Child Welfare System

In any given year, approximately one million children come to the attention of the US child welfare system. Many are victims of abuse or neglect, live with caregivers who are impaired, and/or deal with school and community violence as a fact of life. Identifying these traumas and providing early intervention are crucial to assisting children traumatized by maltreatment and other stressors. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has developed tools and materials for building skills and increasing knowledge about childhood trauma to help child welfare administrators, caseworkers, frontline staff, other mental health personnel, and caregivers understand and respond to the needs of traumatized children.

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NCTSN Resources

Birth Parents with Trauma Histories and the Child Welfare System
This factsheet series from the Birth Parent Subcommittee of the Child Welfare Committee highlights the importance of understanding the serious consequences that trauma histories can have for birth parents and the subsequent potential impact on their parenting.

Unresolved trauma can negatively affect parents’ coping, parenting, and the ability to interact effectively with the child welfare system. This online course was developed for individuals who work with birth parents involved in the child welfare system. The course focuses on child welfare activities such as investigation and removal, case management, visitation, family conferencing, court hearings, reunification, and termination of parental rights. The first module in the course provides a general introduction to the topic of birth parent trauma, how traumatic exposure can affect thoughts, feeling, and behaviors, and how these play out in day-to-day interactions. Subsequent modules will focus more specifically on the above-mentioned child welfare activities, and provide information and strategies that will help child welfare personnel work more effectively with birth parents.

Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma: A Workshop for Resource Parents (2010)
A workshop designed to provide foster parents, adoptive parents, and other caregivers with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively care for children and teens in foster care who have experienced traumatic stress. Participants learn how trauma-informed parenting can support children's safety, permanency, and well-being; and engage in skill-building exercises to help apply this knowledge to the children in their care. Designed to be taught by a mental health professional and a foster parent as cofacilitators, and presented in seven 2-hour sessions. Includes a facilitator's guide; a participant handbook; and a multipart slide kit.

Child Maltreatment in Military Families: A Fact Sheet for Providers (PDF)
This fact sheet profiles child maltreatment in military families. It reviews for providers the key concepts, findings, and interventions that will support them in their approach to the care of today’s military family.

Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit (2013) 
Helps provide child welfare workers with the basic knowledge, skills, and values essential for working with traumatized children in the child welfare system.

Children's Advocacy Center Directors' Guide to Quality Mental Healthcare
Provides Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) leaders with an increased awareness and understanding of best practice mental health interventions for traumatized children. Contains ten modules focused on helping non-clinicians understand, evaluate, and manage mental health service delivery for CACs. The guide offers a framework that meaningfully addresses the NCA National Standards for Accreditation, Mental Health Standard. These resources were designed to extend and update the information on the purposes and benefits of evidence-based trauma treatments outlined in the original 2008 edition of the CAC Director’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment.

Helping Children in the Child Welfare System Heal from Trauma: A Systems Integration Approach  (2005) (PDF)
A report on the results of a survey conducted among child-serving agencies in a number of states. Primary goal of the survey was to understand how various service systems and agencies communicate with each other about trauma in the children they serve. Also identifies the ways agencies may inadvertently be retraumatizing some children, how they promote a child's healing following a traumatic event, and gaps in communication among agencies and systems. Knowledge gained from the survey can inform the development of training and educational materials to breach the gaps and to improve collaboration.
Using Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice to Improve Placement Stability: Breakthrough Series Collaborative

In September 2012, the NCTSN, with funding from SAMHSA, launched a Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) which focused on developing and implementing trauma-informed child welfare practices that would increase the probability that children who need out-of-home placement remain in a single, appropriate and stable home whenever possible. This BSC included nine teams from around the country, each representing a partnership between the public child welfare agency and a mental health agency or organization that provided evidence-based interventions for child trauma to children in foster care. Each team included administrators, supervisors, case workers, clinicians, a birth parent, a foster parent, and, on occasion, youth. These teams worked together from October 2010 through September 2012 to test, implement, and sustain trauma-informed strategies and practices that showed promise in improving placement stability. The following materials describe the results of their work, highlighting the trauma-informed practices they developed and adapted.

  • Executive Summary – This is a brief summary of the Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice to Improve Placement Stability Breakthrough Series Collaborative.
  • Practice Cards – These cards describe practices tested by teams in the Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice to Improve Placement Stability Breakthrough Series Collaborative. They are considered to be promising approaches to implementing trauma-informed child welfare practice to improve placement stability for children in foster care based on the experiences of the teams.  Each card provides an overview and rationale for a strategy, a description of practices to test, information about its demonstration of promise, and where it was piloted.
  • Full Report – This full report on the Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Practice to Improve Placement Stability Breakthrough Series Collaborative provides detailed information on the need for this work, the project background and overview, key strategies and promising practices related to the following themes knowledge building and developing practice; trauma-informed mental health screening and assessment; case planning and management; externally delivered trauma-informed service; and partnerships among child welfare systems and cross-system collaboration.  The report outlines challenges and lessons learns, provides overall recommendations for testing and implementing trauma-informed promising practices to improve placement stability, and describes opportunities for the future.
  • Appendices – The appendices to this report contain the references to the knowledge base underlying this BSC, information on the participating faculty, briefs on topics from outside expert, the Collaborative Change Framework that was created to guide the BSC, and tools and resources created by the team as they implemented trauma-informed strategies.

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Other Resources

Addressing Secondary Traumatic Stress: Emerging Approaches in Child Welfare (2009)
—In Children's Voice (March/April 2009), a publication of the Child Welfare League of America.

  • Article focuses on how child welfare systems across the country help their staff cope with secondary traumatic stress they experience in their jobs. The work of a number of NCTSN member centers is highlighted.

Child Welfare Information Gateway
—A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health Services.

  • Provides links to resources on trauma in children in the child welfare system, secondary traumatic stress in child welfare workers, and mental health services in disasters and major traumas.

Cosponsored CWLA and NCTSN Webinar Series
Addressing the Needs of Serving Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors (PowerPoint)
Presenters will discuss the needs of unaccompanied immigrant minors, and service provision needs and ideas for this population.

Birth Parent Trauma and What Child WelfareWorkers Need to Know (webinar)
Provide an overview of how trauma experienced by birth parents involved in the child welfare system can impact their engagement with staff, participation in services and likelihood of reaching goals. Offers child welfare providers with information about how to identify and mitigate parents’ trauma responses, and strategies for making their work with parents more trauma-informed and successful.

Improving Outcomes through Effective Screening and Assessment Practices (webinar)
While there has been an increased focus in child welfare settings on screening children for trauma and conducting a trauma-informed mental health assessment, there are challenges to implementation of these practices, such as how to share screening and assessment information with community partners and family members and how to use this information to effectively measure outcomes and support practice. Includes a panel of parents, researchers, clinical administrators, clinicians, and child welfare workers describing challenges related to screening and assessment and discussing strategies to overcome those challenges. Presenters will highlight recommendations for next steps in the field based on lessons learned.


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