Sometimes scientific discoveries can take years to translate into changes in actual practice. In an important new paper, “Applying the Science of Child Development in Child Welfare Systems”, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University asks the question, “How can we use insights from cutting-edge science to improve the well-being and long-term life prospects of the most vulnerable children in our society?” [i] The paper curates information from multiple studies on child development and recommends changes that will improve the lives of children and families involved in the child welfare system.
Not surprisingly, this paper identifies placement stability as an important component in caring for children in foster care. It explains that creating stable placements is one way to improve foster children’s lives, even into adulthood:
“Child welfare systems can strive to minimize the number of placements experienced by
children and youth in foster care. Abundant evidence shows that placement disruptions are a potent
source of stress and are associated with negative outcomes.” [emphasis in original] [ii]
Placement instability hurts children throughout life, and the reverse is also true. Positive relationships with caring adults can help children weather toxic stress.
“No matter what form of hardship or threats may have been experienced, research shows that the
children who end up doing well are most often those who have had at least one stable and
responsive relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult.” [iii]
Placement stability, then, not only reduces trauma for children; it also provides children with the tools to overcome the difficult situations they face. As child welfare agencies recruit and support foster families, they can empower them to be that protective force in a child’s life. This information also bolsters the argument for allowing foster parents to have an ongoing relationship with children after the placement has ended. Losing a relationship with a trusted loved one is difficult for all of us; imagine how much harder it is for a child with no control and a limited understanding of why that person has disappeared.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that placement disruptions traumatize children in foster care, but it can be difficult for social workers to know exactly how to reduce those moves. At Foster Care Technologies, one of our core tenets is a commitment to providing a placement matching system grounded on child welfare research. The independent research done at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare demonstrated that ECAP significantly improves placement stability for children in care. We work with researchers to take scientific discoveries and implement them into ECAP so social workers can apply them to their work right away.
The Center on the Developing Child’s paper identifies three ways to improve the long-term outcomes of children in foster care.
- Reduce External Sources of Stress
- Develop Responsive Relationships
- Strengthen Core Life Skills [iv]
All of these speak to the importance of stable placements with foster parents who are a good match for each child, and they motivate us at Foster Care Technologies to continue in our work. When we match children with the best available foster families for them, we reduce placement moves, which are extremely stressful for children. Without moving from one placement to another, children can develop positive and responsive relationships with their foster families. Those families can then play an important role in strengthening a child’s life skills. Whether foster parents eventually become permanent adoptive parents or (preferably) support children in the transition back home, they can play an amazing role mentoring children and showing children their value.
We are thankful that the Center on the Developing Child compiled the research to establish these ways to improve outcomes for foster children. We pledge to continue applying research to ECAP’s algorithms and workflows.