University of Vermont Professor Jessica Strolin-Goltzman is in the process of interpreting years of research and data that has the potential to make a significant impact on the lives of children and families across Vermont. 

Now closing out its final year, Dr. Strolin-Goltzman’s Placement Stability Project (PSP) is a federally funded implementation grant that aims to improve the placement stability and social-emotional well-being for children and youth in foster care. 

Made possible by a $2.5 million grant to UVM funded by the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the project aims to address Vermont’s high rates of congregate care and poor placement stability rates for children in foster care. To accomplish this, the strategy involves increasing the capacity of the workforce and foster caregivers to appropriately address complex trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and trauma-related behavioral healthcare needs.

Wide-ranging objectives of the 6-year project include implementing trauma-informed workforce development and training, trauma-informed foster caregiver training, supports and mentoring, strengths-based screening, assessment, and progress monitoring, and interagency collaboration and case planning.  

“By providing the workforce in child welfare and mental health the knowledge and skills related to resilience and trauma-informed practice, we elevate the professionalization of the child-serving system, improve professional self-efficacy, and hopefully child and family outcomes,” described Strolin-Goltzman.  

In collaboration with Laurie Brown, LICSW, and Jennifer Jorgenson, Team Lead for the Kin, Foster and Adoptive Families (KFAF) training team in the UVM's Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership (CWTP), the PSP project team developed a series of 12 online modules designed to provide a foundational knowledge for trauma-informed and adoption-competent practices. Over 2,200 participants accessed the models, with over 300 completing the entire fundamentals curriculum. These resources are currently available on the CWTP website.  

Together with Jorgenson and Associate Professor Haley Woodside-Jiron, Strolin-Goltzman also launched a new graduate course sequence in Trauma-Informed, Resilience, and Interprofessional Practice. The course is designed for teachers, social workers, counselors, and other health and human services professionals. Originally the course sequence began under a different name (The Academy for Trauma-informed Practice) but has since transitioned into a full 9-credit graduate course sequence that is stackable into a Master’s or Doctoral degree. 

Findings from a study of the course content were recently published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, and provide evidence suggesting a positive relationship between completing the course content and improved professional self-efficacy and job outcome expectations. The course sequence is an example of how UVM implements a teacher-scholar model where faculty are infusing their research findings into their teaching. 

In addition to the education and training of Vermont’s workforce, Strolin-Goltzman, Nicole Breslend, Abby Hemenway, Valerie Wood and others investigated secondary traumatic stress among the child welfare and children’s mental health workforce. 

In a recent study of Vermont’s workforce, they discovered that trauma was not limited to the resource parents and the children in their care. High levels of turnover and secondary traumatic stress (STS) were found amongst mental health workers and those working in child welfare, and STS levels correlated with three significant findings: the levels of interprofessional collaboration, having supportive leadership and clear supervision, and the degree to which workers were trained and educated related to understanding trauma and applying stress management strategies. This research will be submitted for publication this fall.

The PSP also focused on providing trauma-informed training, support and mentoring to the foster caregivers (herein called resource parents) across the state. This began with piloting the original Resource Parent Curriculum (RPC), a workshop developed to educate caregivers on the effects of trauma on children developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in 2013. However, feedback from Vermont resource parents conveyed that the curriculum was too theoretical with a lack of embedded concrete strategies to help manage intense behavioral challenges stemming from the trauma. 

As a result, the training team led by Jorgenson and Amy Bielawski-Branch collaborated with Psychology Professor Rex Forehand, Breslend, and Strolin-Goltzman to adapt the RPC to add TIPS (Trauma-Informed Parenting Skills), which added a behavioral parenting component to the curriculum.  

They then continued to augment the RPC+TIPS with a mobile app to enhance the transfer of learning, with the help of a UVM REACH grant. The app includes flashcards for caregivers to practice different scenarios dealing with prevention and early intervention, an opioid module, a mindfulness component with deep-breathing exercises and a guided visualization, goal-setting strategies, as well as a weekly assessment of a child’s behavior positive (CBP).

“So often what we do in human service research is ask parents to look for and report on a child’s negative behaviors and what that does is enhance those negative behaviors," Strolin-Goltzman said. “Instead, what we are doing is using a positive behavior measure that helps parents and caregivers shift to identify positive behaviors and look for what their children are doing well rather than paying attention to, and counting, their ‘problem’ behaviors. We need to teach our parents to water the things they want to see grow.”

A recent publication on the technology-enhanced training intervention can be found in Children and Youth Services Review.

Since its implementation, over 300 foster kin and adoptive caregivers have completed the RPC+ in Vermont, and the initial results are extremely encouraging. Of the surveyed resource parents, 97% who completed the training stated that they were better equipped to meet their child’s needs, and 97% claimed that they were less likely to ask for a change in placement for the child in their care. Additionally, the use of RPC+ resulted in significant reductions in child stress and anxiety and behavioral problems and increases in prosocial behaviors. The next steps for the app include updates and a separate training intervention for birth parents. 

In the past two years alone, their findings have been published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, the Journal of Technology in Human Services, Children and Youth Services Review, APSAC Advisor, the Journal of Child and Family Studies, and Young Exceptional Children monograph #17. Most recently, members of Strolin-Goltzman’s team, including Breslend and Allie Sullivan, presented findings at the 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma Across the Lifespan in San Diego this past September.

The work and data assessment continues, but Vermont is one of the few trauma grantees successfully linking screening, assessment, and progress monitoring data with actual child outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being, a testimony to the tireless efforts of Strolin-Goltzman and her colleagues.

“It’s not about trauma, and we don’t want to focus on trauma,” Strolin-Goltzman said. “It’s about enhancing resilience by building strengths and utilizing natural supports surrounding a child and family to improve well-being.” 

 

PUBLISHED

11-05-2019
Kate Whitney