During the early stages of life, children learn to trust and develop a sense of safety and assurance about the world through their caregivers. As such, when these attachments are disrupted or unhealthy (abuse, neglect, exposure to violence), children begin to feel a sense of uncertainty, fear, and hopelessness about the world. As children continue to develop through childhood, similar or continuous exposure to traumatic events, can further derail healthy physical, intellectual, and emotional/social development. Because each stage of development, as popularized by Erik Erikson (see picture), builds upon successful completion of early stages, these missing "steps" make it difficult for a youth to confront and master new challenges.
As a result of the traumas that youth who are in foster care experience, many youth have learned to expect and believe the worst about themselves and the people responsible for caring for them. Some may find it difficult to develop relationships with new caregivers or adapt to the changes in their social and environment. Undoubtedly, these disruptions in child's attachment and development result in behaviors which can lead to placement changes for children in foster care. In fact, the majority of youth placed in foster care will experience at least one placement change, and this likelihood increases as a youth experiences multiple losses and transitions.
It is important for foster and adoptive parents to make meaningful connections with children who are in foster care. This can be achieved through increasing support and understanding of the needs of the child, being available to meet their needs, and taking care to learn and integrate a child's sense of culture. This includes listening and comforting a child without avoiding or over-reacting when children discuss their traumas. Families must be aware and sensitive to the fact that children who have experienced trauma and placed in foster care, may need to re-learn or be taught social and emotional skills to help them process and handle negative situations. Children who experience significant loss and adverse childhoods need to be given opportunities for success to practice new skills, and to also be supported with making choices and feeling empowered.
In addition, proper training for foster parents is essential to help them understand the impact of trauma on a child's development and behaviors. The National Foster Parent Association highlight that there are several curriculum, as a Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE) or the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), which provide formal curriculum and assessments for on-boarding foster and adoptive parents. Continued education and training are equally as vital to the on-boarding process to ensure that foster parents can learn how to create a safe place for youth to share about their past traumatic experiences and begin to heal.
For support on how your agency can better support your youth who have experienced trauma to build their toolbox for coping, or to better equip your new and existing foster and adoptive parents with PRIDE orientation training and trauma sensitive ongoing education, please contact us today!