Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens: Permanency outcomes of a mentoring intervention for teens with child welfare involvement

Taussig, H.N., Bender, K., Bennett, R., Combs, K.M., Fireman, O., Wertheimer, R. (2019). Mentoring for Teens with Child Welfare Involvement: Permanency Outcomes from a Randomized Controlled Trial of the Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens Program. Child Welfare 97(5), 1-24.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • With more and more children entering their teenage years, there is a greater demand for evidence-based practices that will support them.
  • Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) is a mentoring and skills group program geared towards pre-adolescent youths who recently entered the foster care system.
  • Although FHF promotes positive youth development, its targeted population left out older youths who are involved in child welfare.
  • The Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens (FHF-T) program is an adapted version of FHF and is a 30-week mentoring intervention that serves maltreated teens who have open child welfare cases.
  • This study a) assesses the acceptability of FHF-T among youths and their families with child welfare involvement and; b) assesses whether their adapted intervention for teens leads to higher permanency levels.
  • Findings show that a non-stigmatizing, positive youth development-focused approach can also lead to permanency.
  • Many teens and parents engaged in and were satisfied with FHF-T.
  • Youth-reported case closures increased by 7 times 2.5 years post-baseline after controlling for covariates.
  • Future studies need to assess the mechanisms that lead to program permanency.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study reports preliminary permanency findings of the Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens program, a 30-week mentoring intervention for maltreated teenagers with open child welfare cases. Participants included 245 8th and 9th graders who were randomized to intervention or control conditions. The program evidenced high rates of engagement and satisfaction. There were few statistically significant differences between intervention/ control groups on baseline risk factors, yet, after controlling for covariates, intervention youth had 7 times the odds of attaining permanency at long-term follow-up.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study first sought to examine whether an adaptation of the evidence-based preteen program, Fostering Healthy Futures, would be engaging and acceptable for adolescents and their families with child welfare involvement. The adapted intervention, Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens (FHF-T), demonstrated high rates of program engagement, completion, and youth/parent satisfaction. Although over half of the youth were living at home at the time of recruitment, we evidenced an 80% recruitment rate for this voluntary study. Over four fifths of those randomized to the intervention began the program, and there was a median attendance rate of over 80%. Despite many risk factors for poor engagement, there was a high attendance rate for mentoring visits and 85% of the youth completed the 9-month program. In addition, post-program evaluations suggested that both youth and their parents/caregivers were extremely pleased with program and felt it had conferred benefit for the teens. Indeed, half the parents wished the program would continue longer.

These rates of engagement and retention are quite high compared to previous attempts at intervening with children and youth involved in child welfare, where transitory living situations combined with complex and severe mental health symptoms can make program intervention a significant challenge (Hambrick et al., 2016). We attribute this engagement to the positive youth development approach that the program employs, which is embedded in young people’s contexts and builds on their strengths and assets while avoiding stigmatizing and deficit-based labeling (Lerner et al., 2005). This approach may allow children and their caregivers to feel proud of, and positive about, their involvement in programming as they invest in their well-being rather than solely focusing on treatment for problems (Bonell et al., 2016). A study by Herrenkohl (2019) noted that the child welfare system rarely focuses on building relationship skills in children and families which, Herrenkohl argues, would strengthen families that have experienced relational damage. In addition, he suggests that the field develop flexible, nonstigmatizing interventions that are attuned to meeting different families’ needs (Herrenkohl, 2019).

The benefits of a PYD approach may be especially true for populations that have been historically marginalized. For example, a recent study of teens with maltreatment exposure or risk, found that Black families of teens with clinically significant mental health problems were more likely to perceive a need for mentoring programs than for psychological counseling services. For caregivers in the study who were Black, mentoring was perceived as less stigmatizing and potentially more culturally congruent compared to more conventional services for mental health and behavioral problems (Vásquez & Villodas, 2019).

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