What makes treatment foster parents so special?
Is it the training they receive to offer trauma-informed care, or is it helping children learn positive coping skills to deal with stress? Maybe it’s their ability to understand, recognize and respond to the effects of trauma while providing stability and guidance to youth in their care.
So what makes treatment foster parents so special? It’s all of that and more — the patience, empathy and time invested in kids who deserve the chance to have a happy, normal childhood.
In Colorado, social service agencies are introducing a new foster care model for youth who have experienced trauma. Known as treatment foster care (or therapeutic foster care), TFC services provide assistance to manage complex trauma issues stemming from abuse and/or neglect and removal from the home environment. SAFY of Colorado (Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth) is among the first in the state to offer the TFC model and specialized training for treatment foster care parents.
While new to Colorado, other SAFY service locations also offer this level of treatment and foster parent support and training.
Many children within the foster care system have experienced at least one type of trauma, which can affect their ability to develop healthy coping mechanisms and form meaningful attachments to others. Trauma impacts a child’s behavior, feelings, relationships and view of the world, while also affecting those around them.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, from a psychological perspective, trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical well-being. Acute trauma can manifest through a single episode, while chronic trauma involves multiple events over time. Complex trauma occurs when the chronic trauma involves a relationship between the victim and abuser, usually a relative or other trusted adult. Types of child traumatic stress include:
- Community violence
- Complex trauma
- Domestic violence
- Early childhood trauma
- Medical trauma
- Natural disasters
- Physical abuse
- Refugee trauma
- School violence
- Sexual abuse
- Traumatic grief
In addition to the emotional toll, trauma also can interfere with the development of higher brain function, including behavioral responses and learning challenges. With the support of nurturing foster parents and a strong support network, it is possible to help traumatized youth get back on track. Unlearning negative defense mechanisms and rebuilding positive thinking and coping skills take time.
To give our foster parents the best tools to help youth succeed, SAFY provides specialized trauma-informed training to ensure our treatment foster parents understand the impact of trauma and how to help youth in their care. SAFY TFC focuses on youth aged 5-18 for those who really need help and who have not reached their potential through residential treatment. We are filling a gap for kids who deserve a chance to have a normal childhood.
TFC training involves very specific interventions for tough behaviors. Providing emotional security, stability and guidance are first steps toward promoting positive experiences and resilience. SAFY’s Model of Care provides ongoing training, support and weekly clinical visits to wrap our families and youth in support. Other ways SAFY supports TFC is through activity-based therapy such as yoga, painting, playing dress-up or with toys, and time with Tiller, our Animal-Assisted Therapy dog.
SAFY treatment foster care parents complete training over a 10-week period. To start the process, a SAFY recruiter meets with the family. We conduct thorough background checks and complete a home study. Foster parents receive 30 hours of training focused on trauma-informed care. Weekly in-home clinical visits with parents and youth teach stress management and coping skills. Family work is led by the same clinician on a weekly basis to develop the consistency that has been lacking in the lives of many youth. We also offer a 24/7 on-call line at 1-800-532-7239.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network identifies nine essential elements of trauma-informed parenting:
- Recognize the impact trauma has had on the child.
- Help the child to feel safe.
- Help the child to understand and manage overwhelming emotions.
- Help the child to understand and modify problem behaviors.
- Respect and support positive, stable, and enduring relationships
in the life of the child.
- Help the child to develop a strength-based understanding of his or her life story.
- Be an advocate for the child.
- Promote and support trauma-focused assessment and treatment for the child.
- Take care of yourself.
Social services agencies are always in need of foster homes, particularly families who are willing to care for children with special needs, sibling groups and older youth.
“At SAFY, we equate abuse to a child who has experienced a traumatic event in their life, and our clinical staff and foster parents provide what is called trauma-informed care to youth. Trauma-informed care focuses on the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of a child who has experienced abuse or neglect. Some of the methods SAFY clinical staff use are art, play, animal, and yoga therapy just to name a few that help children and families heal from traumatic events in their life,” said Veronica Farris, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer, SAFY of America.
SAFY supports family preservation and/or reunification through multi-generational treatment services as well as treatment foster care. SAFY was founded in 1984, beginning in Ohio, and has continued to be a leading agency specializing in family preservation and reunification, therapeutic foster care, adoption services, older youth services and behavioral health. SAFY is located in nine states and remains a community leader in providing high quality, evidence-based services to children and families.