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KVC Health Systems

KVC Health Systems, NYU and Annie E. Casey Foundation Help States Train Foster Parents on Childhood Trauma

It’s no secret that many children and teenagers served by the child welfare system have experienced childhood trauma. In this country, over 400,000 children have had reported cases of abuse and neglect and are removed from their homes each year. But for many professionals and caregivers, knowing how to help children deal with and heal from the damaging effects of childhood traumatic stress has been less clear… until now.

A new initiative funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, Md. is aimed at bringing the latest training on helping youth who have experienced childhood traumatic stress to public child welfare agencies across the U.S. and the relatives and foster parents who care for children on their behalf.

Kelly McCauley, Director of Evidence-Informed Initiatives for KVC Health Systems

Kelly McCauley, Director of Evidence-Informed Initiatives for KVC Health Systems

The training curriculum was written by Kelly McCauley, LSCSW, Director of Evidence-Informed Initiatives at KVC Health Systems, a not-for-profit child welfare and behavioral healthcare organization based in the Kansas City area. KVC is responsible for more than 7,000 youth in foster families in Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky and West Virginia. In the last five years, the organization has gained recognition for its leadership in integrating trauma-informed care into child welfare and related systems. By partnering with Dr. Glenn Saxe of New York University’s Child Study Center and adapting his Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) into workbooks for child welfare staff and foster parents, KVC successfully trained every professional and caregiver that comes into contact with children in the child welfare system. While it may seem obvious that children in foster care are those who most need trauma-informed care, the latest proven-effective trauma treatment approaches had not reached this particular population until KVC adapted the research specifically for them.

The partnership between KVC and Dr. Saxe led to the creation of the NYU/KVC Midwest Trauma Training Center, which has trained thousands of professionals over the past few years. The Center is connected to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network through a grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Professionals working in physical and mental health, child welfare, and the education and juvenile justice systems have all benefited from an increased understanding of what child trauma is and how they can help youth who have experienced it.

Now the Annie E. Casey Foundation is looking to bring the combined knowledge and experience of NYU and KVC to public child welfare agencies across the country. KVC has been asked to travel to states and train agency staff how to, in turn, train relative families and foster parents to help children who have been experienced trauma. The training centers on a new batch of curriculum that emphasizes interactive, hands-on activities that will ensure caregivers learn and practice skills that are critical in family moments ranging from the mundane to crisis situations. While the curriculum is still in a pilot stage and has not been tested or evaluated, there are high hopes for its effectiveness.

McCauley led both the original adaptation of Trauma Systems Therapy to the child welfare population and the development of the new training curriculum.

“We have data on how effective trauma-informed care has been with children served by the child welfare system,” said McCauley. “Trauma-informed care, which is based on the latest neuroscience, takes into account that trauma like abuse or neglect often disrupts healthy child development. By having this unique approach, we can give children and their caregivers the skills needed to transform brain chemistry and neural pathways that help regulate emotions, develop effective coping strategies, foster healthy relationships and support critical decision-making. This is valuable information to get out to public child welfare agencies and everyone involved in caring for vulnerable youth.”

The program is beginning with a pilot project in Maryland and Ohio. Following a successful initial implementation, KVC experts will then travel to public agencies throughout the U.S. to share the curriculum using a “train the trainers” approach.

In the near future, KVC hopes the knowledge of how to help children who have experienced trauma will be as widespread as the problem of trauma itself.

“We are confident that trauma-informed care is the key to unlocking the brain development and the potential of each child,” said McCauley. “We’ve seen it time and again in the children we serve, and are eager to share this information with others to benefit thousands of children in the U.S. and beyond.”

Learn more about KVC’s expertise in preventing and treating childhood trauma here.