The child protection system does not routinely prepare care leavers well for independent living. “The circumstances and life chances for these young people are significantly poorer and the challenges and hardships considerably greater than for other young people their age in the general population.” All young people leaving the child protection system are meant to have support from caseworkers and a leaving care plan, as well as support to complete or continue their education. Many care leavers report they do not. There are a number of good new online resources available to help guide care leavers, such as this one from CREATE, and this app from FACS. But this is not nearly enough for many young people leaving the foster care system.

“Young people who remain in care until they reach 18 rarely have the emotional, social and financial support that is available to most young people their age from their families”

Care leavers are one of the “most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of young Australians.” Young people leaving care, as a group, fare more poorly than other young people their age in the general population. They are less likely to have completed school, and to have somewhere safe, stable and secure to live, and they are more likely to rely on government income support, to be in marginal employment, and to have difficulties in ‘making ends meet’. They are at a disproportionate risk of homelessness, mental illness, early parenthood and interaction with the justice system. “Trauma adds to the risk of offending behaviour, contributing to the link between child maltreatment, homelessness and offending.” The mistreatment that led these young people to be taken into care and the resultant trauma, added to the lack of support received as they exit care can become a vicious cycle that is very difficult for them to escape from as young adults.

This has, of course, a lot to do with the relationships these young people have experienced whilst in care, and the ones that continue with them into adulthood. “Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). Research has shown that young people leaving care who said there was “no one that they felt secure with or loved by” had the least positive life outcomes 5 years after leaving care. This makes a sad kind of sense. If you think no one cares about you, how do you value yourself? Who do you turn to for support or advice? And how do you make sense of where you fit in the world? “For young people in care the worst aspect of the experience may be the sense that at the end of the day nobody really cares about you.”

“Close personal relationships and social and emotional support throughout children’s early years and adolescence are essential contributors to their healthy development” (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Resnick et al., 1997). The impact of a genuinely caring & supportive foster carer, caseworker or teacher on a young person’s life outcomes cannot be overstated. This is why we are always looking for people willing to open, not just their homes, but also their hearts to vulnerable children and young people: someone to care about them, not just for them.

“Young people who were at least 18, felt that they were ready to leave care, had already completed their secondary schooling, had support from those around them and were able to maintain some continuity in their relationships and living arrangements were doing much better than those who were discharged from care earlier with little preparation or support and without having completed their secondary schooling.”

As one young care leaver in this study stated: “My foster mum’s been great – a great influence and support. During counselling I started to learn that I’ve always lived, without realising it, expecting everyone to go… Because that’s happened all my life… Now I understand that people do stay forever.”


Most children in foster care have experienced some form of trauma. Many have experienced multiple types. “Exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood can have a negative impact on the development of the brain when it’s most vulnerable.” This in turn leads to “a series of maladaptive physiological and behavioural responses [that] will directly shape the child’s ability to cope in future life.”

Sadly that means many children who have been traumatised seem out of control and hard to love, often displaying over the top responses to seemingly trivial experiences. Respected neuropsychologist, Allan Schore, says the most significant consequence of early trauma is a “failure to develop the capacity to self-regulate the intensity and duration of emotional states.”

One blogger reports that “It took nearly four years to come to terms with the fact that living in a family with children who have experienced early childhood trauma(s) can be an isolating, lonely, and oddly enough traumatising endeavour, with very unique and difficult challenges.”

Trauma affects a child’s ability to feel safe & self regulate, and can explain extreme, perplexing and seemingly self-defeating behaviours. Psychiatrist Sandra Bloom describes the behaviour of traumatised children as “the best solutions our children have been able to come up with to help them manage unendurable feelings.” Understanding the reasons for these behaviours is key to the way foster carers and adoptive parents can help the children in their care move forward. Traumatised children cannot thrive under traditional forms of parenting, and so carers must provide Trauma Informed Care, which is increasingly recognised as important across both care and education.

We have a biological need to be both physically and socially safe.  People thrive in relationships and environments that feel safe and nurturing

The Australian Institute of Family Studies defines trauma informed care as “a framework that is based on knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives and their needs.” Therapeutic parenting can occur where foster and adoptive parents have the training and support that allows them to form relationships with the children and young people in their care that “promote both individual and relational healing and growth.”

The principles underlying Trauma Informed Care are:

  • Realisation about trauma and its impacts on individuals, families and communities;
  • Recognition of the signs of trauma;
  • Response – applying the principles of a trauma-informed approach; and
  • Resist re-traumatisation

“We have a biological need to be both physically and socially safe.  People thrive in relationships and environments that feel safe and nurturing.” Being able to feel safe with other people is the “single most important aspect of mental health” according to trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk. Through providing trauma informed care foster carers and their support community – Agencies, teachers, health professionals and friends – can work together to provide the safety, love and consistency that children need to help recover from their trauma enough to connect and heal, and learn new and better behaviour responses.

Educational training and support are the keys you need to be able to effectively parent the vulnerable children placed in your care. UK psychotherapist Fi Newood says “highly traumatised children, even with the best possible parenting available to them, cannot be ‘cured’.  We cannot cure children at all.  All we can do is provide them with relationships that offer them the best opportunity to heal”


UPDATED: 30 October, 2017

How much do you know about personality types? Do you like to find out which categories you fall into? If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, or you already are one, it may well be that you fall into the personality type categorised as a ‘Pioneer’ according to research into ‘Why Foster Carers Care’ conducted by the UK’s Fostering Network.

