Parenting a Foster Child Who Has Experienced Trauma
December 29th, 2021
Parenting or adopting a foster child is rewarding, but it can also be challenging. It’s essential to be aware that many children who have been placed in the foster care system have experienced some form of trauma. In fact, most children in foster homes have been through more than one traumatic event — and some have been through repeated trauma before their placement with you. It’s vital to understand how trauma can affect a foster child and what you can do to help them recover.
What is Foster Child Trauma?
Foster child trauma happens when the child has experienced an event or was in a situation that affects their ability to cope and interact with those around them in a healthy manner. The psychological effects of trauma can also affect a child’s brain, body, and behavior, impacting their ability to function in daily life. Trauma can change the way a child perceives others and responds to situations — as well as lead to distrust of adults.
There are many types of trauma a foster child may have gone through. While the very act of being taken from their home and separated from their birth family is traumatic, the child may also have experienced various forms of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence prior to their removal. They might also have witnessed harm directed at a sibling, parent, or another family member.
Common Responses to Trauma
Children who go through trauma can experience a wide range of reactions — both in the moment and long-term. Regardless of whether a child faces trauma as an infant or adolescent, it can significantly affect their development if untreated. Depending on the child’s age, the severity of the event, and the circumstances surrounding the trauma, responses can include:
Inability to trust
Depression and anxiety
Difficulty relating to others
Issues with forming emotional bonds
Sleep problems and nightmares
Engaging in risky behavior
The long-term effects of trauma can include a wide variety of negative outcomes if the trauma is left unaddressed. It can lead to lower self-esteem, lack of coping mechanisms, poor performance in school, reduced self-motivation, and the inability to form healthy relationships. Untreated trauma can also put a child at risk for substance abuse, psychological disorders, and physical illness. Foster parents play a crucial role in ensuring their foster children receive the support they need.
What Can a Foster Parent Do to Help a Child Recover From Trauma?
If you are fostering a child, they likely have endured years of trauma before meeting you — and you will be an important part of their healing process. Although you may not know how long a foster child will be in your care, it’s important that the child knows they are in a safe place where they can build a healthy relationship with you.
Some children may want to talk about their prior experiences, but others may not want to. As a foster parent, you can encourage the child to talk with you and teach them how to process their emotions in a healthy way. You will also need to build trust, which can take a considerable amount of time and patience.
Additionally, it’s critical to take the time to understand the child’s emotional triggers to encourage positive recovery. A trigger is anything that can remind a child of the traumatic incident. It can be a smell, sound, specific date, place, or psychological stimulus. Foster children might also be triggered if they observe that their parents are sad, angry, or upset. By identifying their triggers, you can help avoid reopening the child’s emotional wounds — if you notice certain activities or situations are upsetting for the child, try restructuring or limiting them to prevent retraumatization.
While you are providing the emotional support the child requires, don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you might need. There are many support groups you can turn to for guidance, as well as professionals who can provide mental health services and counseling for the child. But above all, patience, stability, consistency, and flexibility are key to the healing process.
Adopting a Foster Child in Oregon
There are hundreds of children in the Oregon foster care system looking for loving and stable homes. Foster parents provide foster children with care as they await a permanent placement or reunification with their biological family. However, adopting a child from foster care legally makes them a permanent part of your family. Licensed foster parents in Oregon can choose to adopt a child they have been caring for if they become legally eligible for adoption, and returning to their biological family is not an option.
There is no cost to adopt a child from the foster care system when the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) serves as the agency. In addition, certain private agency fees may be reimbursable if you adopt a child from the Oregon foster care system. The DHS also offers financial assistance, post-permanency services, and various resources to help with the child’s transition.
Contact a Knowledgeable Oregon Adoption Attorney
If you are considering adopting a child from foster care, a knowledgeable adoption attorney can guide you through the process. Litowich Law offers compassionate counsel and experienced representation to families throughout Oregon regarding a broad array of adoption matters. We welcome you to contact us for a consultation to learn how we can help.