Becoming a foster parent is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey that starts with having love and compassion for children. My
mentor told me that it takes three years from the time a person starts thinking about fostering children until they actually make a call of inquiry to an
agency. Historically, once a person decided to foster, they would call a local state agency and fill out some paperwork. They might have a child
assigned to their home that very evening.
Over the years, child welfare professionals realized that foster and adoptive families need programs to help them make an informed decision about
committing to children who have experienced traumatic events in their lives. One such program is the Model Approaches to Partnerships in
Parenting (MAPP), which is implemented in 13 states.
MAPP is actually a term used to describe a conceptual foundation for many child-welfare training programs, as well as the foundation for agency
practice in several states. It was introduced in 1986 and began as a model program for preparation and selection of foster and adoptive parents.
As research and best practice concepts evolved over the years, so has MAPP.
A clear picture of MAPP begins with a smaller picture of parenting and the family. In a strong and healthy family, parents develop relationships or
alliances intended to last a lifetime. That positive alliance brings growth not only to their own lives, but also to the lives of their children, whether
those children were born to them or adopted. Within the parental alliance, decisions are made that positively and negatively impact the family. A
strong, positive parental alliance helps the child grow physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and socially. Even though times of conflicts or
difficulties may impact families, children perceive life is safe as long as their parents are aligned around the welfare of the family. When life is safe,
childhood energy can be channeled toward healthy growth and development.
The job of public child-welfare agencies is to preserve, or help rebuild, families at risk of disintegration. The single most powerful relationship upon
which to build is the connection between the child and the parents. Whether it is called a bond, an attachment or a connection, it is the single most
powerful motivator for parents in crisis. For parents who are overwhelmed by physical or emotional problems, who have not developed skills
important for parenting, or who have learned harmful and dangerous ways to parent, the connection to a child may be the road to health and new
MAPP extends the idea of building positive relationships and alliances beyond birth parents. Within the MAPP practice framework, child welfare staff,
foster parents and adoptive parents work as a team. The goal is to preserve or rebuild the family around the long-term welfare of the child. This
requires that the team members form a partnership or positive alliance with the birth parents. A MAPP partnership seeks to keep the parents in
their parental roles and status, focused on the welfare of the child.
Forming partnerships with parents is not always easy. Parents have few reasons to trust the members of the team who have entered their lives.
Parents may distrust staff because of preconceived notions about child-welfare workers. Parents may distrust foster parents because they may think
the foster parents want to “save” (translated “keep”) their child. And more often than not, parents have no relationship with adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents who don’t understand the importance of partnership and teamwork may be threatened by foster parents, child welfare workers and
birth parents alike.
The MAPP conceptual framework serves as a foundation for a collection of educational tools developed to help team members overcome these
challenges and build partnerships with birth parents. The MAPP tools include several training programs. Each program is tailored to meet the needs
of the foster/adoptive parents, kinship caregivers and child-welfare staff. All of which include techniques for assessing and building partnerships
with families. The tools include “TIPS-MAPP,” “Caring for Our Own,” “Deciding Together,” “From Foster to Adoptive Parent,” “Fostering the Child
Who has Been Sexually Abused,” and numerous other modalities of best practice in child welfare.
With the many training programs in the MAPP family, there is sometimes confusion between the foundational MAPP program developed in 1986 and
Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence – Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (TIPS-MAPP) as it exists today. TIPS-MAPP
is an expanded and improved educational and assessment process that evolved from the original MAPP-GPS (Group Preparation and Selection of
Foster and/or Adoptive Families).
The comprehensive program uses experiential activities and real case examples to assist prospective foster and adoptive parents prepare for
caring for youth who have experienced maltreatment and trauma. The program also helps the agency to identify the strengths and needs of the
families and provide resources and tools to ensure they are successful foster/adoptive parents.
Two other aspects of preparation and selection are equally important. TIPS-MAPP provides a framework in which prospective foster and adoptive
parents are assisted in making an informed decision. Skills and tools, used by trained and certified leaders, assist families in the decision-making
process. TIPS-MAPP also provides a framework in which families select the agency, negotiating the way in which they will work together.
The TIPS-MAPP program approach emphasizes shared decision making, problem solving and mutual selection, all of which are integral to building
reciprocal trust and teamwork. The 10 sessions (called meetings) are just one of several preparation and mutual selection components in the
program. Other components include developing strengths in the 12 criteria for successful fostering/adopting, personal and professional
development plans, and consultations with certified TIPS-MAPP leaders. During the 10 weeks, prospective foster and adoptive parents demonstrate
competence in simulated foster care and adoption situations. As a result, agencies and families can mutually assess their strengths and needs in
fostering, adopting or both.
The TIPS-MAPP program provides a process for mutual problem-solving and shared decision-making that -- when used appropriately -- can lead to
meaningful and lasting commitments to fostering and adopting.