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Building Relationships with Foster Youth: An Evidence-Based Approach to Foster Care

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

You are considering or have decided to become a therapeutic foster parent! This is such exciting news, but you may be wondering where to begin with the foster youth in your home.

You want them to trust you, do well in the home, and understand how you can support them. Throughout this article we will cover what therapeutic foster care is, including the evidence-based treatments used at Quality Youth Services; how to track youths behavior; and the importance of building a relationship with the youth in your home. We want you to feel confident in the process and understand different ways to get to know the youth in your care.

Quality Youth Services uses the evidence-based treatment Foster Care program model, Together Facing the Challenge (TFTC), that was created by Duke University. This article will outline the first training module in the TFTC curriculum which is provided to Quality Youth Services foster parents for free during the onboarding process.

What is a therapeutic foster parent?

When you become a therapeutic foster parent you are a vital part of the youths' treatment team. Most of the youth's time will be spent in the home with you and your family. This means you will see first hand how the youth is adapting and behaving. While this can sound intimidating, your Quality Youth Services support team will be with you the whole way.

QYS will teach you how to:

  • Track youth behaviors by identifying and naming them

  • Recognize how often bad behaviors happen

  • Recognize a pattern of behaviors such as behavior cycles and identifying precedents to bad behaviors

  • Reinforce positive changes using different evidence-based interventions.

Becoming a therapeutic foster parent at Quality Youth Services means you are not alone; instead, you are part of a team. This includes a treatment coordinator, therapist, PRS provider, mentor, and case worker for every youth in your home. The QYS team approach ensures we all work together to enact the youth’s best interest. Like our motto says, “We do what works for kids first.”

The purpose of evidence-based practice

You may be asking, what exactly is an evidence-based practice? Evidence-based practices are an intervention or tool that has been tested and researched to show their efficiency and effectiveness in providing a desired result. While there are numerous evidence-based practices, Quality Youth Services follows the treatment foster care program model, Together Facing the Challenge (TFTC). This curriculum directs the youth’s treatment team on how to handle unwanted and maladaptive behaviors as well as gives the treatment team tools to help the foster youth learn new skills and behaviors to better adapt to being a successful, happy adult. By using an evidence-based treatment model, Quality Youth Services Foster Parents can rest assured the parenting techniques they are taught to implement are proven to be effective and create lasting, positive change in the youth during their stay in foster care and beyond. QYS is here to help foster parents every step of the way to increase their confidence and knowledge in the parenting decisions they make.

Building a relationship with the youth in your home.

Getting to know a complete stranger can be scary and intimidating. This is especially true for the foster youth entering your home. The vast majority of youth do not choose to be placed in foster care and they do not know what to expect. Being patient and earning the youth's trust is a great first step in the journey. Understand that just because they do not open up right away, or want to spend time alone in their room, they are not being rude or defiant. More than likely they are trying to adapt and adjust to their new surroundings. Try getting to know your youth by finding things you have in common and listening to what they are interested in. By doing so, you are showing them that you care and want to see them succeed. Remember to keep a positive attitude and communicate clearly and frequently about any expectations or feelings you have with the youth. Taking the extra time to do the little things can go a long way in the youths' treatment.

Creating a trauma sensitive home

When youth enter therapeutic foster care you must remember their “invisible suitcase” or what some have referred to as “emotional baggage”. Invisible suitcases are not unique to foster youth, everyone has one! The invisible suitcase everyone carries holds all the fears, beliefs, experiences, trauma, knowledge and traditions a person has been through in their life. These invisible suitcases go with the youth everywhere, this means it can go with them to school and with them into your home. The feelings inside this suitcase may be about themselves or it may be about you as their caretaker. These feelings and experiences have made it hard for them to trust others. However, with the help of you and the treatment team, we can help the youth overcome the negative aspects of their invisible suitcase, and start filling them up with positive experiences instead.

Below are a few ways you can help create a trauma sensitive home:

  • Normalize talking about feelings. Many of these youth have learned to hide or bottle up their feelings. This often causes them to act or react in ways that seem concerning. By normalizing talking about their feelings you can help them learn healthier ways to cope with them This can be done by being willing to demonstrate talking about your own feelings in a calm manner.

  • Rethink your space. What may seem normal and harmless to you can trigger and remind the youth of the trauma they have experienced in the past. Walk the youth through the home when they arrive and help them identify such items. After they have been identified you can either rearrange or help the youth find ways to avoid it.

