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New Program Supports Families and Children in Foster Care

Released 25 April 2013

Visit Coaching Program

This year, The Salvation Army Children's Services began Visit Coaching, a new program to support families and children in foster care. The program, based on research by Dr. Marty Beyer and funded by a three year grant, has been shown to speed the reunification of families.

Typically, parents and children in foster care visit with each other at the Allentown county office; in a sterile room, often lacking toys, books, or space to play. Child welfare staff is also in the room to observe the family's interaction and take notes. The environment makes families uncomfortable and brings out the worst in the parent and child, who react to each other's stress.

The new Visit Coaching program at The Salvation Army is designed to help parents learn and respond to the unique developmental needs of their children in a supportive and comfortable environment. Before each visit parents meet with Visit Coach, Robyn Hubbard, to talk about the needs of each child and address issues that brought them into foster care. These planning sessions empower parents to be active and hands-on parents.

Visits take place in the specially designed "family room" at The Salvation Army. The room welcomes families with warm paint colors, comfortable new furniture, and stocked shelves with books, toys, and creative art supplies.

"This beautiful place has truly been prepared with the restoration of families in mind," said Hubbard.

During the visit parents are gently coached to lead their children in meaningful, playful interaction designed to strengthen attachment. Engaging, fun activities allow families to feel at home and enjoy time together. The visit coach also helps families work through difficult emotions that are natural to families in crisis.

After a recent visit, one mother commented, "I really loved having the visit here, much better and more personal than the county. I felt like I was in my living room; there was privacy and the room was so nicely decorated. It really made my visit more enjoyable."

After each visit, parents are given time to reflect and evaluate, empowering them to be attentive and child-focused parents. They leave feeling more confident and capable; more motivated and hopeful for the future.

The Visit Coaching program is designed to be creative and flexible to meet families' unique needs. Some family visits may even go into the community to the library or park. Hubbard has also been able to adapt the visit coaching program for parents who are incarcerated, providing pre-visit planning, therapeutic attachment activities, and post-visit evaluations in the prison.

"In these special circumstances it becomes clear that no walls are thick enough to bar families from meaningful, enriching connection," said Hubbard.

Currently the Visit Coaching program serves families in The Salvation Army Foster Care program, but plans are underway to expand the program. The Salvation Army Children's Services staff is meeting with county foster care workers to introduce them to the program and encourage more families to participate. Additional coaches will also be trained to meet the increasing demand of this unique, child-center approach to family reunification.

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