Family Alternatives

About This Program

Target Population: Adolescents aged 14 to 19 who are currently in foster care and who will likely transition out of care to interdependent adult living

For children/adolescents ages: 14 – 19

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 14 – 19

Program Overview

This model is designed to address the socioemotional needs of older youth in foster care who are nearing transition to adulthood. The model employs a holistic approach by transforming the agency culture to one that empowers youth to develop, work toward and accomplish their goals, build supportive relationships, and become informed of the effects of trauma in their lives. Core tenets include believing that youth have the innate wisdom to know and understand themselves, their needs and aspirations; believing that youth have the capacity to make their own decisions; providing youth opportunities to discover what they need to be successful; allowing youth to learn by doing. This requires the adults in the lives of youth to shift long held beliefs and standardized child welfare practices. It requires more than a few months for everyone to adapt to this way of working together.

Program Goals

The goals of Family Alternatives are:

  • Develop agency policies and practice protocols to recognize and support the interdependence of social workers, foster parents, youth, and families, and to empower youth in guiding their own lives and plans
  • Educate social workers and foster parents on (and remain current on the latest research in) attachment, trauma, grief, and loss, and facilitate using that knowledge in the social workers and foster parents work and interactions with youth

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Family Alternatives.

Essential Components

The essential components of Family Alternatives include:

  • Theoretical base (youth, foster parents and social workers)
    • Relationship-based
    • Trauma-informed
    • Youth-empowered
  • Programming and Education
    • Understanding effects of trauma
    • Trauma-sensitive parenting
    • Attachment and loss
    • Mindfulness
    • Circles of Support
  • Relationship-Building Activities
    • 12- to 15-week group relationship-building skills programming is offered twice a year
      • Meets weekly and is attended by foster parents and youth
      • Begins with a meal eaten together
      • Teaches information on relationship skills such as emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and the impact of trauma on the developing brain
      • Allows the foster parents and youth to meet separately to discuss their learning and any current concerns
      • Youth group has a youth leader in addition to trained clinicians who can help the youth apply new awareness into their lives
    • Teen camps
    • Boys overnights
    • Girls overnights
    • Teen Fridays
    • Graduation party
    • Annual breakfast
  • Supports
    • Foster family connections (all homes within 1 hour of office)
    • Teen normalizing activities and connections
    • 24-hour social work support
    • Biweekly meetings with social worker
    • On-going informal counseling
    • Support groups with trauma and relationship focus
  • Youth Services
    • Bimonthly Circles of Support meetings
    • Assisting in planning for youth-led meetings
    • Life skills assessment, support, and implementation
    • Referrals to community services
    • Support for court hearings
    • Support for school meetings
    • Planning for transitions
    • Required and necessary reports

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Family Alternatives directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • Isolation, attachment, trauma, powerlessness, system traumatization, family revictimization, community stigma, belonging
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: The primacy of relationships is the theoretical basis of this program. Supporting adults are asked to attend bimonthly Circle of Support meetings and develop an agreement with the youth that identifies their specific areas of commitment. Foster parents are expected to attend the relationship-building skill course. Foster parents can also have networking breakfasts, book club, and support groups that are additional opportunities for adults to have supportive discussions, as well as to learn and reinforce new skills and information.

Parent/Caregiver Services

Family Alternatives directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Foster parents of youth with histories of trauma, foster parents of youth unable to connect, foster parents of youth with a confused sense of belonging, foster parents of youth who are grieving, foster parents of youth who feel powerless, foster parents of youth who must contend with the child welfare system, foster parents of youth who are angry at the world

Recommended Intensity:

The essential component of this program is the theoretical base of youth empowerment that is relationship-based. This philosophy must be infused throughout the program, and realized in every conversation and meeting. It requires a commitment over time as the paradigm shift across all staff and foster parents takes an ongoing commitment and agreement by all. Youth meet biweekly with their social workers and bimonthly at their Circles of Support Meetings. Relationship-building skills courses for youth and foster parents occur weekly when they are offered. Youth should arrange and plan for most of their other activities, so there is no routine schedule of these.

Recommended Duration:

The program requires a commitment over time as the paradigm shift across all staff and foster parents takes an ongoing commitment and agreement by all.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Foster / Kinship Care
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


Family Alternatives includes a homework component:

Newly learned information requires skills that need to be practiced over and over so that they become integrated into daily living.

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

An office with a fully functioning kitchen, a large meeting room with AV components, and smaller spaces for group discussions

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Social workers trained with clinical skills. Outside consultants are utilized for training on the impact of trauma on the developing brain, trauma-informed parenting, separation and grieving, attachment and loss, concepts of DBT, and the Bridges Transition model.

Manual Information

There is not a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

Informal consultation is available.

Number of days/hours:

Informal consultation is available.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Nesmith, Ande & Christophersen, Kaitlin (2014). Smoothing the Transition to Adulthood: Creating ongoing supportive relationships among foster youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 37, 1-8.

Type of Study: Pretest-posttest study with comparison group
Number of Participants: 88


  • Age — 14-19 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 42% African American, 25% White, 9% Asian, and 24% Other
  • Gender — 62% Male and 38 Female
  • Status — Participants were children in the child welfare system.

Location/Institution: Los Angeles, California

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study examined changes over time for youth who experienced the Creating Ongoing Relationships Effectively (CORE) model (now called Family Alternatives) while in the Family Alternatives foster agency and youth served by a comparison foster care agency. Measures utilized include Relationship Competency Assessment and the Quality Youth Relationship Assessment. Results at posttest indicate that these findings must be viewed with caution as the measures utilized did not report strong support for effectiveness of this intervention. Additionally, both measures utilized in this study did not report validity, and the scores reported were not significantly different between groups. With these cautions considered, results at posttest indicate that The CORE model utilized by the Family Alternatives foster agency yielded promising results at helping older youth in foster care to develop relationship-building skills, to identify a broad range of supportive adults, and most importantly, to nurture a relationship with an adult who will support them through their transition. The key components that differentiated the Family Alternatives agency from the comparison site were a commitment to youth empowerment, the use of trauma-informed practice, and making supportive adult relationships a central goal for youth preparing to transition out of care. Limitations include the nonrandomization of participants, lack of statistically significant findings between the intervention group and comparison group, small sample size, and lack of follow-up.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

Ahrens, K., Richardson, L., Lazano, P., Fan, M., & DuBois, D. (2007). Foster care youth with adult mentors during adolescence have improved adult outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40(2, Supplement), 53-54.

Courtney, M. E., Dworsky, A. Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from

Mitchell, M. B., Kuczynski, L., Tubbs, C. Y., & Ross, C. (2010). We care about care: Advice by children in care for children in care, foster parents and child welfare workers about the transition into foster care. Child and Family Social Work, 15(2), 176-185.

Contact Information

Mary Lennick, LICSW
Phone: (612) 379-5341
Fax: (612) 379-5328

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: June 2016

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: July 2020

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: June 2016