Fostering Healthy Futures for Vulnerable Youth Through Mentoring
WORKSHOP LED BY HEATHER TAUSSIG
Heather Taussig, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Colorado, USA.
Dr. Taussig has spent her career developing prevention programming for vulnerable youth, with a focus on maltreated children in foster care. She developed and directs the Fostering Healthy Futures program, an evidence-based mentoring and skills training program for preadolescent children. An adaptation of Fostering Healthy Futures for teens is currently being tested in a randomized controlled trial. Dr. Taussig also conducts longitudinal research on risk and protective factors, teen dating violence, child welfare outcomes, and policy issues related to foster care.
Dr. Taussig served on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Panel on Mentoring, which examined the science associated with mentoring programs. She was also a Research Fellow at the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring at Portland State University and currently serves on the Research Board of the U.S. National Mentoring Resource Center, funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Dr. Taussig served on Colorado Governor Ritter’s Task Force on Foster Care and Permanence and continues to participate in several community collaboratives and partnerships, including Mentor Colorado.
Youth with a history of maltreatment are at risk for mental health, behavioral, and social problems, resulting in adverse life-course outcomes. Innovative interventions are needed to mitigate the risk for poor outcomes. Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) is a mentoring and skills training program for preadolescent children who have been maltreated and placed in foster care (see www.fosteringhealthyfutures.org). FHF has been tested through rigorous research including three randomized controlled trials, which have demonstrated important outcomes including increased living stability, better mental health functioning and less delinquency/juvenile justice involvement (see Taussig & Culhane, 2010; Taussig et al., 2012; Taussig et al., 2019). Two adaptations of FHF are currently being evaluated: (1) a mentoring program for teenagers with a history of maltreatment and child welfare involvement and (2) a program for pre-teens with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
This presentation will decribe the development, key components, and outcomes of the FHF program, paying particular attention to the conference themes.
Although the FHF program was developed by practitioners/researchers, we used focus groups with key participants to shape the program model and we continually employ participant feedback to make modifications. In addition, although we evaluate program outcomes in our research, we also examine key mentoring program components and processes so that our work may better inform the broader research community.
Mentoring and socio-cultural diversity:
The mentors in our program are graduate students who often do not match their mentees on demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status). We will discuss the measures we have taken to train mentors to work with diverse youth and families and examine outcomes for diverse program participants.
Mentoring and gender:
In our program, half of the children are male but we have predominantly female mentors. Qualitative interviews with children and caregivers post-program have been conducted to understand children’s and caregivers’ experiences of gender mismatches. We will also discuss how we incorporate issues of healthy relationships, sexual health and dating violence into our programs.
Methodologies and ethics on mentoring:
FHF is a time-limited mentoring program for children who have experienced substantial adversity and trauma. In addition, the use of students as mentors has been questioned, especially because they do not match youth on many key characteristics. We will discuss the rationale for these program components and ramifications.
Overall, the goal of the session will be for mentoring practitioners and researchers to engage in discussion and leave with ideas for how to develop contextually-sensitive, ethical and impactful mentoring programs for vulnerable children.