RECAP of the 2015 Annual Child Welfare Conference “Competing Voices: Listening, Learning & Uniting for Permanency”
On November 9th the 2015 Child Welfare Conference was held at Thompson Conference Center on UT’s campus. We were excited to welcome more than 150 attendees interested in exploring issues related to permanency. A wide range of nonprofit and government employees attended, including staff from American YouthWorks, Any Baby Can, Austin ISD, CASA, Cenpatico, Central Texas Table of Grace, Child Inc, Child Protective Services, Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS), Lifeworks, Spirit Reins, Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and Upbring. More than 30 faculty and staff from Social Work, Educational Psychology and Public Affairs also attended the event.
The conference began with welcome remarks from our institute’s Director, Monica Faulkner and Associate Director, Beth Gerlach. The UT School of Social Work’s Dean Luis Zayas, PhD also spoke along with our honored guest, Judge John Specia, The Commissioner of DFPS. Judge Specia welcomed the crowd by reminding them that “permanency is not extra work it IS our work.”
We were especially thrilled to learn from our Keynote Speaker, Alfred Pèrez, an assistant professor from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Pèrez combined his personal experience as a youth that aged out of foster care with his academic research on permanency. He presented fascinating insights into how policy-sanctioned permanence does not always translate to psychological meaningful permanence for the children involved. Dr. Pèrez presented his findings from qualitative interviews with youth, bringing their voices to the discussion. He examined how to facilitate a stronger sense of sense of security, belonging, and bonding with significant others in the lives of youth in care. Dr. Pèrez encouraged those that work with foster youth to help them build secure connections in addition to focusing on a permanent placement. The keynote address was followed by a panel of former foster youth and caregivers. The panel generously shared their experiences and further emphasized the importance of facilitating long lasting relationships for youth in care and reminded us that “no one ages out of needing a family.”
Participants were then encouraged to network at lunch and discuss issues that surround child welfare or attend a viewing of a short film focused on childhood PTSD. The afternoon offered many exceptional workshops. Our own Tina Adkins, PhD focused on creating relational permanency through lasting, stable relationships with adults. Robyn Gobbel, LCSW presented a workshop directed towards child welfare workers which focused on creating a narrative that fosters secure attachment utilizing memory integration, honesty, transparency, and authenticity. Kathy Scherer, PhD presented a workshop on developing emotional security and secure attachment by discussing ways to nurture healthy growth and decrease destructive patterns for youth in care. In addition, Monica Faulkner, CFRI Director and Stephanie Hebert from Cardea Services presented a special training focused on skills in trauma-informed approaches to talking with youth about sexual health.
The event wrapped up with Jenny Hinson, Division Administrator for Permanency for Texas CPS, providing a compelling overview of DFPS’ strategic plan to increase permanency in Texas. In addition to finding secure and positive placements in a timely manner, Ms. Hinson echoed the need for using creativity and commitment to connect foster youth with significant others in lasting relationships.
The conference was truly a successful day for those in the field that allowed us to examine permanency on a larger scale and share tools and skills necessary to create permanency and well-being in the lives of the children and youth we serve.