CHRIS Kids Trauma Informed Foster Care Adoption Model (TIFCAM) with Gateway Foster Home

What if every child had a permanent loving family and there were no failed adoptions for children in foster care?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

With 24 of 48 foster children in our 8 group homes with at least one failed adoption, we knew that a new approach to adoption was needed; so we listened to these children and to adoptive parents. Leveraging our understanding of trauma and recovery, the Trauma Informed Foster Care Adoption Model (TIFCAM) was born. Almost immediately, the need for a special component of TIFCAM to help siblings be adopted together emerged and in 2014, CHRIS Kids opened our first Gateway foster home.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Metropolitan Atlanta

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Two problems impede child wellbeing. 1) Children in foster care have a high rate of adoption disruption and failure. 2) Siblings in foster care are often separated and not adopted together. In Georgia, there are more than 10,219 siblings in foster care and over 30% of these siblings are not living together. The Gateway foster home keeps siblings together and supports them. TIFCAM is designed to support adoptions in ways that eliminate failure.

All children deserve to grow up in a family and have a strong sense of self, purpose and belonging.  We believe that adopting children from foster care requires specialized preparation because no child should have to age out of foster care and no adoption should fail.  Children in foster care have been victims of abuse and/or neglect and siblings are often separated due to the limited capacity of the foster care system to keep them together.  Abuse, neglect and separation are profoundly traumatizing and the effects of early childhood trauma can last a lifetime if not addressed, negatively impacting health, emotional well-being and relationships.  We believe that adoption disruption and adoption failure can be avoided for these already traumatized children and for well-intentioned adoptive parents/families by utilizing the Trauma Informed Foster Care Adoption Model (TIFCAM) developed by CHRIS Kids. TIFCAM brings together our expertise in trauma counseling, expertise in working with traumatized children and teens in foster care, expertise in wraparound services that strengthen at-risk families and our expertise in training.

TIFCAM is grounded in an understanding of trauma and provides essential parenting and trauma training, counseling and ongoing support for children adopted from foster care and for adoptive families. TIFCAM also gives children emotional space, support and a process within which to truly have a “voice and choice” in selecting an adoptive family, just as the family has a “voice and choice” in selecting the children.  TIFCAM is being implemented in partnership with the State of Georgia Department of Human Services and targets children who represent the hardest-to-place special needs foster children in the system, including sibling groups. TIFCAM's long term impact is enhanced wellbeing for children and adoptive families.

The Trauma Informed Foster Care Adoption Model has four components:

  1. EDUCATION & TRAINING: In addition to the IMPACT training required by the State for foster and adoptive parents, additional training in understanding trauma and the impact of early childhood trauma on a child’s development, behavior and ability to build trusting relationships is required. Common potential issues are identified and discussed.     

  1. ASSESSMENT, TREATMENT & SUPPORT: The TIFCAM process includes a trauma assessment not only for the children, but for the potential adoptive parent(s)/family so that strengths and potential stumbling blocks can be identified, planned for, and addressed. Individualized trauma “tool kits” are developed to help prepare children and adoptive parents to deal with potential stumbling blocks and to enhance a sense of self determination and belonging.  The TIFCAM process also includes a minimum number (6 – 12) of required adoption counseling sessions during pre-placement visits and six months of post-placement counseling (12 – 24 sessions) and home visits. Six months of post adoption counseling is highly recommended.  On-going support groups and activities for the adoptive children and family are encouraged and available throughout the entire adoption process and post adoption. 

  1. VOICE & CHOICE: This specialized approach is intentional about providing both the foster children and the adoptive parents a voice in the selection process, the matching process, the placement process as well as education about what is normally expected.  This process promotes listening and understands that trust takes time to develop. It understands that children and sibling groups in foster care who are eligible for adoption may have already experienced placement instability and a number of psychological “rejections”, in addition to the abuse and/or neglect which precipitated placement in the foster care system in the first place. The TIFCAM process allows for the establishment of a “get to know you” visitation process as a part of the selection and placement process.

  1. GATEWAY FOSTER HOME: A unique component of TIFCAM, a pre-adoption/assessment/ transition home or Gateway Foster Home was developed for sibling groups including those who may include one or more very high needs siblings who may have been residing in a residential facility, hospital or group home and have a history of instability (frequent moves) while in foster care.  The Gateway foster home provides a safe, trauma informed environment; groups with other children engaged in the same process; and adoption support services.  Visitation over time coupled with counseling helps these hard-to-place sibling groups achieve success.  The home provides a safe, familiar surrounding for children who may disrupt an adoptive placement if placed too quickly.  As with foster care children who do not require the Gateway foster home environment, a minimum number of individual and family pre-placement counseling sessions (6 – 12) and six months of post-placement counseling sessions (12 – 24) and home visits will occur.  On-going support groups and activities for the adoptive siblings and family are encouraged and available. 

Key Benefits:

  • Children have a “voice and a choice” which enhances their sense of agency
  • Both youth and perspective adoptive families participate in a trauma assessment. Using the home study, child(ren)’s history, and trauma assessments; matching includes the protective capacities of the family and the protective needs of the children
  • A consistent licensed therapist from foster home or pre-adoption home to placement in an adoptive home and 6 months after finalization
  • A consistent adoption specialist or program case manager from foster home or pre-adoption home to placement in an adoptive home and 6 months after finalization
  • Gateway foster home provides a safe, transitional home setting with highly trained staff for sibling groups who may not have lived together for a period of time and that may include a sibling who have suffered placement instability or be coming from a residential facility, hospital or group home setting 

