Guide on Brain Development Helps Child Welfare Workers Better Support Youth

Posted December 16, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Adolescent brain development is critical to improving child welfare services for young people

A free new cur­ricu­lum, devel­oped with sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, aims to help child wel­fare work­ers and oth­er child-serv­ing pro­fes­sion­als bet­ter sup­port young peo­ple in fos­ter care.

The research-backed resource encour­ages pro­fes­sion­als to forge authen­tic rela­tion­ships with young peo­ple and assist these youth in tak­ing pro­duc­tive risks, try­ing new things, mak­ing deci­sions and sharp­en­ing their life skills.

A new resource root­ed in ado­les­cent brain development

The cur­ricu­lum, cre­at­ed by the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Social Work­ers, builds on two Casey Foun­da­tion resources: 1) The Road to Adult­hood — a report on how the ado­les­cent brain matures and what adults can do to ensure inter­de­pen­dent rela­tion­ships through fos­ter care; and 2) Brain Frames — a series of print­able sci­ence-based hand­outs that help adults sup­port young peo­ple in the areas of per­ma­nen­cy, trau­ma and heal­ing, sta­ble hous­ing, con­nec­tions to school and work and expec­tant and par­ent­ing youth.

Titled Inte­grat­ing Ado­les­cent Brain Devel­op­ment into Child Wel­fare Prac­tice with Old­er Youth, the cur­ricu­lum con­sists of 13 mod­ules. It syn­the­sizes brain sci­ence research with what we know about trau­ma, implic­it bias and rela­tion­ship build­ing to help pro­fes­sion­als work more effec­tive­ly with young peo­ple who expe­ri­ence the child wel­fare system.

Recent research has demon­strat­ed that youth and young adult­hood is a crit­i­cal time of sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­men­tal growth with extra­or­di­nary open­ings for heal­ing and matur­ing,” says Alexan­dra Lohrbach, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive. The research helps us fur­ther under­stand what young peo­ple are expe­ri­enc­ing. It under­scores the impor­tance of part­ner­ing with young peo­ple to make deci­sions togeth­er, nur­tur­ing the rela­tion­ships that they find most mean­ing­ful and pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to exer­cise their autonomy.”

An impor­tant tool for child wel­fare workers

Often­times, young peo­ple in fos­ter care — through no fault of their own — lack con­sis­tent access to sta­ble school­ing, role mod­els and social sup­ports, such as rela­tion­ships with peers, teach­ers and coach­es. Resources like the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Social Worker’s cur­ricu­lum can help prac­ti­tion­ers bet­ter under­stand how to nav­i­gate and elim­i­nate the bar­ri­ers that young peo­ple face on the road to adulthood.

With more than 23,000 young peo­ple aging out of the U.S. fos­ter care sys­tem each year, this research and this new cur­ricu­lum are vital tools for those work­ing hand-in-hand with young peo­ple,” says Leslie Gross, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Initiative.

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