Relationship-Building Tools

The Children's Bureau, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides discretionary funds for projects designed to eliminate barriers to adoption and help find permanent families for children who would benefit from adoption, particularly children with special needs. This page provides a brief overview of each grant recipient as well as resources related to youth engagement, building relationships with teens, and preparing teens and adoptive families for permanency.


Minority Professional Leadership Development

Logo: Minority Professional Leadership Development Program at AdoptUSKids


Fellows in AdoptUSKids' Minority Professional Leadership Development program design and implement action research projects to address issues in child welfare. The following projects are centered on permanency for teens and youth engagement:

National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative

Logo: NTI, National Adoption Competency Mental health Training Initiative Advancing Practice for Permanency & Well-Being

The National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI) aims to improve outcomes for children and youth in foster, adoptive, and guardianship families by infusing enhanced permanency, adoption, and mental health competency in the provision of casework and clinical practice. NTI developed two state-of-the-art, standardized, web-based trainings to build the capacity of child welfare and mental health professionals in all States, Tribes, and territories to effectively support children, youth, and their foster, adoptive, and guardianship families. The NTI trainings include modules relevant to understanding the impact of trauma and loss on a youth's relationships; building rapport, trust, and openness; and facilitating conversations with youth about grief and loss. The resources on NTI's Resources for Working With Teens webpage are a sample of the information provided in these trainings.

National Training and Development Curriculum

Logo: National Training and Development Curriculum for Foster and Adoptive Parents

The National Training and Development Curriculum for Foster and Adoptive Parents (NTDC) prepares parents who are fostering and adopting with the tools to effectively parent children exposed to trauma, separation, and loss and provide these families with the ongoing skills development needed to understand and promote healthy child development. At the end of the project, States, counties, Tribes, territories, and private agencies will have access to a free, comprehensive curriculum. Resources from the curriculum include a video about effective communication with teens and a podcast on family dynamics. Both are available on NTDC's webpage of classroom based training materials.

NTDC was evaluated rigorously in seven pilot sites across the country, including one Tribal nation. A total of 4,268 foster, adoptive, and kinship parents participated in NTDC trainings between September 2020 and August 2022.

When comparing the results of parents who participated in NTDC training with parents who continued to participate in the pilot site's existing training, the results substantiate the impact of NTDC on parents and the children in their care.

Parents who took NTDC had greater improvements on the following measures compared to parents who took training as usual:

  • Knowledge of core caregiver competencies
  • Knowledge and skill related to trauma-informed parenting
  • Receptivity to birth family connections
  • Confidence in parenting children with challenging behaviors
  • Confidence to act in their parent role
  • Mental and physical well-being

Look for our full evaluation report. The NTDC is free and available now for any State, county, Tribal nation, Territory, or private child welfare agency. Information on how to access the curriculum can be found on the NTDC webpage "Accessing the Curriculum".

National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship

Logo: National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation

The National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) was a 5-year cooperative agreement designed to promote permanence (when reunification was no longer a goal) and to improve support for adoption and guardianship preservation. The QIC-AG worked with eight sites that implemented evidence-based interventions or developed and tested promising practices. The following resources from the Pathways to Permanency model can support relationship building with teens:

The Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency (QIC-EY)

Logo: The Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency

"It is not about adding something new…. It is about changing how we do things. It is about being intentional in how we do our work and the priorities that we as a child welfare system place on the relational aspects of our work. It is turning a 'task' or 'requirement' into a relational moment that might not just impact the child or youth in the present, but will have long-term effects." -child welfare professional

Funded by the Children's Bureau beginning in October 2021, the QIC-EY is charged with advancing child welfare programs and practices to ensure they authentically engage and empower children and youth in child welfare throughout the United States, especially concerning permanency decisions. The work of the QIC-EY is expected to bring about systemic changes in how children and youth are authentically engaged, as reflected in intentional policy, practice, and culture shifts in the eight pilot sites. The QIC-EY is working with the following sites:

  • Hawaii
  • Yakima Nation
  • Rhode Island
  • Nebraska
  • Montana
  • Michigan
  • Southern Plains Consortium of Tribes in Oklahoma (which includes eight Tribes: Caddo Nation, Cheyanne and Arapaho, Comanche Nation, Delaware Nation, Fort Sil Apache, Kiowa Tribe, Apache Tribe, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes)

QIC-EY leadership worked in connection with its National Youth Engagement Advisory Council as well as its core partners to come up with a definition of youth engagement:

Authentic engagement means actively and intentionally partnering with children and youth about their lives, on their terms, in ways that make sense to them. To authentically engage children and youth, child welfare staff must:

  • Be committed, flexible, self-aware, and open to shared decision-making
  • Use strong communication skills to build trusting relationships with children and youth
  • Be guided by knowledge of child and adolescent development and trauma-informed care
  • Use a strength-based approach
  • Have a vivid self-awareness of potential power dynamics
  • Have cultural humility
  • Partner with, prepare, inform, and advocate for children and youth

Check out these products from the QIC-EY:

To stay abreast of the information released from the QIC-EY, join the QIC-EY email list.