How to Support Children in Foster Care

Children in foster care face a lot of uncertainty, but support can help them through

Mental health disorders tend to be prevalent in foster families, either biologically or due to stressful environmental factors. Some studies indicate that update to 80% of foster children suffer with significant mental health disorders.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By McKenzie Grimm, LMSW

It is not uncommon for children in foster care to face many difficulties. They enter the system as a result of traumatic situations and can suffer from a variety of challenges. A child will be removed from their home if they are unsafe. This includes exposure to criminal activity, drugs, or alcohol. Abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and homelessness are also common reasons. Any of these things alone can be traumatic, not to mention they may occur in combinations.

Mental Health

Mental health disorders tend to be prevalent in foster families, either biologically or due to stressful environmental factors. Some studies indicate that update to 80% of foster children suffer with significant mental health disorders. Developmentally, they may be behind their peers socially or emotionally. This is the result of a lack of exposure to healthy relationships. Oftentimes, children have adapted survival techniques in an attempt to care for themselves or their siblings.

Indicators of underdeveloped social skills include social anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, and problems with peers. Foster children may also struggle in school as a result of mental illness, trauma, and/or moving around to different homes. On average, children in foster care have 3 different placements within 2 years. These transitions alone make it difficult to stay caught up socially and academically, not to mention other challenges.

The Process

We can see why there is a lengthy process for those wanting to become a foster parent. Foster parents need to be ready to assist kids while making them feel comfortable and safe in their home. Even though children are removed for the child’s safety, they are likely experiencing grief. They have still lost so much in the experience of being taken from their primary caregiver. Despite the the circumstances, children likely have deep attachments and connections with them.

Half of all children are reunited with their families. Even so, this process often takes several months or even years. The uncertainty can cause stress for the children. After all, not knowing what the future holds is stressful for most of us. Will they live with relatives, be put up for adoption, or live in a group home? Additionally, they don’t know how long they will remain in foster care. Of course, the goal is to reunite families, but when circumstances aren’t improved, sometimes it is not possible. Even in cases when reunification is possible, there are still many meetings, court dates, and uncertainties for all involved.

Offering Support

During their time away from their biological parents, children typically still have visits with them. Initially, these visits may start out as short, but can increase. It could even become as long as spending a weekend together. As one can imagine, the visits are hard and kids can experience a wide range of intense emotions. Foster parents should be ready to support children through this. For instance, when parents cancel, if meetings don’t go well, or if saying goodbye is difficult.

Children can develop very close connections with their foster parents as well. If the time to reunite does come, these goodbyes can be just as hard and confusing. Overall, foster children are in need of extra support and necessary services to help them grow and live healthier lives. There are many ways that one can be helpful for foster children. Any role can make an impact, including friends, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches. Here are a few ways to show your support:

Seek to Understand

The first step is understanding that the child has experienced difficulties. In many cases, people around the child may not know the details of their experiences. However, they can still be caring and supportive. Foster children often have difficulty trusting new people, especially adults. As a result, it can be hard to connect with them, and they may not want to connect with you. It is crucial to keep this in mind, as they may try to push others away.

As mentioned before, we don’t need to have all of the details to understand what a child is going through. However, some information is helpful to determine their needs. To get this information, one can try talking with the child’s foster parents. They will know about the child’s preferences and interests. You could also ask them directly what the child’s needs are. Understanding their situation and approaching it with an open mind and patience will show the child you care.

Helping Directly

If you are a family member, friend, or acquaintance wanting to help support a foster child and their family, there are many different ways to do so. This includes bringing food or supplies to the family. You may also invite the family over for dinner or a play date. Sometimes it helps to be direct, because people tend to turn down assistance. For example, saying, “I would like to pick up your groceries this week,” is a direct communication of your intentions. Other ideas might be to purchase a welcome gift for a child coming into a new placement. Coupons, passes, or tickets for a foster family to do activities is helpful too, as these things are often expensive. This might be a pool pass, tickets to a zoo, or amusement park.

On a larger scale, one can donate to foster care organizations or find mentoring opportunities in your community. No matter the size of the action, a positive source of support is greatly appreciated by foster families. It can also help foster children adjust to their environment while in foster care.

Therapy

Due to the high amount of stressors, triggers, and challenges, it’s a good idea to identify resources. Therapy is an additional safe place for a child to voice concerns, process their emotions, and learn coping skills. Depending on different placements and resources within those placements, children may be able to continue seeing the same therapist, too. Contact Covenant Family Solutions to learn more. We have experienced providers, and some have experienced these hardships firsthand.

Additional resources include:

McKenzie Grimm, LMSW
McKenzie Grimm, LMSW
McKenzie has several years of experience working with youth. This has included community work, intensive outpatient group care, and clinical practice. She has experience supporting youth and their families with issues including abuse, anger, anxiety, trauma, depression, relationships distress, and stress management. She utilizes a strengths-based approach and strives to create a therapeutic relationship to meet each client’s unique needs.
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McKenzie Grimm, LMSW
McKenzie Grimm, LMSW
McKenzie has several years of experience working with youth. This has included community work, intensive outpatient group care, and clinical practice. She has experience supporting youth and their families with issues including abuse, anger, anxiety, trauma, depression, relationships distress, and stress management. She utilizes a strengths-based approach and strives to create a therapeutic relationship to meet each client’s unique needs.
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