Supporting toddlers in foster care

This review is a mash-up of a few different articles, because we have a mini-theme going on this month! Many of us have served children who are in foster care. It’s already known that children who have experienced some sort of abuse or neglect are at a higher risk for having language, social, and behavior difficulties (e.g., Chow & Wehby, 2018; Hoff, 2006; Stock & Fisher, 2006; also, see our discussion on trauma here). So not only are these kids in foster care battling a history of instability (whether in location, security, basic needs, family members, name it), but that history puts them at risk for difficulties in early development that have implications for social, behavioral, and academic impact later on in life. That doesn’t sound like a great start for a toddler, does it? Hopefully, we can do something to help. The following studies looked at children’s receptive language development in relation to foster placement and intervention options.  

Zajac et al. studied a group of children involved with Child Protective Services to see if receptive language scores on the PPVT-3 were related to whether children were placed in foster care or remained with their parents. They found that the children in foster care had average receptive language abilities on the PPVT-3 at 4 years of age, but children who remained with their biological parents had lower receptive language abilities. We need more information to really delve into the “why” here. But a prediction is that when parents feel more secure in their basic and emotional needs, they may be more likely to have energy to spend on addressing kids’ development (and the authors comment on making support available to families whose financial, emotional, and educational resources are stressed).

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At the same time, Raby et al. (some of the same authors were involved in both of these studies) looked at how the intervention Attachment and Behavioral Catch-up for Toddlers (ABC-T) affected foster parents’ sensitivity and responsiveness to their toddlers and whether the intervention affected receptive language development. Compared to families who received the Developmental Education for Families (DEF) intervention, which focused on motor and cognitive skills, families who received the ABC-T intervention were more sensitive and responsive to their toddlers, and toddlers whose foster families received the ABC-T training had better receptive language skills when tested with the PPVT-3. Not bad for 10 weeks’ worth of one-hour sessions!

If you’re not ready to add a new intervention training like the ABC-T to your workload but are thinking, “Wow, this is in line with what I’m seeing clinically, so how do I get and keep these kids on my caseload?” check out the Adrihan et al. review on a collaborative effort between a county’s EI and child welfare departments. They highlight systemic changes to screening, evaluation, and teaming processes that could increase access to EI services for these children who are at risk for social–emotional delays.

Adrihan, S. A., Winchell, B. N., & Greene, S. J. (2018). Transforming early intervention screening, evaluation, assessment, and collaboration practices: Increasing eligibility for children impacted by trauma. Topics In Early Childhood Special Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0271121418791288

Raby, K. L., Freedman, E., Yarger, H. A., Lind, T., & Dozier, M. (2018). Enhancing the language development of toddlers in foster care by promoting foster parents’ sensitivity: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Developmental Science. Advance online publication. doi:  10.1111/desc.12753.

Zajac, L., Raby, K. L., & Dozier, M. (2018). Receptive vocabulary development of children placed in foster care and children who remained with birth parents after involvement with child protective services. Child Maltreatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1077559518808224