Lucy Stevens - 10th December 2021
Many children in foster care will have suffered abuse and neglect within homes where domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse or mental health problems are prevalent. In such circumstances they are unlikely to have experienced a positive family home life where they felt protected, had their needs met and were able to develop close attachments. In addition, all foster children, irrespective of their family backgrounds, will have experienced the trauma of loss and separation from family members and familiar surroundings which can further impact on their emotional and psychological development. It is not surprising, given their past experiences, that many children in foster care feel unable to trust and present challenging behaviours.
What is attachment and why is it important for children to develop secure attachments?
There is a wealth of literature and information about attachment theory but in basic terms it refers to the bond that develops between a child and their care-giver with the bond developed in early infancy usually being the most significant for a child’s future development. When an infant’s needs are met by their care giver, they learn that they can trust and rely on them for security and comfort and a healthy attachment is formed which, in turn, provides a secure base from which the child develops confidence to begin to explore their environment.
However, when attachments are disrupted, the child will not feel secure and, in failing to have their needs met, may learn that they do not matter. Due to their past experiences, children in foster care are at greater risk of developing attachment trauma which can result in poor self- esteem, behavioural issues, difficulties in regulating emotions, problems forming healthy relationships and reduced capacity for developing life skills.
What is the role of foster carers when it comes to attachment?
Here at Eastern Fostering Services, we train and encourage our foster carers to practice therapeutic care which allows them to tune into children’s individual needs. The aim of therapeutic fostering is to help children and young people overcome anxiety and fear, to understand and manage their feelings and ultimately to learn to trust. Traumatised children need foster carers who are nurturing and sensitive, who can be both physically and emotionally available and who can accept and value the child for who they are. They must be able to help the child to feel effective and to provide consistent routines and boundaries to help the child feel safe. Ultimately foster carers are working with the child to promote a feeling of belonging in the child.
However, this is no easy feat. Foster carers will often find it upsetting, perplexing, and wearing to see attachment trauma play out in children’s lives. Often, a problem stemming from attachment trauma will be evident in the relationships children have with their peers. Many children in foster care will struggle to form healthy relationships with others around them. They may form very intense relationships very quickly. However, these relationships often turn out to be superficial in nature and can traumatise children further. As children grow older, this tendency towards intense and superficial connections can take on a more dangerous edge. Young people who have experienced poor attachment are much more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It is important to note that relationships are not the only area of life that is affected by poor attachment. Foster carers will need to manage and support other behaviours and mental health problems resulting from attachment trauma.
How does Eastern Fostering Services support their foster carers?
It is vital that all foster carers have a sound understanding of attachment and how attachment-based trauma presents itself in the lives of children and young people. In the first instance, to understand is to contextualise behaviours. This is a valuable place for foster carers to start their therapeutic work.
With this in mind, carers are all given training in attachment during their assessment process. We help foster carers to experience what it is like to consistently have your needs overlooked and will discuss how this might manifest itself in your life as you grow.
One of the ways we do this at Eastern Fostering Services is through the use of Virtual Reality. Foster carers can use a headset and immerse themselves in the experiences of children. We have found this to be a powerful way to fully understand many children’s experiences. We can’t overstate enough how important it is to be able to keep that young baby or toddler in mind when working therapeutically with the older child and managing the fall-out of their experiences.
Foster carers also receive regular training on attachment and therapeutic fostering. These sessions refresh carers and offer new perspectives. They are also a valuable opportunity to confide in other foster carers and seek support and advice.
Our foster carers receive regular supervision. Our Social work team has a breadth of knowledge and experience when it comes to attachment and attuned caring. Foster carers at Eastern Fostering Services will be able to seek advice and support from their Supervising Social Workers whenever they need it.
Could you foster?
As a foster carer you could make the difference to a child’s life by providing a secure and loving home, by standing alongside them through challenging times and helping them to build close attachments so they can develop self- esteem and resilience with a view to overcoming the past and facing the future with confidence.
If you are interested in fostering and feel you might have the skills and qualities needed to make a difference to a child’s life, contact us. You can email us at email@example.com, message the team on Facebook or call us on 01206 299775.