Foster carers will benefit from knowing how to implement strategies in relation to therapeutic fostering if they understand the key dynamics involved. In the first of this series, issues connected to attachment and trauma were explored. It is important now to understand that a foster carer’s own behaviour and past experiences influence interactions between them and a child. All of us have certain triggers that will cause us to react with particular emotions. In a situation that is challenging and growing in volatility, understanding and controlling one’s own triggers is important. Children’s behaviours can easily trigger an overreaction. Whatever the incident, it is invaluable as a foster carer to immediately think in terms of process. And this always starts with remaining calm. This is a response that must be learnt as a therapeutic foster carer. It can be an enormous challenge – even the most experienced carers will experience difficulty: acting calmly whilst feeling intense anger is far from easy. Especially because the stress that accompanies anger have physiological effects such as triggering the release of stress hormones. The way to counter this is for a foster carer to understand this process. This makes it possible to achieve the primary goal which is always to prevent escalation. In situations where all the participants have lost emotional control establishing a route out can be virtually impossible. Clearly, the carer has the responsibility to effect resolution as the child that has lost control of its emotions will need to be calmed. Effective therapeutic care relies upon appreciating these dynamics: remaining calm at the outset of an occurrence and focusing on de-escalation to calm the child or young person. Achieving a positive outcome relies upon a foster carer engaging higher brain function. It’s here that the necessary strategic thinking takes place that’s needed to restore equilibrium. Instinctive responses – a carer’s own anger for example – proceed from the lower brain and when uncontrolled are likely to fuel escalation. The understanding that therapeutic foster carers have in relation to the effects of trauma on the developing brain, provides essential context. Knowing this style of parenting actively helps children to develop new pathways in the brain helping them to link cause and effect. And without being able to do this because of trauma, a child’s resultant behaviour can be more accurately seen as biological rather than merely bad.
When faced with an incident the carer must remember that they are the ultimate secure base for the child in their care. That cannot and must not change. It is the point from which the higher brain responses from the carer start. The initial reaction must be to respond calmly and consciously to the child. A therapeutic foster carer will be thinking in terms of allowing themselves the time to manage these key responses. Consciously pausing can increase the possibility of establishing a calm dialogue. Strategies to create this space can include turning the face away or pretending to be engaged on another task so the child is unable to see the carers facial expression. Another tactic can be to refer to an important task you need to complete in another part of the house. Taking a series of deep breaths helps to control anger as well as lowering the stress response. Employing general holding statements along the lines of “let me think about that”, or “how long have you been worried about that”, can be effective in creating a pause. Depending on the situation, disengaging from few brief moments such i.e. a foster carer saying they need to go to the toilet can help to de-escalate things. A therapeutic foster carer will not completely withdraw because removing all contact could be counter-productive. It could lead to a child becoming more dysregulated as the care will not be sensed as being the ultimate secure base.
Recognising the importance of creating a Pause is essential for another key reason: the trained therapeutic foster carer understands the need to make a rapid assessment of a situation. In highly charged circumstances, a child may be threatening to harm themselves or to cause damage. A carer has to be able to judge what constitutes a serious risk of injury and respond appropriately. The ability to differentiate between a threat and genuine intent is paramount. That said, a foster carer needs to understand their own personal boundaries. If a child smashes a cup or throws a cushion that might be tolerated only as long as the carer sees such behaviour in context. A child often understands how to ‘push buttons’ to get a reaction. Therapeutic fostering depends on the ability of a carer to recognise all these patterns of behaviour as being explicable and part of a process: one that with training, skill and understanding they can control. No two situations are ever the same – even in the same fostering household. But there may be similarities in the behaviour of a child that has lost control albeit in another context. Recalling past episodes and recognising repeat behaviour patterns can be fruitful for a therapeutic foster carer in preventing escalation. Useful questions to ask:
A final word on triggers: we are all human and certain things will; in the phrase ‘push our buttons’. Therapeutic foster carers understand that children can often have a good idea of what these are. Where foster children are concerned, they might have a need to push and provoke to see that their carer really does want to look after and care for them. The child is in some ways quite naturally trying to establish that they can ultimately depend on their foster carer in all situations. It can be particularly helpful for a foster carer to understand this dynamic and shape their responses around it. The child needs actual confirmation their carer is their ultimate secure base. Many children who are cared for in therapeutic settings have arrived there after experiencing considerable trauma. Some will have been in emotionally disturbing situations – often for prolonged periods. It shouldn’t be surprising that they then employ such behaviour – often without realising it – in pursuit of knowing their position is a secure one.
Why not visit our blog section covering a wide range of topics related to fostering: today’s suggestion:
“It’s a special and rewarding job being a foster carer – and Rainbow make it extra special.”
If you are looking to foster our friendly team is a phone call away to discuss any questions you might have. Why choose to foster with Rainbow? We have been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. Rainbow provides the highest levels of support to its foster carers. We prize the skills and abilities of our carers and the commitment they show to creating bright futures for children. Because many of our children have had a traumatic start in life we apply a team approach to meeting their needs. Integral to our Secure Base Therapeutic Training Model are the professionals – carers and therapists we have to support the varying needs of individual placements.
Fostering with Rainbow means joining a mutually supportive and vibrant community of foster carers. It means access to support groups as well as a wealth of ongoing training opportunities. Our foster carers are able to develop their careers with us in whichever direction they will gain most from.
The children we are supporting are in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and parts of Hampshire. They are from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and are of all ages. Foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups, and children with complex needs are currently urgently needed in these locations. We also need foster homes for young mothers and their babies. These are called Parent and Child fostering placements.
We have foster carers from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. If you’re married, single, divorced, female or male, renting or a homeowner, straight, gay, lesbian trans or bisexual – we would love to chat with you. To foster with Rainbow you will need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person. What matters most of all is you have the interest and motivation to do your best for the child you are caring for.
We have provided a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about foster care. Hopefully, it will prove helpful – it can be found at – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/ Coronavirus update: interesting news on progress dealing with the pandemic: https://www.med-technews.com/news/Covid-19-Medtech-News/avacta-receives-mhra-registration-for-lateral-flow-test/
Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.