Research project aims to help foster children

Elizabeth Huang

Foster children and potential adoptive families can encounter many difficulties during the adoption process, but UT is part of a research project that is trying to make things easier.

UT is one institution involved in the Quality Improvement Center for Adoption & Guardianship Support and Preservation, which develops models of support to achieve permanency for foster children when they can’t be reunited with their birth families. Other organizations involved in the five-year project include Spaulding for Children in Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The child welfare system has shifted focus from foster care to providing children with permanent homes, creating a need for centers like this one, said Mark Testa, a professor at the University of North Carolina and member of the project team.

“Years ago we didn’t understand much about trauma and brain development,” Testa said. “We thought if we made sure that kids were well fed and had a place to sleep they could handle life on their own. We’ve now come to realize the importance of permanent homes for children as they go into adulthood past their 18th year.”

Nancy Rolock, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and project member, said the Center implements programs that contact families to see how they’re doing and offer services to help prevent children from returning to foster care.

The Center has selected eight different sites, including sites in North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Nebraska to assess different program models, program director Melinda Lis said.

Monica Faulkner, a UT research associate professor who works on the project, said the Texas site studies how potentially permanent placements, such as kids living with a relative, could become permanent.

“Texas has two interventions. One is a parent training program where we are trying to teach them skills in parenting children who’ve experienced trauma and helping then work through behavioral problems,” Faulkner said. “The other is working with case workers to help give them more tools to talk to families about parenting a child who has experienced trauma.”

Faulkner said the University and Texas as a whole are committed to helping children in foster care.

“It’s great for us at UT to be involved in what’s happening,” Faulkner said. “The fact that Texas is involved in the child welfare system really speaks to the fact that we are trying to be proactive in getting kids into a better place.”