Foster Parenting After Trauma
By Alix Mammina, Communications Specialist at the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing
A new study co-authored by TXICFW’s Tina Adkins shows promising evidence that a group intervention can help foster parents manage parenting stress and build critical parenting skills. Most children entering foster care have experienced traumatic and adverse events resulting in significant mental health needs. Foster parents can mitigate the long-term impact of these traumatic experiences by building strong, supportive relationships with the children in their care—and Family Minds, a psychoeducational parenting intervention, could prove instrumental in building the emotional skills caregivers need to support their children’s wellbeing.
Family Minds seeks to equip caregivers with the tools needed to take a nurturing approach to parenting by increasing reflective functioning, a skill allowing caregivers to understand their children’s behaviors and respond with empathy in stressful situations. Caregivers with strong reflective functioning skills are adept at modulating their own emotions, communicating openly with their children, and choosing to react with sensitivity when children express their feelings and needs. This skillset is crucial for foster parents, as children’s trauma can often manifest in uniquely challenging behaviors and emotional issues.
In the newly published study, Adkins and co-authors Samantha Reisz, Dilara Hasdemir, and Peter Fonagy conducted the first-ever assessment of the Family Minds intervention. The study included 89 licensed foster parents in Austin and the Dallas/Fort Worth areas, with participants in the randomized control group attending a typical foster training class and participants in the intervention group receiving three three-hour class modules of Family Minds over a period of four to six weeks. Participants were assessed at six weeks and six months with self-report and observational methods measuring three criteria: reflective functioning capacity, parenting stress, and the behavioral and mental health of the children in their care.
Results were striking: Caregivers who participated in the Family Minds intervention demonstrated significant improvement on one of two measures of reflective functioning, as well as significantly decreased parenting stress related to difficult parent-child interactions. While results revealed insignificant effects on improving child outcomes at six weeks post-intervention, foster parents in the intervention group reported significantly lower levels of child emotional and behavioral difficulties—especially internalizing behaviors—after the six-month follow-up. This indicates that the Family Minds intervention might have long-term positive effects on foster children’s emotional and behavioral challenges. Notably, results demonstrate that the Family Minds program could prove a simpler and more cost-effective alternative to longer interventions, as improvements in parenting stress and reflective functioning took place after just three short sessions.
These encouraging results underscore the importance of providing preventative support for families. New foster parent-child relationships can be strained by past traumatic experiences and caregivers’ misunderstanding of mental and behavioral health issues. By training foster parents to better understand their children’s behavior and regulate their own actions and emotions, targeted interventions like Family Minds can help improve outcomes for youth in foster care and build healthy parent-child relationships.