Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Commonwealth Catholic Charities; Richmond, Virginia

Program Name

Family Stabilization Services Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The Family Stabilization Program is designed to offer various services to refugee families that have children under the age of 18 years who are at-risk for removal from the home.  Where appropriate, the program also conducts “reclassification” for refugee children who are not in the U.S. with their parents when stabilization is not possible. The children that are reclassified are then placed into foster care through the refugee foster care network of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, instead of placement into substitute care through the public child welfare system.

Program Description

This program offers up to six months of in-home counseling by a qualified mental health provider.  Visits may include:

  • Comprehensive assessment for services needed for stabilization
  • Individual or family therapy
  • Psycho-educational services (e.g. training and information on mental health, resources, and coping strategies),
  • Basic skills training (e.g. cultural orientation, assistance with budgeting, parenting, and other life skills),
  • Referrals to community resources (e.g. ESL, adult literacy training, etc.) Interpretation services (as available). 

This program also provides training for staff of resettlement agencies, local departments of social services, and other community agencies on issues and processes surrounding refugee resettlement.  Referrals to the program are received from refugee resettlement agencies, local Departments of Social Services, and community organizations such as churches or other voluntary agencies involved with refugees.  This program also provides consultation services to other professionals working with the refugee population in the Richmond, VA, area and its vicinity.

Resource Materials Used in Program

The intake assessment used by this program was self-developed. Some of the parenting materials come from the resources developed by BRYCS and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; some of the mental health resources are from the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, the Child Welfare and Trauma Network, and materials developed by the program from other research articles and clinical experiences. 

Specific materials used include:
BRYCS materials:

  • Building Bridges: A Guide to Planning and Implementing Cross-Services Training
  • Raising Children in a New Country: An Illustrated Handbook
  • Refugees and the U.S. Child Welfare System: Background Information for Service Providers
  • Strengthening Services for Refugee Parents: Guidelines and Resources
  • Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Problem Behaviors among Refugee and Immigrant Youth

Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma Resources:

  • Harvard Trauma Questionnaire
  • Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Resources:

  • Culture and Trauma Teleconference: Trauma & Mental Health in Child and Adolescent Refugees
  • Mental Health Interventions for Refugee Children in Resettlement
  • Review of Child and Adolescent Refugee Mental Health

Groups Served by Program

This program serves refugee families that have children under the age of 18 years and are at-risk of being removed from their homes.

Program Funding

This program is state funded through the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services.  The families or agencies receiving these services incur no financial obligation to pay for services.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

There is only one full-time staff member currently working with this program as a Family Stabilization Specialist that is trained as a clinical social worker and specializes in refugee trauma and recovery.  Paid interpreters assist the Family Stabilization Specialist in providing interpretation services when necessary. 

Program Evaluation

The program is evaluated periodically by the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services. Issues related to increasing the number of referrals to the program, identifying resources, and improving the involvement of the state refugee agencies are discussed and plans of action initiated to meet these goals.

Program Outcomes

Once a referral for services is received, the Family Stabilization Specialist initiates contact within three business days 100% of the time. 90% of families that are provided stabilization services remain intact with 10% being reclassified to enter the refugee foster care program. 90% of the children that have been reclassified and brought into our foster care program have graduated or are about to graduate from high school.  95% of the children that are reclassified continue to maintain phone contact and home visitation with their families. 

Additional Comments

The Family Stabilization Program works closely with refugee resettlement agencies, local Departments of Social Services, the refugee community, refugee families, courts, community service agencies including schools, etc.  Once a referral is received, the Family Stabilization Specialist works with all agencies and individuals that are connected with a refugee family to ensure that there is continued community support to stabilize the family.  The Family Stabilization Specialist also makes referrals to appropriate agencies that are designed to meet the needs of each family.

Case Example:

A Southeast Asian refugee family was referred to the program by a local Department of Social Service (DSS) for stabilization services.  At the time of the referral, the eldest daughter was in a psychiatric hospital for some psychotic issues.  The local DSS indicated that they had very little knowledge in providing mental health services to refugee families.   The family had a total of three children: the two older children were from a previous relationship, and the youngest child was from the current relationship.  
The father was born in Vietnam; his first wife left the family when the children were very young.  The oldest daughter had a vague memory of her mother and admitted speaking with her a few times.  The middle son did not know of his mother at all, and the father led this son to believe that the father’s current wife was the son’s mother.  The eldest daughter, a teenager, had a troubled relationship with both her father and stepmother because of the deceptions in the family.  The father was the only one employed, and he prevented his wife from seeking employment.

Following the involvement of the Family Stabilization Specialist (FSS) with the family, the eldest daughter was released from the hospital.  Culturally appropriate services were provided to the family with the help of an interpreter. The father was encouraged to reveal the truth to the children about their mother, and the FSS continued to support the family in handling the emotions that this discovery produced.  Phone contacts were initiated between the children and their biological mother, whom they had not heard from in many years. Counseling was also provided to help the daughter and her father to mend their relationship. As the family was able to process their anxieties and fears, the children’s relationship with their stepmother also took a positive turn. The mother was encouraged to put in job applications in order to help ease the stress for the father in carrying the financial burden of providing for the family. The family remained intact and exited the program successfully.

We want to express special thanks and appreciation to the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services for their moral and financial support in implementing this program. 

Program Contact

Patrick F. Taylor, M.Div., MSW
Family Stabilization Specialist
(804) 545-5948

Program Dates

The program began in 2007 and is still operating as of September 2009.