The University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) has entered a partnership with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) to better prepare the nation’s child welfare and mental health services workforce to help adoptive parents and children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, an office of the Administration for Children and Families, has awarded a $9 million grant to CASE for the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI). As a partner on the five-year project, SSW has a subcontract worth more than $2.5 million for the period.
The intent is to find additional ways to train child welfare staff, supervisors, and community-based practitioners endeavoring to help families with adopted children. Research has shown a higher likelihood that an adopted child will need exceptional assistance to meet typical standards of success. “Many will struggle with behavioral health and educational problems,” said Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean and professor. Barth has studied adoption outcomes for more than three decades.
“Developmental science is clear; there is a greater variability for outcomes among adopted children than among nonadoptees,” he said. “In time, a better trained mental health services workforce will ease the path for adoptive parents and children and ensure that more adoptions meet expectations.”
Among the SSW faculty and staff members, in addition to Barth, who will contribute to the NTI are the SSW’s principal investigator Marlene Matarese, PhD, MSW; Meredith Waudby, MSW, project director; and Bethany Lee, PhD, MSW, SSW associate dean for research and the initiative’s research director. Also participating is Michelle Zabel, MSW, director of The Institute for Innovation and Implementation, which was instrumental in securing the NTI opportunity for the school.
Barth stated: “My colleagues and I at the University of Maryland School of Social Work are delighted that the Children’s Bureau has recognized the need for a more competent mental health workforce to assist adoptive families. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Debbie Riley and CASE, the nation’s leader in the development and delivery of competency-based adoption training.”
As chief executive officer of CASE, Debbie Riley, LCMFT, is NTI’s principal investigator. “We have spent the past seven years at CASE building the framework for the delivery of an evidenced-informed adoption competency training program,” she said. “Now through this federal cooperative agreement with the Children’s Bureau and our national partners, we will be able to enhance the skills of child welfare staff and mental health professionals to meet the diverse and complex mental health needs of the foster and adoption community.
“We have engaged many of the top leaders in the field to help guide this process, lending expertise to this critical initiative that will have far reaching impact in our field for years to come,” she said. Riley recently spoke about the initiative in a video interview with Center Maryland.
The national center involves, principally, identification of treatment competencies, followed by online training, ongoing consultation, and support. The partners said effort and expertise will be applied to ensure that the training is delivered with fidelity and the adoption-competent services are delivered faithfully.
Matarese expressed gratitude to the Children’s Bureau for “prioritizing this very important initiative.” She said, “The emotional experiences of children and their families during the adoption process can be simultaneously joyful and exasperating, which creates challenges for these new families. Having professionals trained to best meet the unique needs of these loving families is critical in ensuring that they receive the highest quality of care.”
Other entities collaborating on the initiative include the University of Southern California School of Social Work (USC); the National Indian Child Welfare Association; Northwestern University; the Alliance for Children and Families; and Lilliput Children’s Services (LCS). Leaders of NTI recently gathered to launch the training initiative. They included Barth, Lee, Matarese, and Waudby, all of SSW; Riley, Sarah Greenblatt, Valerie Kunsman, and Leslie Savary, each of CASE; Edythe Swidler of LCS; Anne Atkinson of PolicyWorks; adoption consultant Susan Livingston Smith; and associate professor Devon Brooks of USC.