Traumatic experiences can have a long-lasting impact, especially on children. Children process trauma in countless ways. Some shut down while others act out. Some may openly talk about their emotions while others may bottle it up. There’s no rule book on how children should process a wide range of complicated emotions that follow dangerous or threatening circumstances. When deciding whether opening your home to a child who has experienced intense trauma, you might wonder how a decision like this could impact your life.
Let’s work through a few questions regarding what life might look like once a child in foster care becomes part of your family.
What are children in foster care like?
Children in foster care are simply children, just like your own children, nieces or nephews and the kiddos you see climbing on the school bus each morning. In fact, you probably encounter kids in foster care often at places like the grocery store, church and your doctor’s office without even realizing. That’s because children in foster care enjoy and regularly participate in the same types of games, sports, food, toys, and activities as kids who aren’t in foster care. However, one thing that children in foster care have had to deal with that many do not is recovering from trauma.
Trauma is different than typical childhood stressors and is defined by an event, series of events or set of circumstances that threaten or cause harm to a child. This harm can be physical, emotional or social. Just as a physical wound or illness takes time to heal, so do the scars caused by trauma.
The good news is that as a foster parent, you have the opportunity to help children recover from their traumatic pasts and prepare them for a more prosperous future. The better news is that you don’t have to do it alone.
What is the effect of trauma on children?
Have you ever sprained your ankle? The pain is immediate and intense and often results in swelling and bruising that may require medical attention or hinder your ability to walk for several days. Even months after healing takes place, you may find yourself more cautious than you were before the injury. Just like recovery from a physical injury takes time, the process of healing from trauma can take months or even years. This is true for a person of any age, but a child’s still-developing brain is even more vulnerable to the pain caused by abuse or neglect.
Children who have experienced trauma – especially chronic trauma at the hands of someone they once trusted, often feel betrayed and insecure and can even develop unhealthy behavioral patterns. For children who have experienced neglect, abuse or mistreatment of any kind, emotional responses can feel more intense. Reactions may appear as rage, isolation, guilt or shame, and can have a significant impact on how the child interacts with others. Children who have experienced trauma may also have difficulty perceiving the world around them in a rational manner. They may overestimate the risk in daily life and want to avoid people, places and things that might remind them of past or ongoing trauma, or they may underestimate the risk in certain activities and put themselves in dangerous situations. Additionally, children who have survived horrific ordeals might have trouble envisioning their future, which limits their ability to develop life goals.
Are foster parents trained on how to help the children recover from trauma?
When you become a foster parent through Upbring Foster In Texas, you will receive trauma-informed care training that will prepare you to provide the support needed for the child or children in your care.
Children who have gone through a traumatic situation might feel helpless, confused and unable to cope with what they have experienced effectively. When you, as a parent, do not understand these feelings and are not adequately trained in how to deal with them, you can experience compassion fatigue, feeling numb, burned out and unable to handle the child’s sadness and distress.
Trauma-informed policies and services work for both the children in need and for you, the foster parent. By attending training on trauma-informed care, you will be better equipped to help your children cope with their traumatic stress in new, more appropriate ways. Experts in the field agree that with greater understanding through trauma-informed education programs, a wide range of behavioral and social problems will be lessened for generations to come. This is why we believe trauma-informed care training is so important for foster parents.
What resources are available through Foster In Texas for trauma-informed care?
Foster In Texas has a Statewide Clinical Director on staff to provide support and encouragement to foster families as they navigate through supporting a child who is learning to cope with his or her own trauma. Our FIT program also hosts Trauma-Informed Care Conferences and provides materials to ensure you never feel alone or unprepared in your journey as a foster parent.
We’re here to help you succeed
Parenting is no easy task and parenting a child who is in foster care can come with additional challenges – however, you are not in this alone, and we have the tools necessary to help you through any situation that may arise. Fostering is a winding road, but there’s nothing that compares to the joy on a child’s face that feels loved and cared for, possibly for the first time ever and knowing that you’re genuinely making a difference in his or her life.
Last year, we placed 1,913 children in safe, loving homes through Foster In Texas. This year, one of those homes could be yours. If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to open your home and your heart to a child in the foster care system, visit Upbring.org/FosterInfo and fill out our Foster Interest Form. Our team stands ready to assist you as you begin this process and we will continue to stand by your side as you navigate through your foster care journey.