Thursday, February 28, 2019

Supporting foster parents for positive outcomes for youth with sexual behavior problems

A ATSA Prevention committee blog by Rene McCreary with MOCSA at and Julie Patrick with RALIANCE

In 2017, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) collaborated with RALIANCE via an impact grant to provide therapy for youth with problematic sexual behaviors (YPSB). Despite research showing this at-risk population benefits from counseling (Amand, Bard & Silovsky, 2008), far too often families, caregivers, and service providers lack information and access to help – this includes foster families.

According to the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth, significant risk factors for youth to exhibit sexual behavior problems include many of the experiences foster youth know all too well—parental loss, disruptions or inconsistent care, unsafe environments, witnessing violence, neglect and abuse. Traumatic events are found to be one cause of sexual behavior problems in children (NCTSN, 2009). While little research exists on the percentage of foster children exhibiting sexual behavior problems, foster children experience high levels of trauma, a significant risk factor for sexual behavior problems in children (NCTSN, 2009).

MOCSA’s project appealed to 4,000 case managers, social workers, and caregivers who support nearly 1700 foster care youth in Kansas City, with an open invitation to attend either an in-person workshop or webinar on YSBPs. These trainings resulted in numerous referrals to MOCSA, families who might not have otherwise received effective, evidence-based counseling free of charge. As a result, twenty-five foster families participated in MOCSA’s program for YPSB. Ninety-six percent of youth participating in this program reported an increased knowledge in making good choices about sexual behavior, and 100% of caregivers in treatment via the program increased knowledge in responding to sexual behaviors of children. Ninety five percent of caregivers reported a significant decrease in difficulties experienced in the school setting and increased academic achievement.

While this met the needs and the stipulations of the initial project design, MOCSA and RALIANCE worked together to design a new direction for the project.

Lesson 1: Listening to caregivers

MOCSA’s Youth with Sexual Behavior Problems Program is well established. Formally initiated in 2006 and enhanced in 2014 through a federal grant from the Office on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, this nationally recognized program provides children and caregivers 12 to 27 weeks of counseling, with each session lasting 60 to 90 minutes.

At the same time, MOCSA also emphasized the importance of  listening to the unique needs of caregivers living with and helping foster youth manage their behavior effectively—recognizing these foster parents as the experts on practical methods to work with these specific youth.  

A series of four one minute videos was developed to support and empower caregivers. The material for these videos was gleaned from recording a structured conversation of focus groups with foster parents as well as case managers. The following themes emerged: understanding the issue, first reactions, building a network of support, and the resiliency powered by the difference they are making. Between Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, these videos achieved 254,952 impressions and 718 clicks.

Lesson 2: Kids in the system

MOCSA also worked with partner agencies that were experiencing high demand for services for this population but who lacked knowledge on how to address these issues for system-involved youth. MOCSA conducted additional trainings and produced two six-page Resource Guides — one for foster families and one for professionals.

Additionally, the focus group generated two critical insights about the barriers caregivers face when deciding when/how to reach out for help: 1) foster caregivers are hesitant to seek services for PSBs out of fear of losing their licenses as foster parents, and 2) It is difficult to locate mental health professionals who are trained to provide high quality treatment to these youth and their families. Both these insights have shaped how MOCSA conducts outreach to parents in the system as well as therapy for clients and their families.

Overall, the additional outreach, training, and collaborative efforts allowed MOCSA to reach vastly more people than originally intended. But it also availed the opportunity to develop the internal resources and tools—as well as the research—to expand our outreach and improve clinical practices with children and their caregivers. Along the way, the support of RALIANCE was crucial. As a partner invested not just in the stewardship of funding but in the lives of people “on the ground,” RALIANCE offered a rare collaboration that aligned with the ambition MOCSA embodies for those we serve.  This project was a testament to the success of going further, and the difference MOCSA and other agencies can have in healing children and families when we work together.

RALIANCE’s impact grant program seeks to advance three core strategies to end sexual violence in one generation: Improve the response to victims of sexual violence; reduce the likelihood of perpetration of sexual violence; and strengthen communities’ capacity to create safe environments. This project succeeded on all fronts. To learn more about the project and resources produced, visit us online.


St. Amand, A., Bard, D.E & Silovsky, J.F. (2008). Meta-Analysis of Treatment for Child Sexual Behavior Problems: Practice Elements and Outcomes, Child Maltreatment

(13) 145-166. DOI: 10.1177/1077559508315353

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