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How Does Trauma Affect Kids in Wisconsin Foster Care

Children in Wisconsin foster care have experienced at least one traumatic event. Significant loss, abandonment, neglect, and abuse are a few. Our goal is to help Wisconsin foster children heal from childhood trauma while in the care of loving foster parents in a stable home environment. Our foster parents are trained to use trauma-informed care principles to help children on a path to healing.

How does trauma affect kids in foster care?

Trauma is an emotional response to an extreme event or exposure to multiple events. Young and older foster children display various emotions and behaviors not easily understood. Caring for kids with trauma histories requires foster parents to meet additional qualifications to become foster parents. Parenting kids with trauma histories can be challenging, but kids can heal with dependable support services. Traumatic events may include:

  • Emotional, sexual, and physical abuse
  • Witnessing family or community violence
  • Witnessing harm to a loved one or pet
  • Effects of poverty, including not having enough food to eat
  • Unpredictable parental behaviors
  • Witnessing drug use
  • Exposure to pornography

In addition to the above, entering foster care means being removed from family, friends, and school. Living with strangers and moving from home to home can be very traumatic. CCR provides opportunities for kids to heal while in a CCR foster home beyond what other foster agencies can offer.

Wisconsin foster parents witness a variety of behaviors and emotions.

Trauma can affect children’s behavior in ways that may be confusing or distressing for foster parents. It often impacts the long-term health and well-being of a child. However, foster children can heal and thrive with understanding, care, and proper treatment (when necessary).

School-age children may exhibit:

  • • Difficulty paying attention
    • Attention-seeking or acting out
    • Frequent tears or sadness
    • Talking often about scary feelings and ideas
    • Difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next
    • Fighting with peers or adults
    • Changes in school performance
    • Sexual awareness
    • Eating much more or less than peers
    • Getting into trouble at home or school
    • Frequent headaches or stomachaches with no apparent cause
    • Behaviors common to younger children (thumb sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark)

Teens in Wisconsin foster care are at high risk of mental health diagnoses.

Our greatest need is foster families wishing to help sibling groups, kids over age eight, and teens. Helping a teen in foster care prepare for adulthood can be very rewarding. Many teens in foster care experience growth and healing simply by living in a loving, family environment. In addition, structure, accountability, and healthy relationships contribute significantly to the healing process.

Teens placed in CCR foster homes may exhibit:

  • Talking about the trauma constantly or denying that it happened
    Refusal to follow the rules or to talk back frequently
    Nightmares. Being tired all the time, sleeping much more (or less) than peers
    Risky behaviors, fighting
    Not wanting to spend time with friends
    Using drugs or alcohol
  • Sexual awareness/activity
  • Dangerous use of social media/internet
  • Running away, getting into trouble with the law

CCR kids all have a treatment plan to address trauma histories. Timely, effective cognitive and behavioral health interventions help in the following ways:

  • Increase a child’s feelings of safety
    Teach a child how to manage emotions, particularly when faced with trauma triggers
    Help a child develop a positive view of him- or herself
    Give a child a greater sense of control over their own life

How to help foster kids with trauma histories.

Identify trauma triggers. It is essential to watch for patterns of behavior and reactions that do not “fit” the situation. What distracts the child, makes them anxious, or results in a tantrum or outburst? Help the child avoid situations that trigger traumatic memories until more healing has occurred.

Be emotionally and physically available. Some traumatized children act in ways that keep adults at a distance (whether they mean to or not). Provide attention, comfort, and encouragement in ways a
a foster child will accept.

Respond, don’t react. Your reactions may trigger a child or youth who is already feeling overwhelmed. When a child is upset, do what you can to keep calm: Lower your voice, acknowledge the child’s feelings, and be reassuring and honest.

Listen well. Don’t avoid complex topics or uncomfortable conversations. (But don’t force children to talk before they are ready.) Taking their reactions seriously reassures them that what happened was not their fault.

Be consistent and predictable. Develop a routine for meals, playtime, schoolwork, and bedtime. Prepare your child in advance for changes or new experiences.

Be patient. Everyone heals differently from trauma, and trust does not develop overnight. Respecting each child’s course of recovery is essential.

Encourage self-esteem. Positive experiences can help foster children recover from trauma and increase resilience.

Contact us today to become a foster parent with CCR and help kids in your community heal.

*Some of the information in this blog was taken from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

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