Foster parents bring small strangers into their homes, year after year. Good foster parents do their best to help make the children feel loved and safe, while trying to remain calm themselves. Many foster children are particularly tough. Oftentimes (but certainly not always), children in foster care have reactive attachment disorder due to their early neglect or abuse. Yet, foster parents typically lack sufficient support or training and feel isolated.
Sadly, the broken foster care system remains very much the same year after year. Many children we work with have been in and out of their biological and foster homes several times before they come to the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. Each time children are removed from one home and shuttled to the next, their attachment issues only grow (read: How our legal system contributes to reactive attachment disorder).
Unfortunately, the foster care system will likely stay the same for some time. Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we consistently tell foster and adoptive parents, as well as professionals within the system, to advocate for change. In the meantime, we still need dedicated people with good hearts to parent foster children within a broken system.
If you are a foster parent, you know it’s not easy to care for children with reactive attachment disorder. Please don’t give up. Here’s our advice as you follow-through with your frustrating, seemingly hopeless, yet extremely important and vital job. If you’re a person who cares about or works with foster parents, please share these tips with them.
Tips for foster parents within a broken system:
- Take care of yourselves. Just as we tell adoptive parents, caring for children with developmental trauma (a.k.a. reactive attachment disorder) will take a toll on you. You need to put your mental and physical health, as well as that of your spouse and other children, first. You can’t care for children with RAD if you’re not at your best yourself. Read: 6 small ways I care for myself as a parent of children with reactive attachment disorder (plus one big way!)
- Ask questions. Go to your child-placing agency and ask how they will support you with education, respite, and financial and legal assistance.
- Find your own training. You’ll need more in-depth training than child-placing agencies typically provide. Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we’ll be offering webinars in the near future. In the meantime, check out the following resources: Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc. webinars and Love and Logic strategies for kids with hurtful pasts.
- Keep hope. It can feel hopeless to foster parent when you see children moved in and out your home, often with no idea of where they’ve gone. You may never know the impact you had on their lives. Know that they will never forget whatever you provided them, even if they don’t realize it until years later.
- Protect yourselves. Advocate for liability with your child-placing agency to protect yourselves financially and/or legally while caring for children with developmental trauma.
- Reach out. Stay connected to foster parent support groups. Consider providing respite care to one another so that everyone gets a break from time to time.