Learning About Trauma & Foster Care from “This is Us”
In this season of “This is Us,” adoptee Randall and his wife Beth choose to pursue foster care. While there have only been two episodes of the season so far, they’ve managed to ask some of the hardest questions and bring up the most challenging issues surrounding this kind of family-building process. While both seemed on board with the idea of foster care at the end of the season premiere, one thought continues to make Randall second-guess their adoption decision: How can they successfully bring a child into their house who may have a history of physical, mental or sexual trauma? It’s a question that all prospective foster parents and parents looking to adopt from the foster system should ask themselves before they commit to this kind of family-building process. This is one of the biggest challenges of foster care — but, with the proper preparation and understanding, it doesn’t have to be the thing that ends your journey.
What to Know About Trauma and Foster CareUnfortunately, every child who has entered foster care has experienced some kind of trauma. Indeed, the very act of being placed into the foster care system is traumatic, as children lose everything they know — their birth families and often their friends, teachers and peers — as they are placed in a completely different environment and community. In addition to this trauma, many children in foster care have previously experienced physical, mental or sexual trauma, which is often the reason why they are taken into foster care in the first place. How a child responds to this trauma will vary; it may severely impact their day-to-day life or only reemerge during triggering situations. In response, many children in foster care have developed unhealthy habits and behaviors in attempt to cope with these emotions and memories. For many who are unfamiliar with the foster care process, they think these habits are a sign that a child is a “bad kid” and, therefore, not capable of “being fixed.” This is the entirely wrong mindset. It’s important that any prospective foster parents understand the way foster children behave is not their own fault but instead a reflection of the harrowing situations they have been through. Foster children are not “bad”; they are good kids who have had bad things happen to them.
How You Can Prepare for a Foster Child with Traumatic HistoryWhen you choose to become foster parents or adopt a child from foster care, your foster care agency or department of social services will work with you to prepare you for this placement. This includes providing you all the available background information about your foster child, the training you need to address some of the behavior issues that stem from their trauma, and more. The key to parenting a child who has experienced trauma is an understanding of what they are going through, physically and emotionally. A child wants nothing more than to be loved and accepted into a family, and the difficulty they have adjusting and opening up to you does not mean this isn’t true — just that their past makes it difficult to do so. It will take time and immense patience to help a child understand they are safe and loved and that the coping behaviors they had previously developed are not necessary in your care. Your foster care agency can help you prepare for parenting a child who is in this situation, but some important things to remember are to:
- Identify trauma triggers and avoid them
- Be emotionally and physically available
- Be consistent and predictable in day-to-day routines
- Listen to your foster child whenever they need it
- Help your child learn to relax and cope with emotions in a healthy way
- Encourage self-esteem and positive activities
- Don’t take behavior personally
- Be patient