Helping Caregivers Who Foster Children Exposed to Violence

Helping Caregivers Who Foster Children Exposed to Violence

February 15, 2013 | Deirdre O’Connor, Senior Program Specialist, NCCD

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Caring for children who have been traumatized by violence requires a great deal of knowledge, skill, patience, and support. The Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Task Force acknowledged this in the breadth and scope of their recommendations released late last year. In our role providing technical assistance to the task force, NCCD staff had the opportunity to learn from many individuals who are dedicated to helping children heal from experiencing and witnessing violence. One universal theme that emerged was the importance of involving caregivers in children’s healing processes.

Caring for children who have been traumatized by violence requires a great deal of knowledge, skill, patience, and support. The Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Task Force acknowledged this in the breadth and scope of their recommendations released late last year. In our role providing technical assistance to the task force, NCCD staff had the opportunity to learn from many individuals who are dedicated to helping children heal from experiencing and witnessing violence. One universal theme that emerged was the importance of involving caregivers in children’s healing processes. This is especially true for children who are removed from their parents due to abuse or traumatic neglect in their own homes. 

Relatives and foster parents who step forward to care for abused and neglected children frequently struggle with behaviors that seem extreme or unmanageable. However, traditional parenting strategies successfully used with foster parents’ biological children can be ineffective or even damaging for children struggling to recover from trauma. For example, implementing a “time-out” or sending a child to his or her room in response to negative behavior is generally considered appropriate; however, this strategy may trigger painful emotional reactions or more extreme acting out for a child who, in the past, heard through the walls his mother being assaulted by an intimate partner. Similarly, a foster parent may tell a school-aged child with rambunctious behavior to play outside; but children who have lived in unsafe, violent neighborhoods may become fearful, sad, or angry if told to go outside to play.

Trauma-informed care considers each child’s experiences and behavior along with the circumstances of his/her substitute care situation, and can help foster parents and children navigate circumstances like those described above. To better understand this, foster parents need opportunities to learn about how exposure to violence impacts children. In addition, they need realistic, practical strategies for helping their foster children heal.

Learning opportunities for foster parents include traditional training sessions where professionals share knowledge about the impact violence has on children and their developing brains and behavior. These sessions must be augmented with routine conversations between foster caregivers and social workers about their foster children’s struggles and successes. While they serve as opportunities for information exchanges, these conversations also are a time for foster caregivers to discuss child-specific parenting strategies and receive the support they need to help their foster children heal from trauma.

As many child welfare systems move toward trauma-informed interventions and care, it is critical that this advancement include training and support for foster parents and relative caregivers on children’s exposure to violence. The Administration for Children, Youth and Families recognizes this and has placed the need for safe, supportive, and responsive relationships at the base of their social and emotional well-being pyramid. These relationships form the foundation for children’s healing and recovery from exposure to violence.[1]

 

To watch videos of the Defending Childhood Task Force hearings, visit NCCD’s task force page. For more information on the Defending Childhood Task Force and Initiative, visit the Department of Justice’s task force website.

Deirdre O’Connor is a Senior Program Specialist at NCCD.


[1] http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/acyf_fy2012_projects_summary.pdf