What To Expect When You’re Fostering: The Trauma Response

What To Expect When You’re Fostering: The Trauma Response – All foster children have faced some kind of trauma. And all trauma affects each child’s brain, body, behavior, and thought processes. Learn more about trauma and what it takes for a foster parent to support their foster child right here on Newsymom!

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There’s a reason a child is placed in foster care–They’ve been subjected to some kind of ongoing trauma. So much so that the state determines it’s in the best interests of the child to place them with a foster family. (Also a traumatic situation: being pulled away from everything they know.)

Trauma affects everything in that child’s life, and can show up immediately or much later on in life. Learning about what trauma is and how to best prepare yourself to care for a foster child (or any child that’s experienced a traumatic situation) is the best first step you can take towards being a wonderful foster parent!

What is Trauma?

Trauma happens when a person is exposed to a situation (or situations) that overwhelm their ability to cope with it, in turn, interfering with their lives and ability to function. In short, it’s an emotional response to awful events. 

For foster children, the traumatic event(s) they’ve endured could look like any one of these situations:

  • Neglect from parents or caregivers
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Drugs or alcohol abuse

…just to name a few.

When people hear PTSD, a lot of times they think of military personnel. However, 1 in 4 foster children will show signs of PTSD. (Understanding Trauma, AdoptUSKids.org)

How Does Trauma Affect Children?

Trauma affects the brains, bodies, behaviors, and ways of thinking for every child. It disrupts the child’s sense of safety and security, as well as their sense of self. Especially when placed in foster care, they feel they’ve lost all control of their life, even if placement is in their best interest.

While they endured whatever situations that brought them into foster care, they unknowingly built up defenses to protect themselves. Their situation altered the way they see and respond to people and situations.

For instance, a teenager who endured neglect and sexual abuse due to an uncaring mother likely built up a defensive attitude to protect themself from more encounters of abuse. Since their mother is neglectful, they’ve learned not to trust adults and maybe developed unhealthy habits, such as resorting to alcohol to “escape”.

The main thing to keep in mind as a foster parent is to see foster children just as kids who had bad things happen to them, not as bad kids. Their trauma responses didn’t develop overnight, and their healing from those situations won’t go away that quickly either.

Time, patience, and therapy will help your foster child overcome the trauma they’ve endured. Expect to take your foster child to appointments frequently!

How Can I Help My Foster Child Heal?

Here are the best tips you can put into practice to be a better foster parent to your placement(s):

  • Be patient, consistent, and supportive. It may take time for your child to gain that trust again.
  • Don’t take your child’s behavior personally.
  • Know that effects of trauma can potentially show up much later down the line. Only time, patience, and therapy will help them overcome it.
  • Keep an open line of communication–talk things through when they want to. Don’t be pushy or forceful.
  • When you get overwhelmed as a parent, talk about it! Reach out to friends, support groups for foster parents, community resources, and also your foster child’s care providers for additional support.
  • Do your research: Read up about trauma and how children respond to the traumas your child experienced. Each child might not be “textbook cases”, but it could shed some light on your approach to being a supportive parent.

As a foster parent, you’ll quickly learn how strong, resilient, and amazing your foster children are. If you aren’t a foster parent, but are thinking of taking the leap, read the following articles to help you as you begin this journey:

If you’ve read all that and are interested in becoming a foster parent, send an email to foster5@coadinc.org, call (330) 364-8882, or follow COAD4Kids-New Philadelphia on Facebook.

Melissa Klatt


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