The foster kid is a 17-year-old boy who was kicked out of his home when he was 10, started using drugs by 13, and in five years is expected to be in prison or dead.
Kansas Department of Children and Families social workers check on him every day and there’s been some progress: He’s now in an independent living facility and he’s not using drugs anymore. But he still has many needs, including a coming heart transplant.
How can he be helped?
About 100 social workers from the Kansas Department for Children and Families considered that question at a bootcamp-stype workshop in Topeka on Friday with Kevin Campbell, creator of a national model called Family Finding.
Campbell said the team assigned to the boy must find relatives or people who care about him and have them intervene in the boy’s life.
“Basically you are building the personal 911 system for this kid,” Campbell said. “We call it a firehouse intervention. Quite literally, he needs a personal fire department ready to help him respond to the life he lives, which is a crisis every day.”
The goal of Family Finding is getting kids connected to someone who loves them in hopes of keeping them out of the foster care system and potentially preventing further trauma. It’s one of several programs DCF has implemented since Gov. Laura Kelly came into office this year aimed at reforming the long-embattled foster care system.
The social workers being trained on Friday came from DCF, the state’s two private contractors, and advocates from the community, said Tanya Keys, deputy DCF secretary. A strategic plan will be formed next month, while training is being implemented across the state, she said.
“The idea is that (social workers) go back and start planting these seeds, talking about these concepts and we'll get materials out to them so we can start that readiness for implementation,” Keys said.
Campbell, founder of the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness and a former foster parent, began his research in 2000 after years of hearing “This kid’s got nobody.”
He found that most foster children actually have a large family and that if they could be connected with five to eight adults who would make a “permanent relational commitment” to the child, it could change outcomes.
“The training is really about, how do you heal children who have had such harm done to them?” he said. “And importantly, how do you heal the whole family? Because this kind of generational experience has to stop somewhere.”
The training was sponsored by the Casey Foundation and Aetna Better Health of Kansas, which provides health care services for the state foster care system. Kellie Hans Reid, foster care coordinator with Aetna Better Health of Kansas, said research shows that traumatic experiences affect children’s health.
“That, in turn, will affect their life course and their mortality, their metabolic issues, their cardiac issues,” she said. “What we know is that trauma affects the body.”
After the training this week, the team of social workers went back to the 17-year-old boy they’d been working with. He had told them he didn’t have anyone in his life to help, but through talking with him about people from his past, social workers found some — including a former school principal and a former foster father who taught him jujitsu, a sport he loves.
The social worker, who could not be identified because she works undercover to find missing foster kids, said she was trying to “give him a family, like it doesn’t have to be blood, just someone who cares about him.”
“He went from having two of us,” she said, “to having 26 of us in this week.”
Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and is on Twitter at @peggyllowe.