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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

June 2012 Archives

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One of the practice issues that has been rarely talked about in academic, research or policy arenas that impact children that have been institutionalized or in foster care is the issue of eating behaviors.

It is quite common for children who have been neglected or for those who have experienced food insecurity, institutionalization in foreign countries or housing instability to have learned survival skills related to eating that may be difficult for foster and adoptive caregivers to manage.

Eating issues may be manifested in overeating, extreme pickiness, undereating, and hoarding. In addition, ideas about mealtimes may be very different for children who have had to learn to fight for food, were given limited options for food, or were not part of families or settings that had rules about eating (such as sitting at a table together, etc.).

Sometimes foster and adoptive caregivers end up inadvertently adding to the stress a child may have about food and mealtimes because they expect the child to understand that now food availability is no longer an issue or because meal time is expected (from the caregiver's view) to be a time of family sharing. Children that have experienced food insecurity or institutionalized meal times will not automatically understand the change, emotionally or behaviorally, once they move to a stable family setting.

Several years ago based on experiences as a case worker, I searched for research or practice guidance around this issue. At the time there was very little available. I finally wrote an article for Minnesota Adoption Resource Network (MARN) about this issue (click here for article), and I was excited to see that MN Adopt will be hosting a training on this topic on July 17, 2012.

From the training description:

Nurturing Feeding: Promoting Recovery from Eating Issues in Traumatized Children with Elizabeth Jackson, MS, RD, LD in Bloomington, MN

Children who have come from foster care or orphanages often have serious issues around found. This might take on the form of stealing or hoarding food, refusing to eat certain foods or developing a clinical eating disorder. Elizabeth Jackson provides participants a deeper look into food issues from infancy to adolescence. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Feeding during infancy and its impact on development of attachment patterns
  • Research on how trauma and neglect at all ages impact a child's eating habits and growth
  • Overview of Satter's Division of Responsibility that defines the optimal feeding relationship between adult caregivers and children of all ages
  • Treatment options for children and youth with habitual habits of hoarding and stealing food and eating disorders
Elizabeth Jackson, MS, RD, LD is an outpatient dietitian at Melrose Institute in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a large, multidisciplinary eating disorder treatment facility with five levels of care. In January 2008, Elizabeth published her findings from years of successful group treatment of compulsive eating in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. She relocated to Minnesota in 2001 after 19 years in private practice in Michigan specializing in eating disorders and treatment of child feeding and eating issues. Elizabeth also developed curriculum and taught for eight years on eating disorders at Central Michigan University. Additionally, from 2002-2010, she was a clinical faculty member with the Ellyn Satter Institute, speaking and conducting workshops on child feeding and weight regulation throughout the U.S. and Canada.

For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

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Dispelling myths about open adoption

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We all know that the media often sensationalizes adoption - either portraying adoption as only bubbles and sunshine without addressing loss, grief, trauma and attachment concerns or conversely, negatively focusing on those cases of extreme behaviors on the part of either adopted children and youth or adoptive parents.

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Discussions about adoption in the media, as in the Today Show clip above [topic begins at 2:15] where three panelists, the "Today's Professionals" as NBC calls them, often do a poor job of disseminating information about adoption. In a few short minutes, these three panelists promote a practice that is considerably out of touch with how adoptions are routinely practiced today. They also promote a practice that is much more about adoptive parent needs, not the child's needs.

Kathleen Silber, Associate Executive Director of the Independent Adoption Center (IAC) discusses the disservice this segment does in the current practice paradigm of advocating for open adoptions rather than closed adoptions. Kathleen shares her critique in a SF Gate article as well as on the IAC Open Adoption blog.

Kathleen states:

Well honestly, it feels like a step back into the dark ages, where closed adoption was still the norm. A lot has changed in adoption over the years. It's generally accepted knowledge now that an open adoption arrangement is not only healthier for the adoptees, but for the families as well. What's shocking about the commentary on the Today Show is actually how archaic those views are - it's hard to believe people are still advocating something that's known to not be good practice.