  • Give them appropriate control. Many of the youth in foster care have not had control over their physical or personal space. So by allowing them to select appropriate decorations for their room, they can feel valued and respected, giving them physical control over their environment. Also make sure to give them personal control over when they feel overwhelmed and just need some time to themselves.

Social Learning Theory, as easy and A, B and C

The gist of Social Learning Theory is pretty basic: Youth learn behaviors based on those around them as well as based on what happens before and after a behavior occurs. This is important to remember when fostering youth because foster parents are the ones who will observe their behavior the most. Because the foster parent SEEs the most, they have the ability to help change a behavior, by changing what triggered the behavior to occur, or changing their reaction after a behavior has happened.

This can be done as simply as saying A, B and C.

  • A stands for antecedent. This is what comes right before the behavior.

  • B stands for behavior. A behavior is an observable action. For the B to be a behavior, you must be able to see it.

  • C stands for consequence. This simply means what happens after the behavior occurs. Consequences can be either positive or negative, but it happens after the behavior occurs. The consequence can be as simple as the adults reaction, the youth will watch this and learn from it. Make sure to remember you are the example.

Below we will go through the ABC method with a scenario:

  • The youth is asked to complete his chores

  • The youth reacts by getting angry and screaming at the foster parent

  • The youth is sent to his room to calm down and then after they are calm the foster parent can ask them why they have not been completing their chores to see how they can help

All behavior is communication

Tracking a youth’s behavior is vital to understanding why the youth may behave or react a certain way to different situations. When youth behave a certain way, they are communicating with you, and sometimes they do not know how to respond, so instead they act out their feelings. Tracking behavior can help you identify many of the youth’s strengths and identify any behaviors that may be considered concerning or maladaptive for future success. Finding out what these behaviors are will help you understand your youth better. Tracking and reinforcing positive behaviors can help your youth adjust and feel confident learning to communicate in new ways.

When tracking youths behavior you will want to know:

  • How frequently does it occur?

  • How long does the behavior last or how long has the youth been exhibiting the behavior?

  • How intense or serious is the behavior?

  • Where does the behavior occur?

How to track the youth's behavior

Being a therapeutic foster parent means you have the important job of monitoring and tracking the youth's behavior while in your care. Come up with a plan and write down what happens. This can be intimidating but with a simple step by step process it will make it easier.

  1. Pick a problem behavior you want to work on with the youth.

  2. Ask yourself what it looks like or sounds like when the youth begins to behave this way?

  3. Now take a few minutes and think of the opposite positive behavior. What would the positive behavior look or sound like if the problem behavior did not occur?

Once you have done the steps above try and spend an hour a day with the youth and follow the next steps below.

  • Within that hour focus on observing the child's behavior for 5 to 10 minute chunks

  • If you see the problem behavior mark it and the same goes with the opposite positive behavior.

  • Pay attention to what happened before the behavior occurred (antecedent)

  • Did they demonstrate the problem behavior or opposite positive behavior?

  • What happened right after the behavior occurred?

  • Remind the youth of the opposite positive behavior

By using this simple method to track the youths behavior, it helps you as their foster parent understand why the problem behavior may occur and is great way to discuss behaviors with the rest of the treatment team. Behavior tracking can help everyone see when the behavior is changing and shows the youth is making progress. This is both encouraging and important for the youths' success.

Remember, you are part of a team!

Becoming a therapeutic foster parent is a big decision to make, but once you do so, you are not alone in any step of the process.

Three key things to remember are:

  1. Supportive and involved relationships exist between the therapeutic foster parent and the case manager.

  2. Supportive and involved relationships exist between the therapeutic foster parent and the youth in your care.

  3. Therapeutic foster parents use effective behavior management strategies that are backed by evidence that they are effective and create lasting, positive change.

Quality Youth Services team approach allows the foster parent to be an integral part of the therapeutic process as a trained and informed participant. QYS will teach you ways to get to know your youth, help you understand their invisible suitcase, and show you how to track their behaviors.

Quality Youth Services provides short term foster care through our dedicated foster parents in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, please complete the foster parent application on our website at this link,, and our Program Director will call to schedule an interview within two days.

Or if you would like more information before applying, check out our website page dedicated to Foster Parents at this link,

You may also request more information or get answers to specific questions prior to applying at this link

Quality Youth Services Foster Parents play a vital role in the mental health, well-being and future success of the vulnerable youth they serve in their homes. Please join us in being catalysts of positive change in our community by deciding to foster today!

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