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Reducing trauma in the foster care system

child outside holding stuffed animal bear

Children entering foster care are experiencing trauma. In Children and Family Services, the Placement Support Team works with children, parents and foster providers to reduce some of the trauma at this critical time.

Supportive relationships and collaborative parenting practices in the child welfare system benefit everyone involved. As we embed this approach in Hennepin County, we’re seeing changes that improve children’s well-being and support families in reunification.

Immeasurable value of comfort calls and icebreaker meetings

Practices such as initial foster care phone calls and icebreaker meetings between parents and foster providers are leading to increased communication and strengthened relationships – and heartening moments of connection.

“We just get to lift people up,” says Placement Support Team worker Jess Bradshaw.

For example, Bradshaw facilitated one phone call where the foster provider reassured Mom: “You have done so much right. You can tell these kids are so loved, and I’m going to love them, too.”

Following an icebreaker meeting on a different case, another foster provider said she felt an instant, empathetic connection to the young mom in front of her.

“Truly, truly, it brings home the ‘why,’” she said. “It’s not just the kids, it’s the family. It’s that parent.”

When parents are comfortable knowing who is taking care of their children and can have visits sooner and more frequently, they can focus on what they need to do to reunify. Sometimes, the parent and foster provider relationship even outlasts their involvement in child protection.

One mom shared how the foster provider who cared for her son continues to be part of their life, even after they were safely reunified. Her son and his former foster provider see each other weekly.

“I feel like that’s his other mom,” she said.

Cultural connections and concrete supports

Another of the Placement Support Team’s priorities is helping meet immediate needs of kids entering foster care, and the providers caring for them.

For a group of three siblings, Bradshaw retrieved a shared and sacred comfort item: their dad’s “star quilt,” gifted to them after he had passed away. Star quilts are an important spiritual and cultural tradition in the children’s tribe, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The star represents a link between spirits and the earth, with star quilts used to mark life’s milestones – naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals.

“Make sure the foster parents know this blanket needs to stay safe and with the kids,” their grandmother told Bradshaw.

When children must be separated from their parents, our goal is to reduce trauma by placing them with relatives. The Placement Support Team helps stabilize those placements by connecting relatives with concrete supports. This might include initial necessities such as food or bedding, and as well as longer-term services.

Such support can also make it possible for relatives to take in entire sibling groups, as was the case for one aunt caring for four nieces and nephews. Keeping siblings together is another way to reduce trauma for children in foster care.

Hennepin County is a member of the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), a national movement for foster care change.

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in Health.

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