavior. It also shares tools that caregivers can use to prevent placement disruptions and encourage attachment.

About Trauma Systems Therapy

Pioneered by child and adolescent psychiatrist Glenn Saxe of NYU Langone Medical Center, Trauma Systems Therapy aims to address children’s emotional responses to their environment while bringing together service providers — including teachers, spiritual leaders and local advocates — to coordinate interventions across settings.

Read KVC’s Bridging the Way Home: An Innovative Approach to the Application of Trauma Systems Therapy in Child Welfare

Check out Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Systems and Children’s Well-being: A Longitudinal Evaluation of KVC’s Bridging the Way Home Initiative

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