Project Focus: Effective Mental Health Practices for Washington’s Foster Children

PI: Eric Trupin, Ph.D.
Co-Investigators: Shannon Dorsey, Ph.D., Suzanne Kerns, Ph.D., Eric Bruns, Ph.D.
Funding: Paul G. Allen Foundation (2007 – 2009)

Youth living in foster care experience disproportionately high rates of mental health problems compared to other youth. Yet, research shows that many youth in foster care do not receive mental health treatment, or receive treatment that may not be effective1.

Project Focus, a study funded by the Paul G. Allen Foundation, was implemented by the Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy (PBHJP), in partnership with the Children’s Administration of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The project focused on improving mental health clinicians’ and Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) caseworkers’ knowledge and utilization of evidence-based practices (EBP) by providing training and consultation to both groups and increasing the coordination of care. Caseworkers received training from clinical psychologists in:

  1. Identification of mental health problems using available data and information;
  2. Evidence-based health and mental health practices; and
  3. Appropriate referrals for frequently occurring mental health problems of youth in foster care (e.g., disruptive behavior disorders, PTSD and other anxiety disorders, ADHD, depression).

To increase community capacity for providing evidence-based treatments, Project Focus also involvef training and consultation for community clinicians who serve youth in foster care.

This project was closely aligned with the Washington State Legislature’s HB 1088 (establishing the Evidence-based Practice Institute) and the Braam Oversight Panel recommendations to implement best practices for youth in the foster care system.

The University of Washington evaluated a training and implementation model to assess the effectiveness of this project. Four DCFS offices were involved in the project: Two offices received training and project implementation immediately, with the other two offices serving as ‘wait list control sites,’ (received delayed implementation). Desired outcomes included increased knowledge and capabilities among DCFS staff and mental health clinicians, increased referrals to and provision of EBPs, and improved outcomes for youth (e.g., improved functioning, placement stability).

Referenced on the Web:


  1. Kerns, S. E. U., Dorsey, S., Trupin, E. W., & Berliner, L. (2010). Project Focus: Promoting emotional health and wellbeing for youth in foster care through connections to evidence-based practices. Report on Emotional and Behavioral Disorders of Youth, 10, 30–38.
  2. Dorsey, S., Kerns, S. E. U., Trupin, E. W., Conover, K. L., & Berliner, L. (2012).Child welfare social workers as service brokers for youth in foster care: Findings from project focus. Child Maltreatment. Special Issue: Disseminating child maltreatment interventions: Research on implementing evidence-based programs, 17, 22–31.
  3. Fitzgerald, M., Shipman, K., Torres, M., Gorrono, J., Kerns, S., & Dorsey, S. (in press). Child welfare caseworkers as brokers of mental health services: Findings from Project Focus Colorado. Child Maltreatment.


  1. Dorsey, S., Kerns, S., Trupin, E., & Conover, K. (2012) Project Focus: Training brokers of evidence-based practices. In Self-Brown (Chair), Implementation of evidence-based practice in child welfare:  How do we engage, train, and retain stakeholders? Panel conducted at the Annual NIH Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation, Bethesda, Maryland.
  2. Dorsey, S. (2009, June). Project FOCUS: Connecting youth in foster care with evidence-based practices through caseworker training and consultation. Presented at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Atlanta, GA.
  3. Dorsey, S., Kerns, S., Bruns, E. J., Etchison, K., & Trupin, E. (2009, March). Project Focus: Effective mental health practices for Washington’s foster children. Presented at the 22nd Annual Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy Conference, Tampa, FL.


1 Landsverk, J., Burns, B. J., Stambaugh, L. F., & Reutz, J. A. R. (2006). Mental health care for children and adolescents in foster care: Review of research literature. Report prepared for Casey Family Programs. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs.