Improving Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care: Trauma-Focused CBT

Study Title: Improving Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care: Trauma-Focused CBT

Context: Children and adolescents in foster care have significant, and often unmet, mental health needs (Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, & Barth, 2004). For school-aged youth, the most common problems are disruptive behavior disorders and sequelae of trauma exposure (e.g., Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], Depression) (Landsverk, Burns, & Stambaugh, in press). Such mental health problems, in turn, are linked to a range of negative outcomes (e.g., functioning, placement stability/permanency) (James, Landsverk, & Slymen, 2004; Landsverk, Davis, Granger, Newton, & Johnson, 1996). There is tremendous interest in the field to increase use of evidence-based treatments that target specific mental health problems and needs of youth in foster care. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) potentially provides an excellent fit. Evidence from randomized trials supports the efficacy of TF-CBT in treating PTSD, behavior problems, and other trauma sequelae (Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino, & Steer, 2004). Although TF-CBT holds promise for youth in foster care, there are likely complexities in providing it to such youth. Findings from dismantling research indicate that caregiver involvement is crucial for maximizing treatment effects of TF-CBT (Deblinger, Lippman, & Steer, 1996). However, available evidence and our clinical experience suggest that foster parents are infrequently engaged in a proactive and ongoing manner in their foster children’s mental health treatment.

Study Aims: Therefore the primary aim of the proposed R34 is to conduct a pilot study of TF-CBT with children and adolescents in foster care, with a targeted focus on engaging foster parents in treatment. The proposed project brings together two complementary interventions-evidence-based engagement strategies (McKay, Stoewe, McCadam, & Gonzales, 1998) and TF-CBT (Cohen, Deblinger & Mannarino, 2006; Deblinger & Heflin, 1996)-in an attempt to improve treatment and outcomes for youth in foster care.

Methods: The project includes two phases: Phase 1: (a) preliminary feasibility study (N = 10) of the evidence-based engagement strategies and TF-CBT; and (b) refinement and development of a manualized engagement intervention based on feedback from foster parents and other key informants. Phase 2: pilot study (N=80) of the refined engagement strategies and TF-CBT (ECBT) compared to ‘usual practice’ TF-CBT (i.e., no specialized engagement) to assess implementation of the combined intervention and provide preliminary data on critical outcomes (e.g., PTS symptoms, behavioral problems, placement stability). Findings will be used to inform a large-scale randomized trial (i.e., R- 01) on effectiveness of ECBT to improve outcomes for youth in foster care with mental health problems. Youth in foster care have very high rates of mental health problems (Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, & Barth, 2004). These include externalizing (e.g., conduct disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder) as well as internalizing (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD) problems. Recent research on epidemiology and treatment has suggested that this combination of symptoms is often related to youth in foster care’s extensive histories of exposure to trauma (Simms, Dubowitz, & Szilagyi, 2000) Therefore, effective treatment of the symptoms requires explicit evidence-based treatment that addresses both the underlying sequelae of trauma and the immediate behavioral manifestations. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an evidence- based treatment that appears promising, with specific modifications, for this group of high-risk youth (Deblinger, Lippman, & Steer, 1996).

Implications: The proposed research builds from and combines existing evidence- based strategies (Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino, & Steer, 2004; McKay, Stoewe, McDadam, & Gonzales, 1998) to more effectively treat some of the nation’s most at-risk and vulnerable youth. Findings from this research will be used to develop and disseminate more effective treatments for youth with mental health problems in the foster care system. Such findings should help improve treatment, services, and outcomes within the entire system of care that serves youth with mental health problems (e.g., specialty mental health providers, child welfare and child protective services, juvenile justice).

Principal Investigator: Shannon Dorsey (University of Washington)

[button link=”″ color=”green” newwindow=”yes”] View Online[/button]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *