Building lifelong connections for children in foster care
For many of us, the concept of finding family members often involves searching on a genealogy site or signing up for an at-home DNA testing kit. There is an element of fun and intrigue, inspiring individuals to better understand their family roots. For many young children and teens in foster care, however, locating family members isn’t a pastime, but a necessity for daily living. These connections will help them grow and thrive.
Recently, more than 100 child welfare professionals in Kansas participated in the Family Finding Boot Camp, led by child and family welfare expert Kevin Campbell. Aetna Better Health of Kansas, the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF), and Casey Family Programs sponsored the four-day event. As the founder of the Family Finding model, Campbell spoke about key methods and strategies to locate and engage relatives of children currently living in out-of-home care. The goal of Family Finding is to connect each child with a family or a “network” (blood relative or not), so that every child may benefit from the lifelong connections that a family would typically provide.
Healing Children and Families
Over the years of developing Family Finding, Campbell found that most foster children have a large extended family, and if they could connect with five to eight adults who would make a “permanent relational commitment” to the child, it could change outcomes significantly.
“The training is really about how do you heal children who have had such harm done to them? And how do you heal the whole family? Because this kind of generational experience has to stop somewhere,” said Campbell.
Kellie Hans Reid, foster care coordinator with Aetna Better Health of Kansas, affirmed, “Research shows that traumatic experiences affect children’s health, like metabolic and cardiac health. We also know that we build our lifelong health in childhood. Yet, if we start early enough, there is so much we can do to alleviate the effects of childhood trauma, prevent reoccurrences, and hopefully improve long-term health and disease outcomes.”
Expanding Safety Networks
During the boot camp, Campbell empowered attendees with information on how each of them can help extend the overall safety networks of the children they work with — meaning family, friends or acquaintances that genuinely care about the child and who can serve as a relational resource. Campbell also discussed how to facilitate a community of unconditional love and healing to combat and lower the toxic stress and loneliness these children and their families are experiencing — improving mental and physical health outcomes.
Organized into 27 teams, social welfare professionals collaborated throughout the week to apply the Family Finding model to their current cases. Based on a series of criteria, they prioritized the children who were their biggest worry. By the end of the training, participants reported locating an average of 19 contacts per child, for a total of 500 contacts across all teams combined — this was an increase of 84 percent from the beginning of the week. This number broke the American record for the average number of relatives identified in a Family Finding Boot Camp, which typically averages 14 connections per child.
Attendees expressed how the boot camp training had an immediate impact on their practice with families and their individual outlook. Sample words used to describe experiences included: hopeful, moved, excited, inspired, connected, empowered, optimistic, transformative, motivated, challenged, refreshed, and appreciative, among others.
Looking to the Future
“This work has huge implications for connection, healing, improved health outcomes and combating loneliness in Kansas and beyond, potentially reducing the reliance on foster homes and congregate care,” said Josh Boynton, a member of the Medicaid Growth team focused on complex populations strategy.
David Livingston, CEO of Aetna Better Health of Kansas, added, “This week’s Family Finding training represented preliminary efforts to empower local communities to take action and create meaningful changes in the lives of young individuals. As we look ahead to 2020 planning efforts, our goal is to continue investing both significant time and resources to improve the health and wellbeing of children and their families throughout Kansas.”
About Aetna Better Health of Kansas
Aetna Better Health of Kansas believes that members should have the opportunity to be leaders in their care. Aetna Better Health uses a model of care management that empowers members to decide what their health goals are, and then the plan works with them, their families, providers and caregivers to help them achieve their goals. The payoff to our members comes in the form of increased quality of care and quality of life. Aetna Better Health services individuals who qualify for KanCare in the State of Kansas.
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