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The Adolescent Brain

The Adolescent Brain . New research and its implications for young people transitioning from foster care . Older Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care. One quarter of all children who enter foster care are age 14 and older. These have longer stays in foster care than do younger children.

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The Adolescent Brain

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  1. The Adolescent Brain New research and its implications for young people transitioning from foster care

  2. Older Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care • One quarter of all children who enter foster care are age 14 and older. • These have longer stays in foster care than do younger children. • High numbers of youth are placed in congregate care settings (61,000 in FY 2010). • Youth of color are overrepresented in foster care • Since FY 2002, more than 200,000 young people “emancipated” from foster care. Emancipation is more common among those who enter care as older youth.

  3. The Emerging Knowledge Base A Foundation for Developmentally appropriate child welfare practice with older youth and young adults in foster care

  4. Why the Focus on Adolescent Brain Development “Adolescence is a time of enormous opportunity and of enormous risk. And how the teens spend their time seems to be particularly crucial. If the ‘use it or lose it’ principle holds true, then the activities of the teen may help guide the hard-wiring, actual physical connections in their brain.” Dr. Jay Giedd

  5. A Map of this Presentation • Connected by 25 • Emerging adulthood • Social capital • Adolescent brain development • The impact of trauma on brain development, resilience and neuroplasticity • Positive youth development • Recommendations • Questions for the field

  6. Connected by 25: Needed Supports • Family supports • Education and training opportunities • Employment as a link to a career path • Social and civic engagement and opportunities to connect to one’s community • Adequate health and mental health supports • A web of supportive relationships that give meaning to life

  7. Emerging Adulthood Emerging Adulthood 18 to 25 years

  8. Emerging Adulthood • Gradual transition to adulthood: linear increases over time in separation and gradual independence • Gradually completing the many developmental tasks necessary to transition from adolescence to adulthood • Interdependence

  9. Emerging Adulthood and Social Capital • Social networks and social relationships; a bonding between similar people and a bridging between diverse people • The value created by investing in relationships with others through processes of trust and reciprocity • Fundamentally about how people interact with one another Sources of social capital for youth: family, school, community and neighborhood, and peers

  10. Emerging Adulthood and Adolescent Brain Development The Brain in Adolescence: • A period of gradual and continuing brain maturation – beginning in puberty and continuing through the mid-20s • A period like early childhood – a need for rich opportunities to support youth through a cognitive, social and emotional development process – experiences that can lead to healthy and constructive adulthood “Exposure to a variety of influences [has] chances of lasting positive effects” (Minden, 2004)

  11. Adolescent Brain Development: A Brief Science Lesson! • Gradual development of the prefrontal cortex • Shifting levels of dopamine • Pruning and myelination

  12. The Adolescent Brain “Neuroscience, the scientific study of the biology of the brain, has made great strides over the past decade in revealing that remarkable changes occur in the brain during the second decade of life. Contrary to long-held ideas that the brain was mostly grown up – “fully cooked” – by the end of childhood, it is now clear that adolescence is a time of profound brain growth and change.” Weinberger, Elvevag, & Giedd, 2005

  13. Trauma and Brain Development: Key Concepts • Early relational experiences • Synaptic pruning in early childhood • Toxic stress and trauma • Delays in brain maturation • Reactions in adolescence to earlier trauma • Complex trauma • Ambiguous loss

  14. Complex Trauma • The dual problem of the child’s exposure to multiple traumatic events (persistent poverty, discrimination, abuse or neglect, separation and loss of family, multiple moves, relationship disruptions) and the impact of this exposure on immediate and long term outcomes • Strong relationship between trauma and emotional and behavioral challenges

  15. Ambiguous Loss • No verification of death or no certainty that the person will come back or return to the way she or he used to be • No clear boundaries, no clear ending, often no culturally recognized rituals for grieving or acknowledging what has been lost • Ambiguous loss for youth in foster care

  16. Resilience • The ability to overcome adverse conditions and to function normatively in the face of risk • Interactive process:

  17. Rewiring the Brain After Trauma: Neuroplasticity • Changes in the brain caused by trauma are not necessarily permanent. • The brain is constantly forming new neural pathways, removing old ones and altering the strength of existing connections. NEUROPLASTICITY: The ability of the brain to alter its structure in response to experience.

  18. Rewiring the Brain • Healthy relationships with at least one caring adult + • Programs and services that provide young people with opportunities to learn through experience and develop skills and abilities that they can carry throughout their lives

  19. Positive Youth Development • Youth surrounded by a variety of opportunities for developmentally appropriate engagement with adults encounter less risk and show evidence of higher rates of successful transitions to adulthood. A positive youth development lens is a neurological imperative.

  20. Recommendations #1. Take a positive youth development approach to all opportunities for young people in foster care • The neurological principle of “use it or lose it” • Formation of multiple positive relationships with family and community/internal and external assets • Engagement in new and meaningful opportunities that support healthy risk taking

  21. Recommendations #2. Provide “interdependent” living services that connect young people with family and caring adults • Diverse social relationships and networks – family, school, community and peers – are crucial to healthy development and act as protective factors. • Interdependent living approaches are essential in supporting youth in building social capital and gaining needed skills

  22. Recommendations #3 Engage young people in planning and making decisions • Authentic youth engagement/youth-driven processes • Provision of corrective relationship experiences to “rewire” the adolescent brain for effective decision making as adults • Use of teaming to create opportunities for maturation

  23. Recommendations #4 Be trauma-informed to promote healing and emotional security • An operational understanding of the impact of trauma on the developing brain • Understanding the impact of ambiguous losses • Understanding the power of neuroplasticity and positive corrective experiences

  24. Recommendations #5 Extend foster care to age 21 • The realities of emerging adulthood • The need to address age-specific developmental needs of older youth and young adults in care • The urgency of achieving permanent family relationships

  25. Some Questions for the Field • Reframe foster care for youth ages 18 to 21? • Develop trauma-informed and trauma-specific expertise? • Better understand the impact of psychotropic medication on brain development? • Fully incorporate the new knowledge base into practice?

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