In their first years of life, children are 100% dependent on their parents for safety and basic physical needs. But they also need help regulating their physiology, attention, behavior and emotions. If a child experiences adversity such as neglect, maltreatment or exposure to violence early in life, they are left with a gap in their biobehavioral development.
That’s where Attachment and Biobehavioral Catchup (ABC)* comes into play. ABC is a ten-week parent training intervention that targets several key issues of very young children who have experienced trauma.
ABC has been effective in improving the following for young children:
- Attachment status
- Biology, including cortisol levels
- Executive function, including memory, reasoning and problem solving
- Emotional regulation
- Parental interactions, which are more nurturing and less frightening when ABC is practiced
Attachment and Behavioral Catchup for Visitation (ABC-V)
ABC-V extends this model to an especially vulnerable population: Children ages 0 to 6 years old in out-of- home care. The “V” stands for visitations, referring to the time birth families spend with their children after a foster care placement.
Parental visitations have historically been extremely valuable, yet tough to facilitate in meaningful ways. Both the children and parents are often emotional and visits can lack consistency in structure, preparation and follow-up. Foster parents haven’t traditionally been in attendance, which causes separation anxiety for children, and a chain reaction of birth parents feeling rejected by their own kids.
As a result of these emotional and other barriers, birth parents may skip visits, which puts more distance between them and their children and ultimately delays reunification.
ABC-V Pilot Project for Children up to Age 5
The ABC-V model is being used at SaintA as a method for improving “supervised visits”, which we now refer to as “Family Time.” ABC-V brings children, foster parents and birth parents onto the same team – and into the same room.
The SaintA ABC-V pilot project involves foster parents who have been newly licensed since April 1, 2016 and who are caring for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. In this model, some changes have been made to the structure before, during and after Family Time. New practices include:
- ABC-V Training. Foster parents and SaintA staff are trained on how to support birth parents during Family Time. An emphasis is put on ABC concepts, such as attachment status, emotion regulation, learning to follow the child’s lead and taking delight in the child.
- Foster Parents Attend Family Time. Once trained in ABC-V, foster parents attend Family Time with parents of the children placed in their homes. Their inclusion allows for real-time parental support and coaching and helps create trust between the bio and birth parents.
- Staff Mentoring. A SaintA Family Engagement Specialist (FES) acts as a mentor for both the birth parents and foster parents. In addition, if foster parents are not available for a family interaction, FES staff will use the Coaching model to ensure family time can still take place.
- Pre-Meetings. For 30 minutes before each Family Time session, birth parents will meet with a SaintA FES to discuss how the child might respond to seeing them, make suggestions for interacting with the child after time apart and teach them how to read the child’s needs.
- On-going Communication. Between each family interaction, foster parents will have a 30-minute phone call with their FES to get additional supervision and mentoring for using the ABC-V model.
The goal of the ABC-V model is to make Family Time sessions among children, caregivers and birth parents more comfortable, less awkward and more productive. Specifically, the model hopes to:
- Strengthen the relationship between caregivers and birth parents
- Help birth parents have a successful family interaction and feel less rejected by their children
- Encourage consistent family interaction
- Increase caregiver and birth parents use of “following the lead” and delight with their children
Although this pilot program is for very young children, the same key concepts of the ABC-V model will be implemented for Family Time with the parents of older children and youth as well. The Family Time team is looking forward to seeing how this model can improve family interactions and help bio parents move closer to reunification with their kids.
To learn more about the importance of productive Family Time, visit our Family Services page or contact Sonja Kania, Director of Family Services at 414.465.1358. You can also read an updated blog post here. [Please link to the ABC-V story]
*ABC was developed by Dr. Mary Dozier, PhD., at the University of Delaware. Dr. Dozier and colleagues have also written papers on ABC for Visitation. (InfantCaregiverProject.com)