Dr Dave Pasalich
Dr Dave Pasalich

Dr Dave Pasalich

Improving child mental health in foster care: A pilot randomised trial of an attachment- and trauma-informed intervention

Research School of Psychology
Australian National University, ACT
Awarded 2023
0-12 years Mental Health Research

“The recent shortage of foster carers in Australia has also placed increasing demands and stressors on existing foster care families, amplifying the need for more evidence-based supports.”

Mental Health Research Grants

Researcher Profile

Dr Dave Pasalich is a Senior Lecturer and clinical psychologist in the Research School of Psychology, Australian National University. His research and clinical expertise is in evidence-based practice to promote child and family mental health and wellbeing, particularly in families exposed to adversities.

This has involved partnerships with child welfare services to deliver and trial parent interventions in out-of-home care. He has received several awards for his work, including the ACT Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year Award and an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

Project Summary

The 17,000 Australian children in foster care have very high rates of mental health problems and elevated risk for suicide stemming from prior trauma and attachment ruptures (eg, distressing separation from parents) in their birth families. Stable and secure attachment relationships with their foster carers are vital for helping children heal and recover. Yet very few attachment-based parent programs have been tailored for foster carers and rigorously evaluated in Australia. There is also urgency to partner with Indigenous communities to explore how parenting supports might be culturally adapted for foster carers of Indigenous children who are over-represented in out-of-home care.

In partnership with child welfare services, this project aims to implement and evaluate an online attachment- and trauma-informed intervention, eConnect for Foster Parents (eConnect-FP). eConnect-FP is a group-format program using role-plays and reflective exercises to build carers’ skills to sensitively respond to and connect with their child, and effectively navigate challenging child behaviour. A pilot randomised controlled trial will compare the effects of eConnect-FP versus ‘care-as-usual’ on child and carer wellbeing. We will also partner with Indigenous communities to explore how eConnect-FP might be culturally adapted for foster carers of Indigenous children.

This research will be one of Australia’s first randomised evaluations of a parent program designed to strengthen carer-child attachment and child mental health in foster care.

Co-Investigators: Professor Marlene Moretti, Professor Amy Conley Wright, Professor Catherine Chamberlain, Dr Aino Suomi, Dr Steward Sutherland and Dr Angela Curio.

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