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Foster carers should look for signs a child might be depressed

Foster care and spotting signs of depression

Foster parents and supporting a child with depression

Foster carers, along with everyone else, have just experienced an unprecedented year. There have been many impacts, but one thing that is becoming clear is the toll recent events have taken on the wellbeing of children and young people. It’s a worrying fact that recently one in six children aged 5 to 16 have reported having a mental disorder. It’s important that foster carers understand how they can support a child if they start to become anxious or depressed. If the problem is not addressed it is likely to become more disruptive and challenging to deal with. In the worst cases, it could become a long-term problem impacting all aspects of a child’s life. 

Children can be vulnerable to many things. Foster carers look after some of the most vulnerable children in the country. But this year has seen all children affected by wholesale disruption: to school and family life as well as affecting their wider social experiences. Children have had to contend with isolation and often in family settings that weren’t harmonious before the start of lockdown. So for some children, there has been considerable trauma – on top of the pressures of home-schooling and losing contact with their peers. Foster carers were advised to be cautious in relation to exposure to news coverage experienced by children and young people. Inevitably, children will not always have been able to be shielded from much that was unsettling. The charity, Mind, discovered that three in four young people aged between thirteen and twenty-four who already had an existing mental health issue, reported it becoming worse during the first lockdown. 

Some children and young people resorted to self-harming as a result. Foster carers are trained to look out for this type of coping mechanism.

Depression in children and young people is far more widespread than is generally realised. It can be easy to miss. Again, foster carers are trained to look out for the signs. Some of the key indicators to look out for are prolonged bouts of sadness or irritability, a loss of interest in things that are usually enjoyed, and being listless and fatigued for no apparent reason. If these kinds of behavioural changes persist longer than a few weeks professional help should be sought. This is perhaps where foster parents have an advantage over other parents as a key part of their role is to keep accurate and frequent logs about their foster child. This means it is usually easier to judge the length of time a young person has been behaving out of character. Foster carers also have swift and immediate access to other care professionals such as social workers. This is important when considering Place2Be, mental health counselling service highlighted that just under one in three parents admitted they would feel embarrassed if their child requested counselling. Many felt this would attract the judgement of other parents. They wanted to avoid a sense of failure and stigma. Because foster carers are now dealing with so many children who have come into care already traumatised and suffering from mental health issues, carers find it easier to seek help because they are expected to. 

Foster a sense of openness.

It’s important for parents to be open-minded and non-judgemental. There are many sites online that can support prints as well – equipping with knowledge and the right vocabulary to facilitate a conversation with a child or young person. The goal should be to normalise conversations about mental health and wellbeing. It’s possible to support a child suffering from depression in many ways. As foster carers will appreciate, any signs and symptoms should always be taken seriously and not dismissed. Being patient is important: remember that if a child is feeling anxious or depressed, it’s not something they are choosing to do or necessarily have any control over. To start with, a foster carer or parent should identify a place where their child will feel comfortable speaking. This might not be easy for them at first but they are more likely to be open more quickly if they are in a place that feels secure. That space can be an activity as much as a physical place. If you have concerns as a foster carer or parent, you could start a conversation by starting an activity a child enjoys. A conversation that feels too formal held over the dinner table might put a child on the defensive. So opening up when you are out for a walk or driving them to school is likely to feel less threatening to a child.

Always be prepared to seek advice.

It can sometimes be easier to talk with a stranger than to immediate family or friends. Help is available for young people as well as their parents or foster carers. There are many charities and organisations providing help and support with mental health. Such resources can be shared with children if they are old enough. The charity Young Minds can provide a wealth of resources and information with guidance aimed at preventing mental illness developing as well as advice for improving early intervention and care. Help is available at –

Young people can be empowered to seek help for themselves as there is the option to reach out to YoungMind’s Crisis Messenger by simply texting YM to 85258. A qualified counsellor will then get in touch to talk over the problems a child or young person might be experiencing. Your GP can also put you in touch with CAMHS. this is the organisation and name for the NHS services that will assess and treat young people displaying emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties. CAMHS support is available to cover depression, problems with food, self-harm, abuse, violence or anger, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety, among well as other difficulties.

Why so many people decide to foster with Rainbow.

Deciding to help a child grow up in a safe, nurturing, and loving foster home is one of the most personally enriching and rewarding decisions a person can make. It’s also one of the most responsible and life-changing. Especially as the kind of upbringing you can give a child will literally shape their lives. It can be challenging and that’s why we support our foster carers with comprehensive fostering training as well as support around the clock. The training we provide is ongoing and covers every aspect of fostering including but not restricted to: Child Protection and Safeguarding; supporting Parent and Child foster placements; Record Keeping; First Aid and Therapeutic Fostering.

Fostering with Rainbow means you are never alone. All our foster carers have the dedicated support of a social worker who will have complete familiarity with their placement. Rainbow carers are part of a vibrant community giving them access to a network of opinion, advice and support. It’s a great place to be. We are an agency that listens to its foster carers because we know that is crucial to meeting their fostering career aspirations. It also enables us to strive to improve what we can offer our carers in terms of supporting each and every placement. 

The children we are supporting in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and parts of Hampshire are diverse and of all ages. We now urgently need foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups, and children with complex needs in all these locations. We are also increasingly asked to provide homes for young mothers and their babies – known as parent and child fostering. 

We have carers from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. So whether you’re married, single, female or male, renting or a homeowner, straight, gay, lesbian trans or bisexual – our friendly, helpful recruitment team would love to chat with you. To foster with us, you will need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person. What matters most is you have the interest and motivation to do your best for the child or young person you are caring for.

Start your journey to becoming a fostering professional today by calling 0330 311 2845. You’ll be joining an agency rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted.

We have provided a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about fostering from people interested in becoming carers. Hopefully, it will prove helpful and can be found at –

And another of our blogs covering a particular fostering topic can be found at:

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Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.

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