Online training offers specialized support to foster parents

Keith Mason is Regional Director, Growth & Strategy, Heidi Strickler, PhD, LCSW-S, CEDS-S, CART, CTLS is National Director of Medicaid Product Strategy and Design and Nancy Herndon, RN BSN is Vice President Medicaid Product and Performance with UnitedHealthcare Community & State.

In the United States, over 391,000 children and teens are in foster care.1 Behavioral health is the largest unmet health need of this population, requiring the presence of at least one nurturing, responsive caregiver who is stable in the child’s or teen’s life over time to help address.2

To support foster and kinship caregivers and adoptive parents, UnitedHealthcare and the National Foster Parent Association are offering a no-cost, online course that addresses the mental health needs of children and youth in foster care and the self-care needs of caregivers. The course coincides with National Foster Care Month, an annual event that recognizes the important role people from all parts of the child welfare system play in supporting children, youth and families. This year’s theme is “Strengthening Minds. Uplifting Families.”

Addressing topics unique to foster parents

Nearly all children and teens in foster care have experienced some form of trauma or neglect, with up to 80% meeting criteria for having a significant mental health issue.3 Providing consistency and structure during turbulent times is one of the most difficult and important duties of foster parents. As soon as a placement begins, foster parents must act quickly to understand each child’s physical, emotional and social needs. They determine how best to coordinate care — both the nurturing they provide and outside services each child requires.

The online training course is a way to address topics unique to foster parenting, helping foster parents build routines and structures, and supporting them in these efforts. Topics will include how trauma affects development, how and why caregivers can become grief managers, why words matter, and the importance of self-care when juggling the many responsibilities involved with caring for foster care and adoptive children.

Caregivers will be shown new tools to help kids thrive, even as they’re experiencing crisis and conflict. Skill-building will focus on grief, emotional health, and the complicated emotions and experiences foster children often navigate. Instructors will underscore the importance of trauma-informed care, for both parents and providers.

About the trainers

Keith Mason, Regional Director, Growth and Strategy, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, manages multiple teams in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to design and implement strategies to achieve improved population health, health equity and member outcomes. Previous roles with UnitedHealthcare included working with external stakeholders to improve systems, outcomes and local activities for youth in the foster system.

Before joining UnitedHealthcare, Keith held a leadership position at the American Heart Association. In Indiana, he serves on the Indiana Youth Services Association Board, Health by Design Board, Governor’s Mobile Integrated Healthcare Advisory Committee, and Indiana SOFR Pediatric Suicide Subcommittee. Nationally, he serves on the National Foster Parent Association Board. Keith began working with foster children almost 20 years ago as a regular volunteer at the Indiana Guardian Home. Since that initial experience, Keith and his wife have fostered 15 children, including five in addition to their own three during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2022, Samya found her forever home when she officially joined the Mason family. 

Heidi Strickler, PhD, LCSW-S, CEDS-S, CART, CTLS, National Director of Medicaid Product Strategy and Design, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, designs the products that support UnitedHealthcare’s TANF, CHIP and Expansion products, focusing on individuals who are children and adolescents, have disabilities, and are justice-involved. She also designs products to support children and youth who are involved in foster care, are receiving adoption assistance, are former foster youth, and are youth involved in the juvenile justice system, their families, and the child welfare and juvenile justice workers who support them. 

Before embarking on this national role, Heidi served as the Associate Director of Foster Care and Special Programs in Missouri. She has served as a consultant for Lifelines Foundation for Eating Disorders in Texas and on several Missouri state workgroups and is appointed to the Missouri Eating Disorders Council by the governor. Heidi has engaged in supervision of child welfare providers of all types and was a foster-to-adopt parent whose child was reunified at the termination of a parental rights hearing. 

Training course information

The training is an hour in length and participants can earn a certificate to document one clock-hour toward their foster caregiver licensure. While the course is targeted to foster caregivers and adoptive parents, child welfare workers and contracted agency partners are all welcome to attend.

Session dates:
Friday, May 5, 11 a.m. CT
Thursday, May 18, 6 p.m. CT
Wednesday May 24, 11 a.m. CT

Join Zoom Meeting:
Meeting ID: 388 566 9592
Find your local number: 

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