All three panelists - one an adoptive parent and two who are "considering" adopting in the future - promote an insecurity about "real parents" and fears of birth parents having too much influence in an adopted child's life. Yet, Nancy Snyderman, who is an adoptive parent, admits that her adopted daughter sought out her birth parents as an adult. It would have been more balanced if there had been a voice advocating for the benefits of open adoption on this panel as well. It's unfortunate that millions of people watching the Today Show will be misinformed about adoption and for those that may be considering adopting, will see closed adoption as normal and expected. Worse, they may insist on closed adoption because they have come to expect closed adoption as being better for them.

Perhaps these three professionals would benefit from the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate program?

North American Council on Adoptable Children conference

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The North American Council on Adoptable Children will hold its 38th annual conference in Crystal City, VA on July 25-28, 2012.

This year's theme, Celebrating Families: Valuable Lessons from Children, Parents and Professionals, begins with a pre-session workshop with Dr. Bruce Perry, noted expert on child trauma. Dr. Perry is a Senior Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy and his research on integrating developmental neuroscience and child development with children who have experienced maltreatment is highly regarded.

In addition to the wonderful sessions and presentations available at the conference, our own work at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare with our Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate will be highlighted in a presentation with all the other sites that are implementing the Training on Adoption Competency curriculum developed by the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

Our presentation description:

Building an Adoption Competent Mental Health Workforce: Moving from Development to National Replication

Join the Center for Adoption Support and Education and leaders from replication sites in California, Minnesota and North Carolina to learn about the development, implementation and evaluation of a multi-year national initiative -- Training for Adoption Competency. Site representatives will describe their experiences in implementing the training and building community-based, adoption competent clinical services. Lessons learned will be shared to help others implement evidence informed adoption competency training for mental health and child welfare professionals.

Debbie Riley, The Center for Adoption Support and Education, Maryland • Edythe Swidler, Lilliput Children's Services, California • JaeRan Kim, Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, University of Minnesota • Janine Szymanski, Family NET of Catawba County, North Carolina

For more information about the NACAC Conference and to download the session program, click here or visit the NACAC website.

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MN Adopt is offering a training series, Beyond Consequences Training and Support - 8-part Series with Brenda Benning, MSW, LGSW.

This training series will provide insight into children's behaviors as well as hands-on skills to help parents work with children that have experienced traumatic histories. The series is based on the book "Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control" by Heather T. Forbes.

Dates begin Tuesday, July 10th. For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

When multiple caregivers fight to adopt

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for siblings3.jpgA story by Gail Rosenblum was published today in the StarTribune that is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon a scenario in the child welfare system these days.

Tomorrow, the MN Court of Appeals will hear arguments on behalf of two families that want to raise two young girls that have been in foster care.

We often say that a child can never have too many adults in their lives who love them, but what if these adults are fighting over who gets to claim parenting rights?

This case brings up many issues that permanency workers and families struggle with when making permanency decisions. When I read this article, I had the following questions:


  • Was the grandparent given the opportunity to be the foster parent?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward the extended relatives of these children? (I once had a county worker tell me, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" regarding placing children with extended relatives)

  • Whose responsibility was it to ensure the grandparent's information was being submitted, particularly since it turns out Mississippi did not send her information to MN?

  • Why was Minnesota allowed to withdraw its request for the grandparent to adopt based on "frustration over lack of communication?" What follow up could or should the agency have had when this happened?

  • What recourse do families have when agencies fail to communicate and/or advocate on their behalf?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward moving the children across state lines?

  • Was there racial bias, as the foster parents are white and the grandparent is black?

  • Was the county agency afraid of violating the MultiEthnic Placement Act/InterEthnic Provisions?

  • Have all the adults in this issue (foster parents and biological grandmother) discussed what an open adoption and/or open relationship would look like? Would the foster family, if they adopted, be willing to facilitate having the grandparent in an active role in the girl's lives?

