The Psychologist Perspective
I’ve been working with Foster Carers over ten years now. I think it’s fair to say much of the time it is not an easy job. They sometimes have to deal with the extremes of behaviour and emotion. Understandably, they want strategies to help. I have found these strategies usually only work if they are based on attachment theory. This theory is a guide to children’s emotional development. How it goes right and how it goes wrong.
When children enter the care system they usually have a varying degree of emotional damage. This can be a challenge for Foster Carers even if they have successfully raised their own children – the ‘rules’ that they applied with their own children do not necessarily work in fact they can make the situation more challenging and difficult. Why? Fostered children’s emotional development has been disrupted or even derailed completely and so they don’t feel safe.
Although they are often way beyond infancy their need for safety and security is usually paramount. Some of these children may not ever have felt safe in their lives and have layers of defensive strategies to keep control in order to feel secure. As well as the defensive strategies most also have the need as we all do to attach with others. Although it will be very much on their terms at first but gradually as Foster Carers provide loving stable relationship the child will start to feel safe.
Foster Carers often ask me if a child can ‘get over’ their early emotional damage. I think the answer is somewhere between “partly” and “mostly”! It depends so much on the type of start they have in life. If the overall picture with their birth parents was passable but with periods of difficulty, I would tend toward mostly. However if the opposite is true, the child’s early life was mainly difficult with periods of acceptable, I would suggest it is more likely to be partly.
Either way progress is most likely to be made if Foster Carers can provide a loving, stable relationship. Three little words: loving, stable, relationship, which are easy to say but more difficult to practice. The loving aspect is not so easy when a child has just destroyed your favourite belonging. This is a test of your love and whilst you maintain it there will also need to be a consequence so the child understands destroying your property is not acceptable.
Stability is so important for the child to feel safe he or she needs to know what to expect from you – so stay the same. The relationship is the dynamic between you and the child. When you bring loving and stable qualities trust will grow. The child will hopefully, slowly let their defences down and your relationship with them will blossom.
If a positive relationship grows between you and a child you have fostered the reward you will feel is immense and so it should be. I remember during the introductions at a training session I facilitated with some Foster Carers a young woman said ‘I was fostered as a child myself and I wanted to give something back’. Whoever her Foster Carers are, they should be very proud