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January 01, 2014

5 Strategies for Improving Child Well-being

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

As well-being becomes a central focus in child welfare practice, deciding where to invest resources and time can be a challenge. Barbara Langford, director of the Youth Transition Funders Group, Foster Care Workgroup, offered these tips at a recent webcast.

1. Invest in improving, expanding, and sustaining well-being practices. 

  • Develop assessment tools that help caseworkers assess and measure progress related to social, emotional and physical well-being.

  • Create practice models that incorporate social, emotional and physical well-being.

  • Ensure a focus on vulnerable subpopulations.

  • Provide training  on promoting well-being for caregivers and people who work with youth.

2. Invest in policy and advocacy.

  • Support policies that encourage the most family-like placement settings.

  • Encourage states to extend IV-E eligibility for youth in foster care beyond age 18.

  • Ensure well-being is an important component of a youth’s transition planning.

  • Ensure access to Medicaid for youth up to age 26, including mental and physical health supports.

3. Invest in community supports and opportunities.

  • Ensure access to healthy opportunities to build a youth’s passions and physical health. 

  • Remove system barriers to participation.

  • Support caregivers in ensuring youths’ participation in activities that promote well-being (sports teams, afterschool clubs).

  • Support spirituality among youth, an often overlooked area in child welfare. 

4. Invest in cross-systems collaboration. 

  • Ensure well-being issues are included in broader youth initiatives. 

  • Support leadership, planning structures, and data systems at the state and local level. 

  • Develop partnerships with other youth-serving systems that play a role supporting a youth’s well-being: courts, workforce and education, mental health and wellness, physical health, transportation and housing.

5. Invest in research, demonstration, and evaluation.

  • Expand capacity to measure well-being. 

  • Clarify what information is needed (e.g., types of therapies that work best for older youth, characteristics of placement settings and caregivers that work well with older youth).
  • Design new interventions that focus on social, emotional, and physical well-being. 

  • Expand the evidence base of promising programs.

Why Focus on Well-Being?

Youth in foster care have lower levels of well-being than their peers. This stems from their experiences before entering care and while in care. If a youth is not able to manage their social and emotional challenges, it makes it hard to: 

  • connect in the community
  • develop and sustain relationships
  • succeed in school
  • find and keep a job

*Presentation by Barbara Langford at the American Youth Policy Forum webcast, “Social, Emotional and Physical Well-Being for Youth in Transition from the Foster Care System,” December 18, 2014.