A Q&A on The Foundling’s website tells how Trystan worked his way through adversity as a teen to earn a master’s degree from New York University, where he then interned with the same organization that helped him as a foster care youth. READ MORE
Trystan, an interventionist with The Foundling’s STEPS (Strengthening, Teaching, and Educating People Through Support) foster care prevention program, has a longtime connection to The New York Foundling. As a teen, he spent time with The Foundling while he was in foster care.
Inspired to study social work, he beat the odds of many teens in care when he went on to college, eventually earning his master’s degree from New York University. During his last year of college, he interned with The Foundling’s Therapeutic Foster Care unit. Shortly after graduation, he found his way back to working with The Foundling. Today, he’s using a highly effective evidence-based family therapy model to help families in Staten Island tackle complicated familial challenges to avoid foster care placement.
Trystan answers a few questions about his personal journey and how it has influenced his work today.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in social work?
It definitely wasn’t my first choice when I started college. In high school it was kind of drilled into my head that college wasn’t for me.
During my junior year of college, I thought about what I would want to wake up every day and enjoy doing. I always enjoyed helping people.
What really sold me is when I had an internship with the Upward Bound (college prep program) working with the teen population. It was just being able to relate to some of the same issues and problems as them. I had a unique mindset compared to people who don’t know what it’s like to be in the foster care system.
Q: Statistics show that foster youth in America face additional challenges when it comes to graduating high school and pursuing a college degree. What was the toughest part of being a youth in foster care and navigating education for you, and what do you wish more educators understood about this population?
Education, for me at least, was the easy part. You do a paper and follow the directions and get a good grade. Life doesn’t follow that type of model. I think the hardest part for me was making the time for those studies. School systems plan for the youth’s future, but fail to acknowledge that the youth is focused on surviving the now. In retrospect, what sounds better? Going to a class to acquire a job 3 to 4 years down the line, or skipping that class to pick up a shift to put food on the table for yourself or any siblings you may have? It’s hard to plan for a successful future when the present is falling apart. I think educators need to understand that youth aren’t worried about 3 to 5 years down the line. They are focused on today and tomorrow to even be alive in 3 to 5 years.
This causes a multi-dimensional problem, but the educators that stuck with me were the ones that let me feel like I was in control of my life. They let me tell them what I wanted to do and found resources based off that. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter of the choice was a good or bad one. They supported my passions and took a step back for me to learn and make my own mistakes.
Q: How do you feel your personal experiences being a youth in care have influenced the way you work with families in your career today?
Since I’m not working directly working with teens in care (currently), it doesn’t always come up. But I do talk with parents who might be expressing and sharing certain emotions with the family, and without saying why, I can pick up on that emotion easier than others.
Q: What is most rewarding part of the work you do with The Foundling?
It’s definitely most rewarding when I work with a family and I’ve been addressing a very difficult case, and I leave the session feeling like a change was made. There’s less yelling, less negativity. Even when you see you’re actually making a difference to the family — maybe in the smallest of aspects — and you slowly see progress through the program, and it gets better and better. It’s rewarding when there are difficulties and (I think), “How do I address that using different techniques with different families?”
In addition to working with The Foundling as an interventionist, Trystan is a published poet. He aspires to be an advocate for teens in the foster care system, and he volunteers his time with the Foster Youth Heroes program at City University of New York.
On December 21, The Chronicle of Social Change published a joint op/ed by New York Foundling President & CEO Bill Baccaglini and SVP of Evidence-Based Programs Sylvia Rowlands about the imperative for child welfare service providers to implement proven evidence-based treatments and interventions to improve the lives of the children and families they serve. To read the piece in full, please see Doing What Works: Measure Success of Child Welfare Programs With Hard Data below.
Child welfare professionals strive every day to keep children safe, to keep families healthy and together and break multi-generational cycles of maltreatment. More than 3 million new cases of child abuse and neglect are reported every year in the United States and more than 400,000 children are in foster care at any given time. The financial cost to our society is enormous.
We now have a moral imperative to recognize decades of hard data, from multiple studies covering hundreds of thousands of children and families, showing compelling evidence that a different approach can improve outcomes. Evidence-based treatments and interventions have been documented, studied, subjected to clinical trials and reported on for decades. This research demonstrates clearly, with hard data, that evidence-based practices in child welfare interventions are more effective than traditional treatment methods. Child welfare service providers can now save more lives than ever before with the rigorous and diligent application of these strategies.
But change – even when it represents assured improvements – is often met with resistance. When Joseph Lister began promoting the idea of sterile surgery and the use of antiseptics 150 years ago, many in the medical profession stubbornly refused to acknowledge the effectiveness of this new concept. They acted offended at the suggestion that the surgical techniques and approach to patient care they’d used throughout their careers could be improved upon.
