Child Welfare Systems Grapple with How to Translate Brain Science into Practice [chronicleofsocialchange.org]

Some of you may have already read this piece published earlier this month by the Chronicle of Social Change, I first read it when it slid into my inbox as a link in a recent ACEs Connection Daily Digest. It wasn’t until having some downtime over the holiday weekend that I could read more about the programs referenced in this article. I learned about two exciting initiatives, inclusive of partnerships across both state and international boarders, “grappling” with how to translate the language of brain science into the language of child welfare policy and practice.

Earlier this month I read the report referenced in this article, published by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, and I was really energized by what I read! The recommendations draw clear lines between the effects of toxic stress and adverse experiences on development, connecting these findings with recommendations for practice and policy reform. 

There is an inescapable buzz in child welfare touting the importance of strengthening the linkages between the effects of toxic stress on neuro-development and areas of practice – this is a great thing! Science has given us so much knowledge about the effects of adversity on child development. It’s not so absurd to use this information to inform policy and practice across the system, wouldn’t you say? After all, before, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Now, we are armed with scientifically-informed ideas, strategies and tools to address adversity, toxic stress, and generational trauma; and build resiliency and positive change for children and families involved in child welfare.

Changes to practice with caregivers are reflective of one small slice of the child welfare pie, but certainly a piece worthy of focus and attention. I appreciated the recommendation in this article to focus on caregivers. For me, that means licensed foster parents, biological parents, and kinship/fictive kin caregivers – and sometimes a combination of two, or all three. Comment below if you know of other programs linking not only neuroscience, but all ACE sciences to policy and practice with caregivers of children who’ve experienced toxic stress and adversity.

The idea of brain science in child welfare is hardly new but a pair of recent efforts highlight a growing push in the child welfare field to move an influx of findings drawn from the worlds of neuroscience and child development into practice.

According to leaders in the field, child welfare policies and practices can see immediate and substantive benefits from the successful translation of this emerging brain science, but several challenges remain.

A recently released brief from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University draws attention to translational opportunities for brain science in a child welfare context. Researchers from the center have helped define the harmful toll “toxic stress” takes on many children and even adults in the child welfare system.

Click here to read the whole article and learn more about how some small pockets of child welfare are contending with “inventing the how” to translate brain science into practice.

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