Foster carers will be aware of the rising numbers of children who are coming into care needing specialist support. This is because so many of them have experienced trauma as a consequence of abuse and/or neglect. Such children are liable to exhibit patterns of behaviour that can be particularly challenging. Their needs are met through therapeutic fostering which requires carers to be specially trained. This means they are able to respond in ways that are appropriate and help a child to recover from their past experiences. Therapeutic foster carers do this by providing a stable and secure environment where a child is able to learn to trust – perhaps for the first time in their lives. Therapeutic care is a term that applies to the work of not just foster carers – but also adopters, kinship carers – as well as special guardians. Anyone that is providing support for a traumatised child will usually have received training in this area. The ability to provide therapeutic care can also be appropriate for biological parents. Situations, where this becomes relevant, include pre-birth trauma, separation, illness or any other set of circumstances likely to affect a child’s understanding, engagement and functioning with the world. Implementing therapeutic care strategies can also assist parents who have children on the autism spectrum or who have ADHD.
Broadly speaking, knowledge of therapeutic parenting strategies can be beneficial for all children in most family settings. This is because it promotes the benefits and efficacy of establishing firm boundaries and structure, together with a robust, empathic nurturing style of parenting.
So far in this series issues connected to attachment and trauma – as well as effective strategies to prevent escalation have been explored. When an incident arises triggering a process needing a therapeutic response, the initial phases of ‘Pause’ and ‘Assessment’ were explored in the last blog (2). The next stages to be considered concern the need to ‘Reflect’ and ‘Empathise’.
One of the most important elements to successful therapeutic foster carer is awareness of context. Reflection facilities learning as well as refining responses. The natural tendency, rightly, is to spend time reflecting on a particular incident once it is over. It can be valuable to hold elements of this in mind to be used in the future. This is because there may well be certain patterns of behaviour – including triggers – that if quickly perceived aid the prevention of escalation. Being able to speedily gauge where a child is coming from and what may be triggering an outburst may make it easier to achieve resolution. A child that exhibits anger and rudeness and is using offensive language may have been upset by something that happened at school. Looking for an underlying cause is what matters rather than reacting to aspects of the behaviour it has triggered. It can be productive to reflect on:
‘Wondering aloud’ can be an effective strategy: “I wonder hat it was about a particular occurrence that made you so angry’, as an example. It communicates the interest of a therapeutic foster carer in identifying the source of a child’s anger and upset – and note the two emotions are usually closely linked. From the child’s perspective, this is an authentic response and one not side-tracked by the face of a child using abusive language or displaying abusive behaviour. Adopting this strategy signals to a child that their carer is engaging fully with what has triggered their outburst.
A note on shame: children who have been traumatised come into care with a whole raft of different feelings. They are not in a position to process these and become subject to them. One of the most powerful of these is ‘shame’. Dr Brene Brown based at Houston University is a research professor who has investigated the impact of shame and empathy. In one particular TED Talk ‘Listening to Shame’ given in 2012 she stated:
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is ‘I am bad’. Guilt is ‘I did something bad’. How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, ‘I’m sorry. I made a mistake’? How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake. Empathy is the antidote to shame.
Children who have been traumatised – been a part of their family fragmenting – can often be eaten up by feelings of toxic shame. They are often completely overwhelmed by their experiences. Therapeutic foster carers who show empathy are providing such children with the antidote to such confusing and overpowering feelings.
There is more information on the broader subject of empathy at – https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562
There are few decisions as big as deciding to become a foster carer. Your life will be transformed but you’ll grow as a person as you are supported by us to meet the challenges of fostering. And there are many rewards to be experienced. Not least, the chance to change the futures of vulnerable children and young people. You’ll motivate them, give support to them and teach them key life skills. Fostering is hard work, but you’ll have the chance to watch a child grow and develop into a confident, resourceful young person. How many other careers could provide you with such an opportunity? And, perhaps most of all you’ll be giving a disadvantaged children opportunities they might never have had.
Fostering gives people the chance to enrich their lives by acquiring many new skills. We provide a wealth of training opportunities. Everything from attachment theory, psychology and meeting the complex needs of traumatised children through to diversity and first aid training. A career in foster care will grow your knowledge and develop you as a person, as well as a foster carer.
Fostering with Rainbow will give you access to an amazing network of like-minded people. You’ll make new friends through swapping stories and experiences. And it’s a network that is always there to provide knowledge, comfort and support throughout your fostering journey.
The children we are supporting are in London, Milton Keynes, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, and parts of Hampshire. All are from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and differ in age. 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 (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 can help you along the road to becoming a foster carer.
To foster with Rainbow you will need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person. But what matters most of all is you have the drive, interest, and motivation to always do your best for the child or young person in your care.
We have provided a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about foster care from our applicants: hopefully, it will answer a lot of your questions – it can be found at: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/ For the latest information on staying safe visit – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus
Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.