Free Online Training Platform Launched for Adoption and Guardianship Workers

Two federally funded training programs on adoption and guardianship competency are now available for free to help professionals involved in finding permanent homes for children who the courts have ruled cannot return to their parents.

The National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative, mercifully shorthanded to NTI by its creators, is the byproduct of a $9 million cooperative agreement by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. It will be overseen by the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE), a Burtonsville, Maryland-based nonprofit that led a team of partner experts and organizations in building the training.

“There is a great demand now for web-based training,” said NTI Director Dawn Wilson, who joined CASE to lead the initiative in 2015, and now oversees a staff of four marketing and implementation specialists. “Our goal is obviously that every child welfare or mental health therapist would eventually have access to this training.”

Dawn Wilson, NTI director: Goal is that “every child welfare or mental health therapist” gets the training. Photo courtesy of CASE.

NTI includes two core curricula – a 20- to 25-hour training for child welfare social workers or agency supervisors, and a 30-hour training for mental health professionals. Both have been approved by the National Association of Social Workers, and can count toward continuing education credits for anyone who completes NTI.

The training was piloted in eight states and with the Cherokee Nation with more than 9,000 individuals. An evaluation of the pilot found that participants showed across-the-board increases in competency scores in different modules such as attachment and bonding, race and culture and promoting family stability.

Wilson said the lowest pretest scores in the pilot, and the biggest gains made, were in the module on children’s experience of loss and grief as part of their child welfare experience.

A lot of professionals “understand intellectually that children experience loss, but how that plays out in their behavior is very different,” Wilson said. “Agencies said, ‘Wow our workers aren’t truly getting how this impacts them.’

“If you’re not able to address a child’s loss and grief, then it stands to reason they wouldn’t be prepared for permanency,” Wilson said.

Twelve states have already entered agreements to integrate NTI into their existing learning system – some plan to use the training for all child welfare staff, not just those focused on adoption and guardianship – and Wilson said five states are working toward signed agreements now, with an additional eight states are in preliminary conversations about NTI.

The number of adoptions from foster care has been rising steadily for years, and in fiscal 2018, the most recent period where federal data is available, 36 percent of foster youth exited care to an adoption or to a guardianship with kin. The percentage of youth exiting to reunification with parents dropped to 49 percent in 2017 – the first time that figure has been below 50 percent in recorded history – and stayed at that rate in 2018.

John Kelly can be reached at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.

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