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Too often we hear bad news from the research on foster youth. In striking contrast, the latest research from the Foster Care Research Group,  based at the University of San Francisco that evaluates the programs of A Home Within, demonstrates that the emotional well-being of foster youth seen by our therapists improves substantially over the time they are in therapy.

In particular, recent analyses of symptom reduction over the course of long-term treatment demonstrates clinically and statistically significant declines in depression, anxiety, dissociative symptoms, suicidal thoughts, sleep difficulties, learning problems, and self-injurious behavior. The quality of life improves as these symptoms lessen because they interfere with social interactions, learning, and the overall capacity to manage the ups and downs of everyday life. In short, long-term therapy is improving the chances for these foster youth to lead productive and personally satisfying lives.

Not surprisingly, establishing and maintaining relationships is hard for youth who have experienced multiple unexpected and inexplicable losses. With good reason, they do not trust easily. It typically takes several months for foster youth to feel safe enough to begin to share their feelings with a therapist. The fact that this data comes from interviews with therapists who, on average, have worked with their clients for over three years is a testament to the needs and hopes of the youth and the skill and hopes of our therapists.

The work of the Foster Care Research Group, headed by Dr. June Madsen Clausen in the Department of Psychology at USF, is an invaluable resource for A Home Within.
Under her guidance, for the last eight years, undergraduate research assistants have conducted telephone interviews with therapists at the beginning of treatment and annually thereafter until an “exit interview” when the therapist reports that the treatment has come to a close. Over that time, they have been gradually expanding the number of chapters included in this first phase of the research, and this fall will include all chapters. We are especially excited to learn that the research group will now be moving into the long-planned second phase of the research, which will involve collecting data from the caseworkers that are responsible for the foster youth referred to A Home Within. This will supply additional data points, helping us to better understand what we do well and what we can do better.

The data supports what we all know — relationships DO make a difference!

By Toni Heineman