Foster Parenting Children with Trauma

Childhood trauma is a pain you wish no child ever had to endure. Childhood trauma Affects people for the rest of their lives.

You accept a new placement into your home.  You hear a little bit about their story and are really sad at their past and what they have had to endure.  

At first, everything seems great but soon you see different behaviours emerging.  The child gets emotional quickly, they look frightened or their mood changes drastically.  It seems so hard to understand what is going in their minds. That mamas is Trauma.  Being a Trauma Mom is difficult, but being able to help them through it and seeing positive changes is so very rewarding. Don’t give up.  They need you.
I want to go over the types of childhood trauma that you may encounter when caring for foster children.   I am not a professional in this area so I wanted to give you professional terms you will find those at the bottom of the post.
Before I get into the professional definitions of the types of trauma, I want to speak on parenting kids that have experienced these types of trauma.  What kind of behaviours you might see and how you can help.

This post probably contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here. 

Complex Trauma

Children that have experienced complex trauma tend to get emotionally dysregulated very easily.  Their moods can change very quickly. Routine is invaluable for parenting kids experiencing this.  Routine gives them something to rely on when the previously have not had that stability.  When a routine becomes interrupted without warning the child may experience temper fits, emotional breakdowns, odd behaviours,  and an inability to soothe or calm down.

Domestic Violence

Children that have witnessed domestic violence have a hard time trusting people, are often scared of loud noises, yelling, things being dropped etc. They may hide, be very emotional, and even act out the aggression that they have witnessed.  It will be important to use soft gentle touched, not raising your voice, and do not allow unsupervised time when other children are around, until you and the child learn to trust each other.

Early Childhood Trauma

this is specific to children aged 0-6 when the brain is a sponge and they have been exposed to things they should never have.  When the brain is doing so much developing.  It can permanently alter their thoughts and feelings in many situations.  Yes, kids are resilient but repeated exposure to some of the factors can do permanent damage.  This is so hard to work through because their brains truly do not know any different.  Parent with empathy.  Ask for help when you need it. Foster parents can actually have secondary trauma when dealing with a particularly traumatized child, not seeing much progress.

Pediatric Medical Trauma

If I child was extremely injured before they came into foster care and has to have extensive medical appointments to treat the injury, the hospital or doctors office can become a very traumatic experience for them bringing back flashbacks to their time of injury. (Burns, abuse, treatment of starvation) . The only way to deal with this is time and explanation.  Try and keep their doctor the same in all future visits but different from the Doctor or hospital they associate with the trauma.

Trauma due to Neglect

These kids often have very little emotional response, will not cry if they are hungry, wet, or hurt because no one has ever cared for them when they were. Therapy needs to be provided to help re-teach their brains to respond to different stimuli, such as cry when they fall.  They need to learn to seek nurture. Depending on the severity of the neglect the damage can be permanent and these kids grow into adults that do not know how to have normal relationships.

Trauma due to Physical Abuse

These kids may hover, hide, are very scared of most people.  They can also lie and be extreme “people pleasers” in order to avoid a “punishment”

Trauma due to Sexual Abuse

These kids may act on on things that have been done to them on other (usually smaller) children, they may masturbate often, as they grow up they can be very sexually promiscuous and have a hard time establishing healthy relationships.

Childhood Traumatic Grief

Their symptoms will not allow them to go through the grieving process. They may have flashbacks of how the person they are grieving died or abandoned them even when looking back at happy memories.
This is not to generalize children and put them in a box but these types of trauma are what you may see when you are caring for your foster children.

Parenting them needs to come from a place of love and empathy.

Kids with trauma will test your patience level, make you sad, and make you angry at their past all at the same time.  You must use a very gentle approach and teach the children that they can trust you.  It is a very heavy thing to be a foster parent of kids who have experienced trauma.  Keep the path.  You very well might be the first person they will ever trust, that is a huge honor. 

I hope this helps you to understand what some foster children might be going through.  Do not be afraid to ask your workers for support, ask for therapy and professional help for the children.

Here are the Professional Definitions.

