In today’s world, family relationships can be complicated, and families that come together through foster care, guardianship, and adoption often experience increased challenges. According to research, adoptive and foster parents cite competent mental health services as one of their greatest unmet needs. To address this need, the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI) offers effective solutions that ensure mental health and child welfare professionals are well prepared to support all families. 

NTI offers state-of-the-art training that professionals can complete online, when and where it is convenient for them. The training options include:

  • An eight-module, 20-hour curriculum for child welfare professionals
  • An eight-module, 20-hour curriculum (plus three-hour supervision add-on) for child welfare supervisors
  • 10-module, 25- to 28-hour curriculum for mental health professionals

The learning modules have been informed by adoption, mental health, and child welfare experts, and contain best practices and effective strategies for working with children, youth, and families. Resource materials included with each learning module provide tips and tools that enable professionals to seamlessly transfer their learning into real practice. 

When the Alliance’s learning community launches in early November, it will offer online courses created by the Alliance and its partners. Partner-developed offerings include all of the NTI trainings from the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), which was funded through a cooperative agreement with the Federal Children’s Bureau.

Learn more about the NTI curriculum and how you can offer this training to staff through the Alliance by registering for the upcoming webinar, Nov. 14 from 1-2 p.m. CT. 

Alliance Network Experience with NTI

Alliance member Youth Villages in Memphis, Tennessee, was a pivotal part of piloting NTI prior to the national release. In a recent interview, Michael Stempkovski, clinical services program manager at Youth Villages, shared why they integrated NTI, the challenges experienced, and the benefits of participation in online training.

Q1: Describe the challenge this effort/initiative was designed to address. 

Michael: In Tennessee, many of the children we serve in treatment foster care have entered state custody and then experienced a termination of parental rights. These foster-to-adopt children have additional needs and vulnerabilities beyond what all foster youth experience at removal from their families. We wanted additional training and support for our staff as they assisted these youth in moving toward permanency with their pre-adoptive families. We also wanted cost-effective resources to develop our staff skills and competency in working with pre-adoptive and formerly adopted youth.

Q2: How did you encourage completion of the online training? How did you reinforce learning? 

Michael: We made this a mandatory training, but the time it took to complete was a serious barrier because it was self-paced. Fitting it into schedules was one of the primary challenges our staff faced.  We instituted several coordinated efforts to have supervisors reinforce modules as counselors completed them, and then regional supervisors and consultants integrated the learned material into weekly team meetings and consultations for their cases.

Initially, almost all staff were excited about this opportunity and over the course of weeks, it was apparent that the material was very high quality and offered information that was applicable in their day-to-day activities (such as working on grief and loss in Lifebooks). Over time, however, some staff became discouraged and did not complete modules on time and fell behind their teammates. We focused on lagging teams by offering ‘lunch and learns,’ where team members could get together for lunch and work on modules at the same time in the same location. We discouraged staff from working on the curriculum after hours or on the weekends to avoid burnout, and we encouraged them to block out at least two hours per week for the sole purpose of working on the curriculum.

Overall, Youth Villages’ leadership was very pleased with the completion rate for our staff (about 80% completed) and felt that it was helpful for staff to complete the training. Our leadership did a great job of voicing its support for staff to complete the training, and almost all the leaders up to the regional level also participated and completed the curriculum themselves. This really reinforced that we were wanting staff to complete to improve outcomes for our youth with foster-to-adopt as their permanency goal and that they were willing to go through the training as well.

Q3: What were the outcomes? What were the successes?

Michael: In terms of success, I think the training offered staff a more robust perspective on adoption competency that unified communication with consistent language and terminology as defined by the NTI modules.

We surveyed our staff following the completion of the NTI cohort and asked them if they found the curriculum to be helpful. We also had early completers share what they learned and took away from their study. About 93% of our staff reported that they found the material to be valuable in their day-to-day work, so this also helped reinforce completion as so many did find value in completing.

Q4: What advice do you have to Alliance members in this area?

Michael: Definitely have a select group of team members commit to finishing the training swiftly and serving as champions as you implement on a broader scale at your agency. Encourage them to support other staff who may struggle with the time commitment, transfer of learning, and completion of the curriculum.