  • Why wasn't there more effort to emphasize an open relationship that truly shows that there are never too many adults who can love a child?

For the full story, see the Star Tribune's article here.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has just released a Committee Opinion on Adoption.

This statement aims to provide a discussion about the role of and challenges for obstetrician-gynecologists in working with women seeking medical assistance related to fertility, pregnancy and childbirth.

The Committee on Ethics of the Ameican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists make the following recommendations in their document:


  • Physicians have a responsibility to provide information about adoption to appropriate patients. The information provided should be accurate and as free as possible of personal bias and opinions.

  • A physician's primary responsibility in caring for a woman considering adoption is to her and not to the prospective adoptive parents.

  • Physicians should be aware of adoption resources in their areas and refer patients to licensed adoption agencies.

  • When physicians complete medical screening forms for prospective adoptive parents, the physician's role is to provide truthful, accurate information to screening agencies.

  • Because of ethical issues related to undue influence, competing obligations, and lack of expertise, physicians should not serve as brokers of adoptions.
For more, click here for the full statement.

Minnesota's Department of Human Services has issued a bulletin that summarizes the changes made to the adoption assistance program from the 2012 legislative session. Some of the major highlights and changes are noted below. For a more in-depth review, please read the actual bulletin.

  • All statutes and rules pertaining to adoption assistance can now be found in Chapter 259A:
    • "Unless otherwise stated, the content is largely a restatement and clarification of existing policies and procedures."
  • Eligibility requirements have been clarified in order to comply with federal regulations;
  • The age of a child is removed as a barrier to adoption;
  • Parents must be asked if they are willing to adopt a child without Adoption Assistance;
  • Parents with "barrier crimes" are no longer eligible to receive Adoption Assistance;
  • Stepparents & relatives are now excluded from Adoption Assistance (with exceptions);
  • Eligibility & reimbursements for special nonmedical expenses have changed slightly;
  • Children must be 21 (not 22) or less now in order to obtain a termination or extension of an Adoption Assistance Agreement;
  • New policies related to reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses have been added, such as the ineligibility of children who are not U.S. citizens or residents and who were part of an international adoption;
  • Adoption services reimbursable by the commissioner will no longer include those involving children under guardianship of a private agency; and
  • Reimbursements may only be made for child-specific adoption placement services, which do not include recruitment services.

If you are interested in learning more about this new legislation, DHS staff will provide a VPC (virtual presence communication) training on this topic on Monday, July 23, 2012, from 9am to 12pm. Registration is through TrainLink, and handouts will be available prior to the training date.

To subscribe to future MN DHS bulletins, visit their bulletins webpage.

The Exchange: Focusing on Outcomes for Youth: Permanent ConnectionsThe National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth have focused their latest edition of The Exchange on permanency connections for youth.

The issues focuses on helping youth who are homeless/runaway connect, build, and improve their permanent connections - that is, a stable living situation that these youth are not afraid of having to leave, with connected relationships (including but not limited to family, friends, mentors and other significant relationships).

To read the issue of The Exchange, click here.

In-depth report on the family court system in New York

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If you haven't had a chance to visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website and subscribe to their news feeds and links, I would strongly recommend it. This is an invaluable resource for child welfare workers, supervisors, foster and adoptive parents, students, researchers and policymakers. Click here for the list of email subscriptions for which you can sign up.

Each week I receive newsletters from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, and they are full of links to news stories, research articles, and other online resources. The following is a great example of a story I would likely have missed otherwise:

Reporter Helen Zelon from City Limits, an independent investigative news organization, spent several months observing and speaking with people involved with family court in New York state to understand how the family court system works. Her work resulted in an in-depth report that addresses many of the issues that child welfare workers know intimately - working with families in crisis, children adrift in the foster care system, the juvenile justice system, overburdened case workers and court dockets.