Not my definitions – The website is at the bottom of these terms.

Complex Trauma

The term complex trauma describes the problem of children’s exposure to multiple or prolonged traumatic events and the impact of this exposure on their development. Typically, complex trauma exposure involves the simultaneous or sequential occurrence of child maltreatment—including psychological maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and domestic violence—that is chronic, begins in early childhood, and occurs within the primary caregiving system. Exposure to these initial traumatic experiences—and the resulting emotional dysregulation and the loss of safety, direction, and the ability to detect or respond to danger cues—often sets off a chain of events leading to subsequent or repeated trauma exposure in adolescence and adulthood.

Domestic violence

Sometimes called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, or battering—includes actual or threatened physical or sexual violence or emotional abuse between adults in an intimate relationship. This clinical definition is broader than the legal definition, which may be restricted to acts of physical harm. Domestic violence can be directed toward a current or former spouse or partner, whether they are heterosexual or same-sex partners.
Anywhere from 3 to 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in the United States every year. Studies suggest that the majority of children who are exposed to domestic violence are young-under the age of 8.

Early Childhood Trauma

Early childhood trauma generally refers to the traumatic experiences that occur to children aged 0-6. These traumas can be the result of intentional violence—such as child physical or sexual abuse, or domestic violence—or the result of natural disaster, accidents, or war. Young children also may experience traumatic stress in response to painful medical procedures or the sudden loss of a parent/caregiver.

Pediatric Medical Trauma

Pediatric medical traumatic stress refers to reactions that children and their families may have to pain, injury, and serious illness; or to “invasive” medical procedures (such as surgery) or treatments (such as burn care) that are sometimes frightening. Reactions can affect the mind as well as the body. For example, children and their families may become anxious, irritable, or on edge. They may have unwanted thoughts or nightmares about the illness, injury, or the hospital. Some people may avoid going to the doctor or the hospital, or lose interest in being with friends and family and in things they used to enjoy. As a result, they may not do well at school, work, or home. How children and families cope with these changes is related to the person’s own thoughts and feelings about the illness, injury, or the hospital; reactions can vary, even within the same family.

Trauma due to Child Neglect

Child neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver does not give a child the care he or she needs according to its age, even though that adult can afford to give that care or is offered help to give that care. Neglect can mean not giving food, clothing, and shelter. It can mean that a parent or caregiver is not providing a child with medical or mental health treatment or not giving prescribed medicines the child needs. Neglect can also mean neglecting the child’s education. Keeping a child from school or from special education can be neglect. Neglect also includes exposing a child to dangerous environments. It can mean poor supervision for a child, including putting the child in the care of someone incapable of caring for children. It can also mean abandoning a child or expelling it from home. Neglect is the most common form of abuse reported to child welfare authorities.

Trauma due to Physical Abuse

Physical abuse means causing or attempting to cause physical pain or injury. It can result from punching, beating, kicking, burning, or harming a child in other ways. Sometimes, an injury occurs when a punishment is not appropriate for a child’s age or condition. Physical abuse can consist of a single act or several acts. In extreme cases, it can result in death.

Trauma due to Childhood Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse includes a wide range of sexual behaviors that take place between a child and an older person or alternatively between a child and another child/adolescent. Behaviors that are sexually abusive often involve bodily contact, such as sexual kissing, touching, fondling of genitals, and intercourse. However, behaviors may be sexually abusive even if they do not involve contact, such as of genital exposure (“flashing”), verbal pressure for sex, and sexual exploitation for purposes of prostitution or pornography.

Childhood Traumatic Grief

Childhood traumatic grief may occur following a death of someone important to the child when the child perceives the experience as traumatic. The death may have been sudden and unexpected (e.g., through violence or an accident), or anticipated (e.g., illness or other natural causes).
The distinguishing feature of childhood traumatic grief is that the trauma symptoms interfere with the child’s ability to go through the typical process of bereavement. The child experiences a combination of trauma and grief symptoms so severe that any thoughts or reminders, even happy ones, about the person who died can lead to frightening thoughts, images, and/or memories of how the person died.