Federal agency awards PSU Adoption Therapy program

Adoption awardPSU Program Managers, Marion Sharp (GSE) and Kellie Herold (SSW), were honored that the Therapy with Adoptive and Foster Families program received a 2013 Adoption Excellence Award from the Children’s Bureau, a federal agency that partners with federal, state, tribal, and local agencies to improve the overall health and well-being of our nation’s children and families. The Adoption Excellence Awards are “designed to recognize excellence in achieving the goals of safety, permanency, and well-being of children in out-of-home care.” The award criteria include innovation, overall impact and benefits, use of resources, community outreach, partnerships, sustainability, ability to replicate, and leadership.

“This award-winning program has been a true collaboration between multiple disciplines and agencies from its inception 10 years ago. It has positively impacted hundreds of adopted and foster children,” said PSU Associate Dean Cheryl Livneh. “PSU is very proud of the program and the efforts of its staff and partners in developing it, revising it as needed, and providing it nationally.”

The PSU program focuses on the specialized theories and practices for treating children who have histories of abuse, trauma, and neglect; for strengthening their family systems; and for enhancing resiliency. It was originally developed for mental health professionals who serve adoptive children and families receiving adoption assistance from the Oregon child welfare system. Families were requesting that therapists receive specialized training in working with adoptive and foster children. Mental health professionals who earn a certificate of completion in the program are part of a core group of clinicians who are available to serve adoptive and foster families post-adoptively throughout Oregon. A directory of mental health professionals who have completed this training is available on paper or online from Oregon’s Department of Human Services, and the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center (ORPARC). See the Directory of Therapists for more information.

PSU program managers—Ms. Sharp and Ms. Herold—wanted to expand the reach of the program to areas outside the Portland Metro area where adoption and foster competent therapists are even more difficult to locate. They chose a video streaming delivery that could be viewed live or streamed later as needed to suit a student’s schedule. “The video streaming provides additional opportunity to view the information at a more convenient time,” said Ms. Sharp. “This really helps to reinforce key concepts and provides a richer learning experience.”

Over 500 students nationwide have taken one or more offerings in the program. “We’re proud that adoptive families can now find support to parent the children they love,” said Katharine Cahn, executive director of the Child Welfare Partnership/PSU Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services. “As a result of this program, the directory holds 90 certified therapists serving families in 20 Oregon counties. We have also had a national impact, with 30 certified therapists in other states.” In addition, program faculty have participated in national discussions to identify adoption therapy competencies.

“Families caring for children who have been involved with the child welfare system encounter complexities incomparable to families raising biological children,” said Gerald Mallon, executive director of the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections and an instructor in the program. “Without the necessary therapeutic supports available, these families face an increased risk of disruption or dissolution.”

The program is having a real impact on communities, both urban and rural. “I had the opportunity to attend the certification program approximately three years ago, and it has greatly enhanced the work I do with foster/adoptive families and children in Wallowa County,” said Stephanie Williams, a clinical supervisor and therapist in a remote county in northeastern Oregon.

The program has been widely received in the human resources community and has collected other regional and national honors in 2012 and 2013 as well.

Program managers attribute the success of the program to a solid partnership of agencies: the Portland State University Counselor Education Department in the Graduate School of Education, the School of Social Work/Child Welfare Partnership, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Adoptions, and the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center (ORPARC). “This collaboration is key to the success of the program,” says Ms. Herold. “Our partners have continued to bring innovation and best practices to this unique program.”

The Children’s Bureau (CB) is the first federal agency within the U.S. government to focus exclusively on improving the lives of children and families. Since its creation by President Taft in 1912, the bureau has tackled some of our nation’s most pressing social issues, including, infant and maternal death, child labor, orphanages, child health and recreation, delinquency and juvenile courts, family economic security, abused and neglected children, and foster care. The Children’s Bureau (CB) partners with federal, state, tribal and local agencies to improve the overall health and well-being of our nation’s children and families.


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