This entire series is worth reading. Here are descriptions of each of the chapters in Zelon's report along with the link to the story:

  • From Mom to Not in Seven Minutes: Inside Family Court - City Limits spent months observing Family Court and found an overburdened system where delays were endemic, legal help was scarce and the approach to solving family problems was divided.
  • When Delays Dominate, Kids Lose: Chapter two of our Family Court investigation focuses on the courtrooms that handle custody and child support, where many people try to navigate complex legal lingo without a lawyer, and where running out the clock can be a weapon in warfare between parents.
  • Blurred Lines Between Advocates and Adversaries: All parties in Family Court are supposed to be fighting for the welfare of the child. But chapter 3 of our Family Court investigation finds that in the adversarial format of a courtroom, players sometimes take on conflicting roles.
  • Juvenile Justice System Excludes Many Youthful Wrongdoers: New York's juvenile justice system is the target of reform efforts. But to some critics, it's the fact that New York State tries so many teens outside of juvenile court that most needs reform. Chapter 4 in our Family Court investigation.
  • React, Reform, Repeat: A Round of Change Faces Family Court: In chapter 5 of our investigation of New York City Family Court, we look at past reform efforts and survey judges, lawyers, advocates and parents on how they think the system could be improved.
  • A Separate System with Special Rules: A lower threshold for judgment, different standards of evidence, a shift in the burden of proof and no Fifth Amendment protection--these and other features of Family Court set it apart from the rest of the legal system.
  • Kinship Approach Shows Promise: New York recently began trying to get more children who were removed from their homes placed in guardianship relationships with other relatives. While there are potential pitfalls, the approach can save time and money.
  • Q&A with Family Court's Top Judge: A conversation with Edwina Richardson-Mendelson a one-time lawyer and then a courtroom judge in Family Court who now oversees the city's system.

Finding permanency & stability through supportive housing

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iStock_000005318605Large.jpgOn Friday, CASCW co-sponsored a reflective seminar that discussed the role of supportive housing in child welfare practice. I thought this seminar was particularly relevant to this blog, as recent research from CASCW has shown that supportive housing can greatly reduce incidences of involvement in child protection and out-of-home care, thereby increasing a child's chances of permanency and stability. These are some highlights from the seminar.

Definitions of supportive housing

Adult: Permanent, affordable, independent, with flexible (and voluntary) service integration (though services are not a condition of the lease agreement, clients following a case plan must participate).

Youth: Can be host homes, transitional living programs, or permanent housing; services are not voluntary, include youth development, activities, case management, and independent living skills. Also have rules and requirements.

Supportive housing services are also "sticky" in that case managers stay with clients regardless of the system in which they are involved, e.g. child protective services. They also help clients coordinate services among various systems, such as between child protection case manager and psychiatrist.

Issues to consider: Homelessness and older youth

According to Stephanie Harms, Chief of Staff of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, it's important to include (multiple) housing plans in a youth's SELF plan. Older youth may be more eager to leave the 'system' than to think about the very real possibility of homelessness. Unless that child's family had been homeless at one point, the reality of 'homelessness' may not be fully understood.

beth homeless youth.PNGAlso, an issue arises when one considers how funds received dictate service provision. For example, the federal definition of 'homelessness' does not include instances of substandard or inadequate housing. As Beth Holger-Ambrose put it, when you have to weigh the difference between a kid with no roof over her head versus someone living in a Port-a-Potty in Loring Park, the former will be more likely to be considered for programming because the latter at least has a roof over her head.

Permanency & stability through supportive housing

The concept of supportive housing can work to ensure that families stay together by providing low-income, vulnerable families with often-permanent subsidized housing while extending needed services at the same time. This in turn leads to both permanency and stability for the children in said families. Additionally, for those youth aging out of care, youth supportive housing can work to provide stability in an otherwise potentially tumultuous time in the lives of these youth, as they adjust to living on their own.

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