Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Fostering Solutions: Bringing Brief-Therapy Principles and Practices to the Child Welfare System

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Fostering Solutions: Bringing Brief-Therapy Principles and Practices to the Child Welfare System

Article excerpt

This article describes a 15-month university-community collaboration that was designed to fast-track children out of foster care. The developers of the project initiated resource-oriented "systems facilitations," allowing wraparound professionals and families to come together in large meetings to solve problems and find solutions. Families also participated in strength-based brief-therapy sessions. The authors describe the history, structure, and process of the project, and they provide a case study to illustrate the approach and exemplify the kinds of changes that occurred throughout the system. In the final section of the article, the authors reflect on what they learned about their university-community partnership, what they would do differently the next time, and the implications of such larger-system involvements for American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's Core Competencies.

Every year, state social service agencies remove thousands of American children from their homes (Badeau & Gesiriech, 2003), hoping to find safe haven for victims of parental abuse, neglect, or both. Constrained by too few resources, too much red tape, and a mandate to protect children from their families (Shimabukuro, 2005), agency staff take such action under the scrutiny of a watchful and critical public eye. Inevitably, some children who should be removed are not, others are subsequently abused in foster care settings that are as bad as, or worse than, the original family home, and still others eddy in the foster care system for months or years longer than necessary.

In 2004, with seed money from a government-sponsored agency in our state, we (faculty and students at Nova Southeastern University [NSU]), along with colleagues1 at a local division of a state organization, launched a pilot program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, designed to fasttrack children out of foster care. Named "Jumpstart to Permanency," the program was designed to bring systemic understanding and brief-therapy principles and practices to logjammed cases, intervening at various levels of the child welfare system and helping parents either regain or relinquish their parental rights.

Our involvement in the program lasted for 15 months, during which we succeeded in helping 19 families reunite with their children - families who, prior to our getting involved, had been caught up in the foster care system for between 1 and 12 years. We also helped three couples make the decision to terminate their parental rights, giving their children an opportunity to move out of foster care and into a permanent relationship with adoptive parents.

As cultural outsiders and experts in initiating change in families and systems, we were able to bring fresh ideas and innovative solutions to the project. However, if our outsider perspective was an asset at times, our concomitant naïveté was a hindrance. We did not understand, for example, the labyrinthine processes and limitations in obtaining and retaining funding, and thus we did not anticipate some of the logistical difficulties we encountered once we started achieving success.

Our participation in Jumpstart taught us much about what works - and what does not - in effecting change in larger systems. This article describes the structure and functioning of the project, using a case study to illustrate the approach and to exemplify the kinds of changes the participants were able to make.2 In the final portion of the article, we discuss the complexities involved in endeavors of this sort, and, detailing both the frustrations and possibilities involved in fostering solutions in foster care, we discuss the lessons we learned from our involvement, lessons that we hope will benefit others interested in embarking on similar universitycommunity collaborations.

THE CRISIS IN FOSTER CARE

Several factors led to a dramatic increase in the number of children being placed in foster care in the 1990s. …

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