At CHRIS Kids all programs and services are based on the principles of trauma informed care. We believe that this approach is fundamental to the well being of children and families and that the Trauma Informed Foster Care Adoption Model developed by CHRIS Kids provides an important solution for traumatized children that makes it possible for them to succeed, be loved, and flourish in a forever family.  We will be partnering with Georgia State University to research the efficacy and outcomes of the TIFCAM model and the impact and outcomes of the Gateway Foster Home component of the model as we expand our numbers and grow enough to support valid research.   Presently we have one Gateway Foster Home, another opening on August 15th and plans to open two more as we raise funds over the next few years.   Our goal is for TIFCAM is for it to become a national adoption model utilized to ensure that children, particularly high needs children, and sibling groups have to be afraid that the adoption “won’t work out” and that they (or one of them) will be returned to foster care.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Criminal Justice
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

TIFCAM increases understanding of the impact of childhood trauma on a child’s development and ability to build trusting relationships and identifies and prepares for potential issues. The first Gateway Foster Home opened in 2014 and reunited a sibling group where the siblings had each lived in a different foster home for over three years. Each child and the sibling group received specialized trauma counseling to help them heal, ensure their voice in the process and cultivate their wellbeing. Potential adoptive parents were recruited, assessed and trained. The siblings interacted with several interested potential parents. The siblings and adoptive parents eventually “selected” each other. The adoption was finalized in September 2015.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

TIFCAM began in 2013. In 2015, 16 children, ages 3-17, found forever families. These included four sibling groups and seven single child adoptions. Since TIFCAM’s inception there have been zero adoption failures. A second Gateway Foster Home opened August 15th for a sibling group of 3. More Gateway Foster Homes are planned as funding is secured. Using TIFCAM, our goal is to increase the number of foster to adopt homes, number of Gateway foster homes for siblings and number of total adoptions while maintaining zero adoption failures. Through conference presentations we are spreading the word and we are collecting data for meaningful research to demonstrate TIFCAM’s effectiveness. We hope TIFCAM becomes a national model, radically impacting the success rate of adoptions for foster children of all ages. Our goal is to train others in TIFCAM because no adoption should ever fail.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • over $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

TIFCAM will be self-sustaining through a combination of state payment for each adoption, state incentive payment for the adoption of children with high mental health needs, insurance payment for counseling and revenue from training others. The Gateway Foster Home component is self sustaining under state contract. CHRIS Kids also maintains a robust fundraising program that includes giving from foundations, individuals and corporations.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

TIFCAM was developed as a result of witnessing the devastating results for children who experienced failed adoptions. Many others do adoptions, but none utilizes TIFCAM with its emphasis on trauma assessments and training; individual and family counseling; on listening and being intentional about creating emotional space and encouragement for children to express true feelings; a therapist and an adoption specialist who work as a team consistently with the children throughout the entire process; and the Gateway Foster Home component for sibling groups.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Promising shifts: the emerging recognition of the lifelong impact of childhood trauma and proven treatments and interventions for healing and recovery; an increased awareness of effective mental health treatments; expected passing of the Families First Act which focuses on prevention for families in crisis, improved permanency planning process and a one year termination of parental rights guideline so that children do not languish in or age out of foster care; flexible funding to support families and possible new funding models that provide practical supports for children and families.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)


Program Design Clarity

Beneficiaries: children in foster care, adoptive parents, existing children in family Activities: trauma assessments, training including mental health first aid/trauma, home studies, individual/family counseling, case management, group activities, trauma tool kits, home visits. Initial weeks: assessments, training, home studies. On-going: Individual/group therapy for children, group activities. Weekly to monthly: home visits and counseling from visitation through finalization, and as needed post finalization. A consistent therapist and case manager work as a team with the children and family.

Community Leadership

Gaps, unmet needs, underserved populations and possible solutions are identified from listening to and having discussion with those we serve and other stakeholders. Vehicles used include: conversations with clients, surveys, feedback from youth advisory council, exit interviews, open dialogue with clients, staff and community stakeholders. Voice and choice are central elements to success in healing, building leadership and increasing equity.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

For TIFCAM and the Gateway Foster Home component to become national models for the adoption of children and siblings from foster care, we must promote the model; gain national recognition; secure funding to support research, expand impact, track long term outcomes; and develop a train the trainer model with fidelity. Policy makers need to be convinced of the long term cost effectiveness of investing to ensure that adoptions are truly permanent.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Everything we do, including TIFCAM, is grounded in our values: Creativity, Honor, Respect, Integrity, Safety (CHRIS). Emotional and physical safety, having people you can count on, having a voice and a choice, and, knowing you are valued are essential to a child’s wellbeing and to healing from childhood trauma. Anchored by a sense of belonging, we help children explore and cultivate their sense of self and develop personal agency and purpose.

Leadership Story

Kathy Colbenson, CEO, and Cindy Simpson, COO, share a deep commitment to make the world a better place for children. They put the wellbeing of children first and share a future vision that respects the dignity and worth of all people. They spot gaps in services, identify underserved populations (e.g. LGBTQ) and come up with innovative solutions to bring awareness about, and services for, these populations. They work collaboratively, in partnership and in broad coalitions. Over the years, they have achieved many system changes in Georgia, through persistence and hard work behind the scenes.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrea Hightower

Providing "Voice and Choice" for the young people in a prospective adoption is absolutely a game-changer! Bravo (from an adult adoptee of the 1960's). One of the aspects of adoption (no matter what form, voluntary, foster care, at birth, etc.) that is most troubling is the warped power dynamic that exists. In the traditionally viewed triad (child, birth family, adoptive family) the power of choice falls more heavily to the adults. While adoptees may have been young and had no voice or choice at the time of their adoption, they do become adults and the sense of powerless over that vital decision which continues to shape adoptees over their lifetimes unfortunately continues to be felt.

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