Empowering Youth to Foster Healthy Futures

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the vulnerability of children and youth in our communities, especially those experiencing trauma or involvement in the child welfare system. These youth are typically at an increased risk for adverse outcomes, but they are also capable of showing remarkable resilience with the right care.

The Kempe Center’s Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a positive youth development program that uses mentoring and skills training to empower youth to foster their own healthy futures, has recently adapted in several ways in response to current events and policy mandates.

“We developed FHF based on the understanding that all young people have strengths they can leverage to thrive in their own way,” explains Heather Taussig, the creator and Director of FHF. “It has been a top priority for us to continue engaging with our youth, particularly those facing adversity during this unprecedented time.”

Adapting to the Pandemic and Beyond

In the wake of COVID-19, the FHF program team shifted to online mentoring and skills groups last spring. “Moving everything online was a challenge, certainly, but we’ve also noticed many positive benefits and plan to use these virtual tools beyond the pandemic,” said Jessica Corvinus, Director of Dissemination for the FHF program. “This year, we plan to offer a hybrid program of online skills groups with in-person mentoring to support those youth who live outside of the Denver metro area.”

Implementing a Family First Approach

Guided by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) passed in 2018, the FHF program team has also shifted their focus to care for youth who have had a range of traumatic experiences – not just those in foster care.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, FFPSA has been characterized as the most significant child welfare legislation in over a decade. This federal law includes historic reforms to help keep children and youth safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, and emphasizes the importance of children and youth growing up in families. In cases where foster care is needed, FFPSA helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate for their needs.

In alignment with FFPSA’s priority of reducing the number of youth placed in congregate care, the Acing Healthy Futures program works with youth who have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), providing them with the same evidence-based mentoring and skills training that are the hallmark of the FHF program.

“We recognized a need to provide our programming to youth living with birth families who have faced adverse childhood experiences,” says Corvinus. “That’s why it was important for us to introduce the Acing Healthy Futures program and focus our efforts on addressing major life stressors before they result in the need for child welfare involvement.”

What’s Next for FHF 

Moving ahead, the primary goal of FHF is to reach more youth outside the Denver Metro area by training additional agencies and professionals to run the program. The FHF program team recently received a Tony Grampsas Youth Services grant to help with this goal.

A donation to the Kempe Foundation can also support the expansion of FHF at a time when our youth truly need it most. You can help us reach more youth by donating today.

Kempe Professional Heather Taussig Receives Fulbright Award

Congratulations to Kempe professional Heather Taussig on receiving a 2020-21 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program Award to conduct research on innovative prevention programs for youth with adverse life experiences.

Heather is the creator and Program Director for Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF), a mentoring and skills training program for youth. In her research, she’ll have the opportunity to take a new look at extensive FHF data collected over the past two decades.

Heather plans to conduct research at Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) in Wales in 2021.

Congrats to Heather on this momentous achievement! Learn More.

Trauma-Responsive Schools: A New Frontier for Protecting Children

As the school year begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado students, parents and educators are facing new and persistent levels of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and loss. These feelings, especially over a prolonged period of time, can be especially traumatic for children.

Experts point to a large body of research demonstrating negative effects of trauma on students’ cognitive, academic, behavioral and social-emotional functioning in schools. Equipped with this research, child, youth and family serving systems across the state are exploring ways to re-design the educational experience to reflect an integrated school system that fosters healthy, safe, and responsive environments.

Trauma-Responsive Training for Educators

With Dr. Evelin Gomez leading the way, the Kempe Center’s trauma-informed practice team has been at the forefront of creating practices for schools that help mitigate the impact of trauma and promote healing for children. A trauma-responsive approach can also help educators have better interactions with their students and colleagues and even improve their own well-being.

“Training teachers on how to be mindful and fully present in the classroom – it seems simple but has a huge impact on kids and their ability to learn and stay engaged,” said Dr. Gomez.

In an effort to promote trauma-informed practices even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gomez and her team have provided training, coaching and consultation for educators in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health in the Colorado Department of Human Services. As the pandemic continues, bringing additional stress and trauma to light, Dr. Gomez hopes to increase trainings across the state utilizing the Colorado Trauma-Responsive Schools Theory of Change Toolkit.

“Many schools already have some trauma-informed practices in place. Our goal is to take what schools are already doing and equip them with the additional tools they need to better serve children, parents and teachers, especially as they navigate through the current crisis,” said Dr. Gomez.

