Profiles in Permanency: Tuning into Teens in New Jersey

The National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) is a five-year cooperative agreement, funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, designed to promote permanence when reunification is no longer a goal and improve adoption and guardianship preservation and support. For more information about this project, please click here.

Writer, April Dinwoodie, is profiling each of the eight projects that are overseen by the center for The Chronicle of Social Change. Today, she focuses on New Jersey and explores Tuning into Teens (TINT), an emotion coaching program targeted at families with characteristics known at the time of finalization that may put them at an elevated risk for discontinuity. 

Originally developed at the Mindful Centre of the University of Melbourne and designed for families of youth ages 10-18 years, TINT is a 6-8 session, evidence-based emotion coaching program designed to proactively increase parents’ capacity to understand and respond effectively to their child’s emotions, and thereby, help their child to develop and improve emotional competence.  Such improvements in emotional competence have been correlated with positive outcomes, including strengthening the attachment of the caregiver – child dyad. The original model is used broadly for all families. As part of the QIC-AG project, New Jersey is the first U.S. implementation of TINT and has tailored it to serve adoptive parents and kinship guardians.

TINT is centered on two core elements: emotional intelligence and emotion coaching to help parents support their teens by understanding and expressing emotions in appropriate ways. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions by being emotionally aware and responding instead of reacting. Emotion coaching is designed to enhance parent’s ability to listen, be supportive, have empathy, validate, and ultimately help the teen to problem solve.

TINT sessions focus on subjects including:

  1. How to raise emotionally intelligent children
  2. Connecting and emotional acceptance
  3. Building intimacy and showing empathy
  4. Emotion coaching on worry, sadness, anger and thinking about the future

New Jersey developed a series of adoption, kinship and guardianship overlays to TINT to ensure both the curriculum and the facilitators delivering TINT were sensitive to the unique needs of these families. The overlays included topics such as attachment, identity, birth family history, feeling different and separation, and loss. As a condition of using TINT, the developer reserved the right to approve all adaptations made to the program. This right-of-approval maintains the intervention’s integrity and fidelity to the model.

In New Jersey, TINT is offered statewide to a sample population of adoptive and guardianship families whose children are aged 10-13 years and who are receiving an adoption/guardianship subsidy. Families who adopted privately, either domestically or internationally, are also recruited to participate in the TINT intervention, but, they are not included in the TINT evaluation. There is no charge for parents to participate in TINT.

The TINT program uses a small-group format with approximately 7 to 10 participants delivered in a comfortable and accepting environment with other adoptive and kinship parents to create a sense of shared experience and community. The facilitators work to connect with families, including reaching out to families who miss a session to check in and try to make arrangements for the family to come early to the next class and catch up on information they missed. Participants are also offered meals, reimbursement for mileage and childcare compensation.

New Jersey hopes to achieve the following short-term outcomes through TINT:

  • Decreased child behavioral issues
  • Increased caregiver commitment
  • Improved family interactions or sense of belonging
  • Improved relationships between the parent/guardian and the child

Feedback and reactions from facilitators and participants alike has been extremely positive.

“What I found to be most useful about this program is being able to connect with my teen on a level that allows me to understand what my teen might be feeling in times of difficulty and sadness as well as times when things are going well,” one parent said.

“It was truly incredible to hear each week ways that this has changed them and changed how they interact with their children,” one facilitator said.

As of September 2018, 134 families from 15 different counties have attended at least one of New Jersey’s TINT workshops and 102 have attended at least four workshops, which the purveyor suggests is the minimum required for therapeutic impact. A detailed evaluation report is planned for September 2019.

To learn more about the QIC-AG’s work with TINT in New Jersey, check out the full profile online. In future columns for The Chronicle, I will continue to describe the different interventions being tested at the other seven partner sites in more detail.

Started in 2014, QIC-AG is funded by the Children’s Bureau and through a five-year cooperative agreement with Spaulding for Children, and its partners The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

April Dinwoodie is a transracially adopted person and a nationally recognized thought leader in foster care and adoption. Dinwoodie’s podcast “Born in June, Raised in April: What Adoption Can Teach the World!” helps to facilitate an open dialogue about adoption, foster care and family today. She is the founder of Adoptment, a mentoring program that matches foster youth with adopted adults, and is retained by clients, including the QIC-AG, to help raise awareness of their work to support children and families.   

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