Introducing TST-FC: A Trauma-Focused Curriculum for Caregivers
Trauma Systems Therapy for Foster Care (TST-FC) is a powerful new training curriculum designed to enhance foster parents’ understanding of how trauma affects children’s behavior.
When caregivers are trauma informed, children develop deeper attachments and coping skills while experiencing fewer moves while in foster care. Child welfare agencies also benefit from the curriculum, gaining placement stability and a clear mechanism for engaging foster parents, kin and other caregivers as frontline practitioners.
“Until now, trauma education has largely been limited to private agencies and kids in residential or treatment placements,” says Tracey Feild, managing director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group. “Trauma Systems Therapy for Foster Care is for all kids, all caregivers and all types of agencies. The curriculum helps caregivers, agencies and children build a common language about emotions and behavior.”
The TST-FC curriculum is available for free online and can be downloaded and implemented by any agency. It includes detailed facilitator guides, training presentations, handouts and a foster parent resource guide. During TST-FC’s four interactive group sessions, facilitators guide caregivers through role playing, hands-on exercises and reflective conversations to learn about trauma and connect what has happened in a child’s life to their behavior. Foster parents and caregivers learn and practice skills such as de-escalating difficult behavior, helping a child regroup after a meltdown and recognizing when a child is being reminded of a past trauma.
“Learning about trauma-informed care helps caregivers work with children from the inside out and the outside in by addressing the needs of children and supporting their resilience within the child’s home, school, and community,” says Kelly McCauley, associate director of KVC Institute for Health Systems Innovation at KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit that offers child welfare and behavioral health services in five states. “Caregivers help children understand their responses to stressful situations and use more effective strategies to gain control when things aren’t going well. They also learn to partner with the child’s team to create more predictable and consistent environments that support children affected by trauma.”
TST-FC offers another critical support for caregivers: tools for self-care. “Too often, folks who care for kids in foster care forget to attend to their own personal needs,” says Doreen Chapman, a Casey senior associate who assisted with the development and testing of the curriculum. “TST-FC reminds caregivers that you need to find ways to build your own reserves and find joy. If you can do that for yourself, you are more likely to be able to do that with kids in your home.”
With Casey’s support, TST-FC was developed by McCauley with Dr. Glenn Saxe of the NYU Langone Medical Center. Saxe created the model that inspired TST-FC, Trauma Systems Therapy (TST). Addressing the emotional responses of children who have experienced trauma, TST brings together service providers — including teachers, spiritual leaders and local advocates — to coordinate evidence-based services and interventions in various settings. A five-year evaluation of TST, conducted by Child Trends, found measurable improvement in the functioning and placement stability of 1,500 children served by KVC.
TST-FC’s beneficiaries include child welfare agencies. As an agency professional at a pilot site said, “The opportunity to provide trauma-focused interventions with foster parents and youth placed in care has dramatically changed our practice and re-energized our staff's commitment to this work.”