This research found that an amazing 73% of foster carers displayed character traits that put them into the ‘Pioneer’ category against an average of just 42% of the general population. But what does this mean?

An amazing 73% of foster carers displayed character traits that put them into the ‘Pioneer’ category against an average of just 42% of the general population!

‘Pioneers’ share a set of common values which make them much more likely to become foster carers than people characterised as ‘Prospectors’ or ‘Settlers’, the other two main personality types identified in the study[i]. None of these types of personality are “better” than the others. They simply describe what individuals are like, and give an indication of the types of activities they might feel comfortable to undertake.

If you have a strong desire for fairness, justice and equality, are concerned about the environment and society, are reasonably self-assured, open to change and feel that whatever life throws at you you will manage, then chances are you are a ‘Pioneer’! ‘Pioneers’ also like to understand the big picture, and feel like they are working towards making things better.

Other research[ii] by eminent Professor of Social Welfare, Jill Duerr-Berrick, describes high-quality care-givers as typically being flexible, teachable, members of a team, loving, interested in strengthening a family, and up for a challenge. All of these attributes are consistent with (but not exclusive to) the characteristics of the ‘Pioneer’ personality type.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? You don’t have to be a ‘Pioneer’ to become a foster carer, but if you identify with some of the character traits above, maybe it’s time to give us a call and find out how you can make a difference in a child or young person’s life!

Take this special Fostering NSW version of the Pioneers, Prospectors & Settlers Quiz to find out which category best describes you!


We have had a great response to this Quiz, and have received preliminary results from Cultural Dynamics, who developed & run the quiz. It will remain open  till the end of December, but we have results from the original participants, and they are consistent with Dr Duerr-Berrick’s findings:

 

 

87%, or the vast majority, of people who took the quiz with us were ‘Pioneers’, while 11% of participants were ‘Prospectors’, and only 2.5% were ‘Settlers’. Have a look at the way Cultural Dynamics describes & breaks down the three personality types. In contrast with this, the three personality types are more or less evenly spread across society generally. That our participants were wildly skewed to the ‘Pioneer’ personality type is hardly surprising.

Our followers are largely people who are already foster carers, or those who are seriously considering it. Most foster carers share a common set of values, and they are markedly different from those of the wider population. These values are characterised by the confidence and need to help in the local community. Foster carers are principally motivated by an intrinsic desire to ‘do the right thing’ and to contribute to improving society. That is not to say that the other personality types do not care about these values, but rather they act in different ways, according to the other things valued more highly, such as personal safety & security, or the esteem of others.

If you haven’t yet, why not take the quiz, and see which personality type you fit into?

 

[i] The research uses the ‘Values Mode’ system of evaluation developed by Cultural Dynamics Strategy & Marketing and based on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
[ii] Berrick, J. D., Shauffer, C., & Rodriguez, J. (2011). Recruiting for excellence in foster care: Marrying child welfare research with brand marketing strategies. Journal of Public Child Welfare. 5(2)

 


The Australian Institute of Family Studies recently released their annual Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics for the year 2015-2016, and it makes for sobering reading. Since 1990, the AIHW has compiled annual national figures for child protection activity, and the news is not good. The number of reports of child abuse has risen year on year, and so too has the number of children in out-of-home care across Australia. This could possibly be that as people become more aware of child protection issues they are reporting more and helping to remove kids from bad situations, but it means that the foster care system continues to be stretched, and the demand for more foster carers to meet this need expands.

Providing foster care is not for everybody. Children who come into care do so because it is not safe for them to live with their family of origin. They are often traumatised, and their removal and placement with strangers can have a further traumatising effect. These experiences can have long-term implications for development and behaviour. Science Journal News reports that suffering abuse impairs a child’s ability to learn, and that in turn can cause them to misbehave, especially as teenagers  The study discussed found that the relationship between physical abuse and the disruptive or aggressive behaviours that often stay with abused children well into the later stages of adolescence has a developmental basis. It has been known for a long time that there is a link between behavioural issues in adolescents and various types of adversity in early life, but the connection isn’t always straightforward, or even clear.

The process by which an individual subconsciously links stimuli and experiences together is called associative learning and this partly explains how people react to various real-world situations in general. Associative learning is a learning principle that states that ideas and experiences reinforce each other and can be mentally linked to one another. This seems to be impaired in children who have suffered abuse, perhaps due to the unpredictable nature of their early experience of life. Individuals exposed to early life adversity made decisions early in the learning process as if rewards were less consistent and occurred more at random.

Participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able to learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward than their peers were

A poor sense of associative learning influences a child’s behaviour patterns negatively during fast-changing or complex situations, so the study sought to explore these processes. Through playing computer games with various types of feedback they showed that participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able to learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward than their peers were. This was the case even after they had received feedback repeatedly. Abused children were on average less skilled at differentiating which behaviours would lead to the best results for them personally. Mistreated children were also more pessimistic about the possibility of positive outcomes when compared to the group who hadn’t been abused.

This type of learning difficulty and even general pessimism is something that foster carers often have to deal with. Knowing why these behaviours persist can perhaps go some way to helping foster carers sympathise and have patience with the children and young people in their care.