Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #6: Curriculum on Building Personal Connections for Foster Youth, Caregivers

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of LilCrystal Dernier, 24, a student at Florida Atlantic University.

The Proposal

Congress should seed the development of what Dernier calls Secure Attachment Training (SAT), the name she uses for a model curriculum she describes thusly:

“An effort to assist youth and caregivers in building meaningful connections and to help ensure that foster youth have the skills to form positive relationships.”

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LilCrystal Dernier, 24, a student at Florida Atlantic University

Dernier would first have Congress establish a pilot program to encourage the development of Secure Attachment Training curricula that complement existing foster care training programs. Down the line, she would have Congress amend the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 to require an attachment curricula as part of foster parent training.

The Argument

While the hope for any foster youth is that they will be adopted, reunified with parents or find a permanent place with other family, this is not the case for the thousands of youths every year who age out of foster care.

For those who make it to age 18 without permanency, many have never had the experience of forging an attachment to adults. And down the line, Dernier says, the lack of connection to positive adults can “lead to poor social, intimate and professional relationships.”

Training aimed at making those connections with foster parents, Dernier argues, would likely reduce the number of placement disruptions experienced by foster youth.

In Her Own Words

“My journey in foster care was unstable due to unloving caregivers. I had difficulty forming positive relationships with my caregivers, as well as my peers.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

The federal interest in preparing foster parents to do well is embedded in law. The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 decreed that the child welfare plans submitted by states to the Department of Health and Human Services include details on how agencies would ensure foster parents are “prepared adequately with the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide for the needs of the child, and that such preparation will be continued, as necessary, after the placement of the child.”

And the major federal entitlement for foster care, Title IV-E, permits states to seek reimbursement for the training of foster parents.

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2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program

Dernier’s argument is that these efforts to train parents ought to include some form of curriculum that aims to forge an attachment between a foster youth and foster parents. It would be hard to conceive of an argument against that notion, for the exact reason she states. While many foster youth will return home, or get adopted, too many enter adulthood without having made a strong connection or bond with an adult.

Our only question after reading this is to what extent is this sort of curricula absent? Dernier writes that the two most common foster parent recruitment training programs “do not provide ongoing training on how to parent foster youth,” and that the programs “have been criticized for their substantial attention to policies and procedures.”

Both of those training programs – Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting Group Preparation and Selection of Foster and/or Adoptive Families, and the Foster Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education – do include modules on attachment. But the fact that these modules are available does not mean they are widely implemented.

Dernier endorses another program, Staying Connected with Your Teen (SCT), which she describes as having been “rigorously evaluated to promote meaningful connections between the caregiver and foster youth.”

So the lay of the land is that attachment curricula are available, some perhaps unproven, and there is no firm requirement that any of it is used. It seems like some sort of research, federally supported or otherwise, is the first step to determining how many foster parents are receiving an attachment component.

If Dernier’s hypothesis that most do not is correct, then the case for a federal pilot program would be strong.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.