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Adults who interact with the child welfare system can play a critical role in shaping and supporting the development of self-regulation in youth and young adults through an interactive process called “co-regulation.” On March 28th, 2019 the Children’s Bureau and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families brought experts together from around the country to discuss self-regulation and how the child welfare system can support the development of youth in foster care and youth transitioning into adulthood. Expert participants included researchers, pediatricians, foster parents, child welfare program directors, therapists, and federal staff, including those with lived experienced in the child welfare system. Participants shared emerging knowledge on how to support co-regulation within the child welfare system and identified next steps in future directions for this work.
The purpose of this summary is to highlight key takeaways from the expert meeting. The goals of the meeting were to characterize what is already known about supporting co-regulation within the child welfare system, to identify gaps in the knowledge base, and to illuminate opportunities for learning. The meeting served as a starting point for future research on the topic of self-regulation within the context of foster care. Visit the Toxic Stress and Self-Regulation Reports page for more information on supporting self-regulation.
Key Findings and Highlights
Participants reflected on developmental processes that should be considered as we think about the needs of youth in foster care:
- Importance of peers: Instability of placement and frequent moves can make peer relationships especially challenging to form and maintain for youth in the foster care system.
- Gradual independence: While adolescents typically have the opportunity to gradually transition into more independence, youth in foster care often experience a sudden, jarring shift from no independence to complete independence.
- Opportunities for “risk taking”: Adults may pathologize normative positive risk taking in youth in foster care and view this behavior as something wrong with the youth, rather than developmentally appropriate opportunities for growth.
- Identify development: Youth often learn about themselves through relationships with others and for youth in foster care; instability of relationships may contribute to challenges in identity development.
- Understanding and communicating emotions: Learning about how to identify emotions, qualify their intensity, and communicate about them may be disrupted when youth do not get the benefit of supportive relationships to help teach and model these skills.
Participants shared key knowledge gaps for youth in the foster care system, including:
- How do we prepare foster parents and help them feel confident supporting the self-regulation of youth and young adults through co-regulation?
- How do we shift the focus of the system to encourage supportive adults to be there for the long term?
- How do we value relationships when youth are transitioning to adulthood?
- How do we promote a supportive environment for youth entering college or a new job?
- How do we help youth reframe their own narrative?
- How do we shift interactions from being heavily transactional to more of a relational focus? What should we look for in a good, healthy interaction?
- How do we define and measure success? How do we measure caseworker success?
- How does underlying trauma impact these interactions? How does trauma impact our workforce?
McKenzie, Kelly J. (2020). Building Capacity in Foster Care to Support the Self-Regulation Development of Adolescents and Young Adults: Meeting Summary. OPRE Report #2020-56, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions
- The supportive process between caring adults and children, youth, or young adults that fosters self-regulation development.