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Understanding How Trauma Affects Foster Children

Foster families and caretakers may often experience difficulty understanding and fully supporting their new children because of past trauma. Children may often react to people or situations abnormally, or unreasonably, because of trauma experiences. As a caretaker, understanding the effect of trauma will better equip you to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child. Furthermore, it can bring healing and hope to the parent-child dynamic and can have positive effects on the longevity of the child’s overall wellbeing.


Trauma is “an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm”. Unfortunately, most children in foster care have been abused and/ or neglected before placement. Many have experienced repeated or multiple forms of trauma that have longterm effects on the child. These effects reside in the body, brain, and behavior of the child, but it is treatable.


A child who has experienced trauma may show signs of unhealthy behaviors such as increased physical or verbal aggression, hostility, or disobedience. It is important to remember that these behaviors may have protected the child from trauma in the past. So, the best way to show compassion and understanding in these situations is to practice patience and utilize therapeutic efforts that acknowledge and work through trauma-related issues. The Child Welfare Information Gateway fact sheet, Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma, states the importance of parents shifting their view of a “bad child” to a child who has had bad things happen to them when dealing with effects of trauma in children.


To better prepare adoptive and foster families to support their children who have experienced trauma, here are some tips found to be effective:

  • Do not take a child’s behavior personally

  • Be aware, prepared and patient with the child

  • Seek to solve problems in new ways

  • Be open to understanding the child’s trauma and how it affects them

  • Utilize additional resources and services available to you and your family

  • Reach out to support groups


Sources:

  • Parenting After Trauma: Understanding Your Child’s Needs. A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents, a 2016 publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

  • Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope With Trauma. A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents, a 2015 publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

  • Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma, a 2014 factsheet for families from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

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