Fostering Love Beyond Adoption Awareness Month
Becoming a foster parent is a special opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child, both as a short-term commitment to their health, safety and well-being, but also with a lifelong impact as they reflect upon the comfort, shelter and stability during their time in foster care. Sometimes, what was initially considered to be a short-term placement may transition into something else – the potential for a lifelong relationship with a child through legal adoption.
November is Adoption Awareness Month, and it is an excellent time to highlight how some families and youth make the decision to be family for the rest of their lives. The path to adoption always has complex emotions and it is not an easy path at times as there are challenges to consider as many foster and adoptive youth have experienced the trauma of separation. To assist youth with healing, whether short-term in foster care or across the lifespan on the adoption journey, it is helpful for resource parents to become familiar with how youth with early developmental trauma best heal.
One strategy that specialists and therapists may use with foster/adoptive youth and their caregivers, is a ‘bottom up’ approach. When a child has experienced trauma early in their development, it is necessary to repair parts of the brain that have been impacted by early adverse childhood events. These children may present with sensory processing difficulties, or difficulty with arousal states, difficulty with their sleep patterns, particular taste and texture preferences, and unexplained somatic symptoms typically reflected in their heartrates, breathing, or ‘body flashbacks’ where they experience states of fear. In these situations, a ‘top down’ approach by talking through early events is rarely effective as the individual may not have a specific memory of an event to which a specialist or therapist would desensitize a youth to that traumatic memory. Therefore, caregivers of these youth need to support healing by providing support and nurturing home environments that promote resiliency when dealing with the normal rhythms of life both stressful and unexpected. To successfully promote healing, caregivers can seek to integrate brain breaks and regulating activities in the home, school and community that foster rhythm and repetition to calm the fear response in children. Examples of this may include prompting a youth to dance, to participate in drumming or swinging, or listening mindfully to music to retrain a sensitized brain stem. Over time, with consistent, predictable, patterned and frequent integration of these regulating activities, a youth gains mastery of their body’s stress response system and they are likely to be more able to engage in situations where they are expected to sit and think or reflect and learn.
The road to legal permanency for youth through adoption is often filled with challenging and sometimes confusing behaviors. As a foster or adoptive parent, it is helpful to be able to recognize when a child or youth may be dysregulated through no choice of their own. This means seeing that the challenging behaviors may come from a sensitized brain stem and that a child would do well if they could, but something is getting in the way for them. So be curious, be warm, and seek to understand what makes those specific situations so hard for the youth.
Additional information and resources on dealing with trauma and healing may be located at: https://www.agedout.thinkof-us.org/healing-and-dealing-with-trauma