Research Article| Volume 41, P68-73, December 2022

Minding the complexities of psychotropic medication management for children and youth in the foster care system

Paper 2: Levels of trauma responsiveness among child welfare staff

      Paper 2 abstract: levels of trauma responsiveness among child welfare staff


      Foster care children tend to have greater physical and mental health needs compared to those of their peers who are not in foster care due to many challenges that threaten their well-being. Yet, owing to frequent placement changes, their treatment may be fragmented. Moreover, if foster children are unable to provide important information about their own health status, and the same cannot be obtained from their families of origin, the resulting incomplete and/or inconsistent health history puts them at risk for unrecognized problems and conflicting diagnoses. Paradoxically, foster parents and resource providers often request psychotropic medications for children and youth in their care as a means of managing their behaviors. The phenomenon of inappropriate polypharmacy arises due in part to the difficulties related to integrating trauma-informed principles into the care process. It is further exacerbated by the complexity of intersecting systems in which child welfare case workers need to communicate including foster and biological parents, social service agencies, and advocates. In this second paper, we report on the same intervention as that discussed in the first paper, focusing on the effectiveness of the live 2-hour face-to-face training for child welfare staff and the 3-month web-based curriculum for leadership personnel in improving the participants' trauma responsiveness.

      Research Questions

      1. What are the child welfare staff’s perceptions of their own knowledge, attitudes, and communication behaviors associated with medications used to treat mental health symptoms and monitoring for side-effects of psychotropic medication use in children? 2. What is the level of trauma responsiveness among child welfare staff?

      Methodology and Participants

      The ABC Medication Scale was employed to measure staff knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors associated with medications used to treat mental health symptoms before and after the intervention to determine if the training resulted in any improvements. Individual- and organizational-level trauma responsiveness was rated on a continuum of the Missouri Model: A Developmental Framework for Trauma-Informed Approaches. Artifacts of the web-based curriculum and qualitative interview data were analyzed by applying grounded theory methods.


      There was a significant increase in The ABC Medication Scale scores following the training. The qualitative findings further revealed that majority of the participants rated themselves as “trauma aware” or “trauma responsive” on the Missouri Model, while indicating that their agencies could work harder to become more fully trauma-informed. As trauma-informed child welfare workforce that understands the complexity and advocacy requirements of psychotropic medication management is needed, further longitudinal research is required is to assess the training effects over time. In particular, the aim should be to establish (a) how knowledge and attitude shifts correlate with greater degrees of trauma responsiveness, and (b) if and how such trainings translate into improved systems of support.


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      Further reading

        • CAST
        Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2.