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”