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  • Writer's pictureAnn Wrixon

Child Welfare Agencies Often Not Screening for Trauma in Foster Youth

Ann Wrixon blog on trauma-informed care for foster children

In Spring 2017, Advances in Social Work published an article titled, “Identifying Trauma-Related and Mental Health Needs: The Implementation of Screening in California’s Child Welfare Systems” by Brent R. Crandal, Andrea L. Hazen, and Jennifer Rolls Reutz.

The researchers surveyed county administrators of 46 of the 58 county child welfare agencies in California to determine if and how they are screening for the mental health needs of foster children, particularly the need for trauma-informed care (TIC). All the counties are screening for mental health needs, which a court mandated due to a lawsuit brought against the state of California child welfare system.

According to the article, “For more than a decade, TIC researchers have highlighted the importance of linking trauma-related needs with research-based trauma treatment services (Kerns et al., 2016; Ko et al., 2008; Taylor, Wilson, & Igelman, 2006), rather than general MH services (Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, Barth, & Slymen, 2004).” (p. 342) However, “36 counties (78.3%) whose respondents reported no trauma-related content or results included in their screening tool approach.” (p. 342)

Researchers also noted that three of the four screening tools used by the 46 counties the child welfare professional completed the screening tool rather than asking questions of the client, which means they may not be accurate. Additionally, researchers had not tested the tools for whether they accurately help determine individual outcomes, “a screening system that is evidence-based includes evaluation of the screening test performance as well as the outcomes for individuals involved in the process.” (p. 343)

Given the well documented research on the importance of providing trauma informed care, not just mental health services, for foster youth who need these services, it is imperative that California child welfare agencies use screening tools that can accurately identify trauma, allowing the agency to provide the evidence-based treatment indicated by the assessment.

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