The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care for Foster Parents

As “trauma” becomes a more commonly used word, many people may not be clear on what trauma actually is. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “trauma is an emotional response to an event that threatens or causes harm.” If this sounds like it could include a lot of things, you’re right: there are many types of trauma. 

What is Trauma and How Does it Affect Children?

As “trauma” becomes a more commonly used word, many people may not be clear on what trauma actually is. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “trauma is an emotional response to an event that threatens or causes harm.” If this sounds like it could include a lot of things, you’re right: there are many types of trauma. 

These range from different types of abuse to accidents or even natural disasters. Further examples of potential traumatic events include:

  • Abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional
  • Neglect
  • Living or food insecurities
  • Separation from family or caregivers
  • Bullying 
  • Witnessing harm or violence to loved ones
  • Unpredictable parental behaviors

There are also different effects that traumatic events can have on children. These effects can be seen in four main areas:

  • Bodies: Unregulated bodily stress responses or chronic illnesses
  • Brains: Thinking processes, memory, and overall cognitive function
  • Emotions: Feelings of being unsafe or low self-esteem leading to depression, etc.
  • Behaviors: Unregulated aggression or lack of impulse control leading to addiction, etc. 

What is Trauma Informed Care?

In order to address the traumas that children experience, a trauma-informed care approach is essential. In the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report on trauma-informed care, professionals can find helpful tools for training and education. 

But trauma-informed care isn’t just for professionals. Foster parents also need access to the tools and benefits of how trauma-informed care help the children they care for. An easy place to start is known as the “4 Rs:”

  • Realization of the widespread impact of trauma and understanding the potential paths for healing
  • Recognition of the signs and symptoms of trauma in people and, for foster parents, children.
  • Response rather than punishment, which includes a full integration of knowledge about trauma in practices, settings, procedures, policies, and laws.
  • Resistance of re-traumatization of the child or youth

As a foster parent, it’s important to keep learning and educating yourself on how to best help the children coming into your care. The “4 Rs” will help give you a framework for identifying the programs and organizations that can help prepare you in trauma-informed care approaches.

How to Approach the First Few Days 

Much can be done in the first few days with your new foster child. By providing simple sensory comforts that are familiar to the child, you can help them settle in and avoid re-traumatization

Asking questions is a great place to start! Don’t be afraid to ask children about their favorite foods, their bedtime routines, hobbies, and favorite things to do. This will help you identify more specific needs and help build trust if you follow through. 

Actively showing them around the house when they arrive will also help ease some environmental discomfort. Show them their room and what’s theirs, and as well as other areas of the house they can access freely. Show them the things they have access to that meet their daily needs such as snacks, ways to get a hold of you, and house guidelines. This will also help keep you accountable and assist you in responding rather than punishing.

All these actions demonstrate stability and security—one of the number one things foster children need. 

How to Stay Emotionally Present and Connected

While it’s definitely okay to ask questions, make sure that your motivation is to empathize, connect, and try to understand the child’s perspective. Pay attention and recognize where the child might have trauma-induced triggers. But don’t probe or push an issue if you’re met with resistance. Be open to listening if they want to talk, but don’t make it an interrogation.

In short, it’s key to cultivate a positive environment in your home. You can do this by:

  • Acknowledging their feelings and the difficulty of what they’re experiencing
  • Assuring them that they are safe and will be cared for in your home
  • Providing structure and predictability where you can
  • Including them in household activities, such as making a meal together
  • Allowing them the freedom to have their own space when they need it
  • Letting them voice their thoughts, feelings, and preferences 

Remember: the essential component of a positive environment is you as the foster parent. Children pick up on your attitudes, moods, and side conversations. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect—just be aware that you’re making an impact. 

How to Support a Child’s Family Connections 

While it can be difficult to not speak badly about a children’s biological parents, try your best to honor the relationships between children and their parents. You can do this by acknowledging their love for their parents and their parents’ love for them. 

In your own mind, know that despite any abuse or neglect, the child in your care is experiencing grief and loss. Being simply separated from one’s parents and sometimes siblings can be a traumatic event in and of itself. Therefore, make sure to support contact with the children’s biological family as recommended by the program you’re working with. Before you do anything, have clarity on the policies and case specifics around family contact. 

As far as your interaction with the child’s parents, it’s useful to provide information on how the child is doing. You can include what their routines are like and about your home environment. You can also ask the parents about routines the child had before, what soothes them, and what they like and dislike. More practical questions include if they have any medical conditions, allergies, etc.

While these activities may not be the most comfortable for you, the children you’re caring for will benefit from and feel reassured when they see the adults in their life collaborating. It makes a difference to have them see you work together to resolve issues and do your best to make the situation smoother.

Keep Learning About Trauma-Informed Care

All in all, trauma-informed care means continually educating yourself about how you can best approach trauma as a foster parent. The more you know about trauma and its effects on children, the more you can advocate for the child and avoid repeating their traumas.

Moreover, any additional training you receive will boost your feelings of competency as a foster parent and can help relieve stress for both you and the child. For more resources on foster care, get in touch with a VQ Team Member today. 

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