Well established clearinghouses have developed a clear definition for what constitutes “evidence-based.” We need to respect and follow that definition. Programs must be validated through multiple well-designed, rigorous scientific evaluations and produce data that show systematic and sustained improvement. Importantly, the results, procedures and protocols must be transparent and the program and its outcomes must be replicable.
As a result, shifting to an evidence-based model requires planning, training, staff support, oversight and, in some cases, a significant cultural change within the organization. So perhaps the resistance should come as no surprise, even if it is unsupported by years of research and data.
Some child welfare professionals believe that these practices will not translate to their unique populations, or that social work practices cannot be broken down into metrics, measured, and replicated with rigid adherence. We hear a continual refrain of: “My kids are different,” “my community is different,” “my situation is different,” “families are not all the same” and “we are not robots.” We hear this without ever seeing data explaining why evidence-based practices would be any less applicable to their families than they have been with over 300,000 others.
Still others, regrettably, are bound by inertia. They have always done things a certain way. They have anecdotes describing the many lives saved and families strengthened over their careers. Some hear recommendations for change as criticism of their past practices. The idea that they could achieve better outcomes if they worked differently is uncomfortable.
We have had the opportunity to review results from a study of 3,825 families who received services in the form of an evidence-based practice known as Family Functional Therapy/Integrated Clinical Case Management (FFTICCM). Compared to usual care, these families completed treatment faster and required fewer contacts with case workers, therapists and other staff. These families were 72 percent more likely to meet all of their established treatment goals and, in high risk families, 72 percent less likely to have a case closed with an out-of-home placement.
Despite the fact that the families referred to these programs had higher rates of prior abuse allegations, domestic violence and substance use, the results were impressive, with 49 percent fewer families experiencing negative outcomes (transfers, out-of-home placements, higher service needed) and 50 percent fewer families still in service after a year. Perhaps most impressive, these families were 82 percent less likely to have repeat maltreatment allegations three years post-treatment.
It is heartening to see the federal government, in the recently enacted Family First Prevention Services Act legislation, underscore the importance of evidence-based practices by requiring their use. Ultimately, though, the effectiveness of any legislation or governmental requirements will depend on how evidence-based practices are defined – whether they require programs to be truly evidence-based or allow looser definitions that encompass a wide array of other programs.
That particular debate – over what constitutes “evidence-based” – has picked up steam in recent years and has been troubling. Some organizations might seek to alter proven evidence-based programs. Others wish to consider evidence-based practices as a guide and adapt them to account for community, cultural or other population differences. But whatever programs are adopted, to be truly evidence-based, they must include a rigorous clinical evaluation process, time frames and complete and transparent reporting of results – so they can be reviewed by government agencies and peer organizations. Those are the kinds of requirements to which we all need to adhere.
Years of studies clearly show the effectiveness of these practices in achieving goals through a range of complex and multifaceted situations. Simply put, they can help us save children and keep families together.
Public funders and foundations alike increasingly want to see evidence of successful outcomes in programs they support. While this is not the central reason to adopt them – our mission is the central reason – for those of us who are always cognizant of the gap between funding and the services we provide, it is a tangential, but important added benefit of these programs.
Evidence-based programs are one of the most important developments in the practice of child welfare in decades. They will help all of us more predictably achieve our primary objective: the safety and well-being of children and the preservation of their families.
The Foundling’s Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP), which uses puppets to teach an age-appropriate program on how to identify, stop, and report sexual and physical abuse, is facing funding problems. NBC New York takes a look at the impact of this important program. WATCH HERE
Child welfare professionals strive every day to keep children safe, to keep families healthy and together and break multi-generational cycles of maltreatment. More than 3 million new cases of child abuse and neglect are reported every year in the United States and more than 400,000 children are in foster care at any given time. The financial cost to our society is enormous. We now have a moral imperative to recognize decades of hard data, from multiple studies covering hundreds of thousands of children and families, showing compelling evidence that a different approach can improve outcomes.
A look at Washington state’s apprenticeship program for teens in foster care, from Youth Today’s ongoing series examining education for foster youth in America, made possible by The Foundling. READ MORE
Part 2 of a story spotlighting the benefits of an apprenticeship program in Washington state providing life-changing trade education for youth in foster care, and how more states are getting on board. This article is part of a yearlong series examining higher education for youth in foster care, made possible in part by The New York Foundling. READ MORE
Part 1 of a story highlighting the apprenticeships available to youth in foster care through Washington state’s Passport to Careers program. This article is part of a yearlong series examining higher education for youth in foster care, made possible in part by The New York Foundling. READ MORE
The New York Foundling brought Santa Claus to deaf children in New York City at its annual holiday party for families in its Deaf Services program. READ MORE
A look at how The Foundling’s Haven Academy is finding success in educating children whose lives have been hijacked by abuse, neglect and violence. READ MORE