Trauma-Informed Support for Parents

In addition to trauma-informed trainings, professionals are also exploring new ways of addressing trauma in the wake of COVID-19, including small group discussions between parents looking for connection and resources. These discussions, facilitated by school administrators, allow parents the opportunity to solve problems together.

“If you don’t have people helping you and supporting you, how can you feel effective as a parent?” said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, on the topic of small group interactions. “Connection with one another is the only way parents can handle the uncertainty we’re currently facing.”

Dr. Berkowitz explains that when supported by the right programs that address families’ needs holistically, children are more likely to avoid additional traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect.

“These small group interactions aren’t just helpful for parents – they allow schools to check in on the well-being of students and identify any instances of impeded family functioning or early signs of maltreatment,” said Dr. Berkowitz.

By focusing on the implementation of trauma-responsive and culturally reflective practices within schools, the professionals at the Kempe Center are leading a comprehensive approach to enhance the opportunities for all Colorado children to be resilient and equipped to reach their full potential.

We know the path to healthy childhoods requires aligning and integrating systems to serve all children and families, advancing policies that prioritize children and families, and building capacity to expand programs demonstrated to work. Each of these things requires a commitment to innovation and an ability to incubate new models, like the Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice (TRIP) program.

Help us make our vision a reality by donating the critical funds needed to expand this program and build capacity to help all children and families. Support Kempe today.

Our Impact in Fiscal Year 2020

Another fiscal year has come to an end for the Kempe Foundation and we want to thank our supporters for championing the work of Kempe Center professionals and the programs they run to strengthen families, communities and the systems that serve them. Your generosity underscores the impactful work we were able to achieve this year, including the following:

  • The Foundation provided a grant to the Center to implement the Best Start program, which provides education and training to caregivers about parent-child interaction, child safety and child health so they can better support their children.
  • We also granted impact funds to expand the reach of the Fostering Healthy Futures mentoring program.
  • We provided funding for the Kempe Center’s strategic planning process as they build a plan for the future under the leadership of Dr. Kathryn Wells.
  • The Kempe Center initiated implementation of the CARENetwork within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – legislation that prioritizes children and builds capacity in the state budget for the systems that serve children statewide.
  • The Foundation covered nearly $280,000 in rent and facility costs for Kempe Center programs by subsidizing office space and allowing these programs to put more dollars into their work.

Your donations make our work possible.

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has transformed our field and compelled us all to reshape the ways we serve children and families. It is more important than ever to support the healthcare, mental health, and child welfare professionals and workers in our communities, who are on the ground, day in and day out, keeping our children and families safe and supported.

Ron Mitchell Named Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center

The Kempe Center and the Kempe Foundation are pleased to announce the appointment of Ron Mitchell, MSW as the new Deputy Executive Director for the Kempe Center. Mitchell joins the Kempe team with over 30 years of dedication to public human services work and a passion for improving the lives of children through research, system reforms and legislative efforts.

“I am truly honored to begin this next chapter with such a phenomenal organization,” said Mitchell. “The team I’m working with is passionate and driven to create lasting change.”

As Deputy Director, Mitchell will take on the responsibility of developing and coordinating key strategic partnerships for the Center. He will also provide support and direction for projects related to the implementation of evidence-based and promising practices, systems of care and child health across multiple entities.

One of the projects Mitchell will lead, along with Dr. Antonia Chiesa, is the CARENetwork, which develops and maintains a standardized, coordinated response to child abuse and neglect through a network of designated healthcare providers.

“A child’s outcomes in the system shouldn’t be based on where they live. There needs to be a standard approach across the board, and I’m dedicated to moving us toward that goal with the CARENetwork and other projects,” said Mitchell.

Prior to joining the Kempe team, Mitchell’s career included work in child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and fiscal administration. He worked for Denver County and Mesa County, as well as Colorado’s Division of Youth Services, and has been the director of two residential child care facilities. He was also a co-author of one of the initial comprehensive child welfare system reform plans adopted in Colorado, the components of which would be used both in Colorado and nationally to dramatically reduce the numbers of children in out of home placement, and preserve more children with their biological and kinship families.

We are thrilled to welcome Mitchell to the Kempe team and look forward to engaging him in our work to help position the Kempe Center as a catalyst driving overall systemic change.