Universal Positive Behavior Goals Program
This will start in pre-certification training for potential foster parents. This training is still part of the continued screening process. If parents are unable or unwilling to fully buy into the behavior modification program in training, they will need to be screened out, at that time. For this program to work, we cannot afford to have parents disciplining these abused children any way they would prefer. That often results in parents falling back on disciplining the same way they were raised. In some cases that is just fine. In others, it can lead to more traumas for these already vulnerable and traumatized children. If we are asking them to redirect negative behaviors and encourage positive behaviors, we must give them the tools to do so. A universal positive behavior modification program allows the parents and foster care staff to speak the same language and work towards the same goals with the children consistently every day. This program helps the family set goals that target the children’s behaviors that cause them the most problems at home and at school. Each child will have three goals to work on each day for a week. All goals will focus on positive behaviors they can accomplish with effort. By accomplishing their goals they will be able to earn the privileges and rewards they desire (within reason). All daily goals will start with “I will” statements and each goal will be titled: Red Star, Blue Star and Green Star. Some examples would be:
Red Star: I will keep my hands and feet to myself.
Blue Star: I will use my words to express my sad, mad and scared feelings.
Green Star: I will follow directions with two reminders. (After this goal is accomplished for a week or two, it will be reduced to with “one reminder” and eventually “first time asked”)
Our foster parents will be taught to review these goals with the child at the end of each day and ask the child to take responsibility for their behaviors. Accomplishing all three goals in a given day results in the child earning a “Rainbow” for the day. When a “Rainbow” is earned the child earns a small inexpensive reward for the day. At the end of the week the “Stars” earned each day are added up to earn a level. The child starts on level one and can earn level two, level three and level four. The level a child is on dictates the privileges and rewards they receive. Different levels decide bedtimes, screen time (television, video games, smart phone, computers or tablets), free time, chores, allowance and other specific rewards that are valuable to the child. The children are able to maintain the level they earned as long as they continue to accomplish their goals throughout the week. The program is designed in simplicity, so that it can be fully understood by the children and they can take full ownership of their behaviors and choices.
Having a specific behavior modification program that is universal empowers the foster parents to feel confident in the discipline strategies with these challenging children. It also empowers the children to feel in control of earning the privileges and things they want. Foster children rarely have the opportunity to feel like they can have control of anything in their lives, they usually embrace the opportunity. It allows the caseworker, who visits the home once a week, to check in on the family and have consistent measures to document the child and family’s progress in the new environment. We will have caseworkers with manageable caseloads of 10-15 children as opposed to traditional caseworkers with unmanageable case loads of 45-60. Our caseworkers will visit the family once a week instead of the traditional foster care policy of visiting once a month.
Experience tells us that not all children are going to immediately fall in line with the new foster family and the new program. It is very typical for foster children to experience a “honeymoon” phase for the first couple of weeks in a new home. Foster children are often afraid to express themselves honestly and want to be liked by the new family. However, the honeymoon does not last forever. Foster children will typically begin to test limits and act out to see what kind of reaction they will get from the new foster parents. This is the stage when many foster placements fall apart. When foster parents do not have a plan or support, they believe they are not up for the task and often give up on the child. When this happens the child is often sent to another foster home or a group home depending on the severity of the behaviors they displayed in the foster home. In many cases, these children are now filled with remorse and guilt from their behaviors towards the foster parents and end up asking for, “One more chance”. They very rarely ever get that one more chance due to a lack of effective safety nets to restore these difficult placements. This results in children being moved on to the next placement feeling more abandonment, guilt and heart break. It leaves the foster parents, who have been recruited trained and certified feeling inadequate which often results in retiring from foster care or repeating the cycle with the next child. This pattern is part of the problem not the solution.
When fostering children of this age, we will use the knowledge we have learned from research data of many years of failed foster care placements as tools to provide the appropriate safety nets to maintain the placement. The answer to this inevitable problem is not placing a traumatized child in a random county group home and watching them become another one of the sad statistics of foster care. Instead of starting all over in a new foster home or group home we will place our foster children in our “Regroup Home”. The Regroup Home will be a 6 bed home staffed by our professional mental health workers, using the same STAR behavior modification program the children were using in the foster home. The children will live in our Regroup Home for a couple of weeks until they are able to manage their emotions and behaviors better. During this time the foster parents will be able to take a break and a deep breath, which will allow them to access more training to help them sharpen their skills after some real life experience. The foster parents will be encouraged to visit the foster child at the Regroup Home to let the child know they love them and are not giving up on them. The foster parents will also have the opportunity to watch the professional mental health workers model the STAR program and set limits with the children in appropriate ways.
An essential element of the Regroup Home treatment plan will be to help the child understand how “the system” they are in works. Most children in “the system” feel as though they are trapped in a maze and have no idea how it works and how to control where they live. The staff and the parents will be trained to be transparent with the child about how “the system” ladder of restrictive placements works. It will be clearly and simply illustrated to them how our foster homes are the least restrictive placement options for them until reunification, if that is still an option for them. We will show them with a ladder of options displaying our foster homes at the top step, below that our Regroup Home, below that traditional foster homes, below that traditional group homes, below that mental health hospitals and at the bottom juvenile hall. These children trapped in “the system” are forced to grow up fast and the more knowledge they can gain about how it works the more control they can feel about their present and future.