Children in the care system
Have you ever lost something you know still exists? Perhaps it was an old picture, a sentimental letter or your favorite pair of shoes. Initially, you search and search for the item but you cannot recover it. It eats away at you, day after day, until you are lucky enough to be reunited with it. When this happens, you give a big sigh of relief, the panic eventually subsides and you move forward with your life.
This same scenario can apply to children in the foster care system. They have been separated from what is most precious to them, their families. They know that their family members still exist, but they cannot live with them. Clearly, those children who are reunited with their families feel a great sense of relief. The children who remain in care hold onto the hope of reunifying with their families as long as they are in foster care. Their losses are unresolved. It is ambiguous (Boss, 1999).
How Foster Parents Can Cope
Ambiguous loss can be difficult for many foster parents to comprehend if they do not have a clear understanding of its role in the foster child’s life. As outsiders, we expect the foster child to be as angry as we are at the biological parents who caused them pain. We cannot understand why the children want to have anything to do with their biological parents after being treated so badly. This may be our reality, but it is not the foster child’s reality. Extreme loyalty remains between the child and the biological family members, and hope of returning home is kept alive by phone contact or visits with biological parents who tell them that they are attempting to regain custody.
These statements by parents underscore for the children that reunification is not a fantasy; it can be a reality. Since the loss is unresolved, the child finds it very difficult to detach from their biological parents and attach to a new caregiver; their parents are still very much alive.
Foster parents can ease the transition for themselves and their foster children by recognizing the symptoms of ambiguous loss prior to the child entering the home. These symptoms often include:
- Difficulty with changes and transitions, even seemingly minor ones like sleeping in a new bed
- Trouble making decisions
- Feelings of being overwhelmed when asked to make a choice
- Problems coping with routine childhood or adolescent losses (last day of school, death of a pet, move to a new home, etc.)
- A sort of learned helplessness and hopelessness due to a sense that he has no control over his life
- Depression and anxiety
- Feelings of guilt
- Fear of attachment
- Lack of trust. (www.nacac.org)
Dr. Sue is a Professor of Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She received the award of Who’s Who Among Teachers and Educators in 2007 and 2009. Dr. Sue is an expert in parenting with a specialization in foster care and child abuse. She is the National Foster Care/ Adoption Parenting Expert onhttp://www.examiner.com where she writes weekly articles on child abuse and parenting.
She is also the author of the training manual “The Ambiguous Foster Child: Attachment, Separation, Loss and Loyalty.” Themanual is based on Dr. Sue’s years of research and clinical work with foster children.
Dr. Sue strives to make positive changes within the foster care system one child at a time. She has counseled numerous abused and neglected foster children and has trained youth professionals on how to work effectively with foster
Dr. Sue is dedicated to giving professionals, teachers and parents the tools they need to empower themselves and their children. She believes that every child deserves to have a life filled with happiness and success! She has appeared on numerous television (NBC,Fox, Comcast, ABCNews) and radio shows in the Philadelphia area and across the country.
Dr Sue’s Book “The Ambiguous Foster Child”
Often we have saved foster children from abuse but we have failed to recognize that they still carry with them their feelings and memories of their biological families as they travel through the foster care system. To truly understand foster children?s lives you must get into their world! Then and only then we just may begin to understand their behaviours!
The workbook provides the foster parent a foundation to understanding the attachment, separation, loss and loyalty of a child entering family foster care and offers concrete parenting suggestions and strategies to assist the child in care better cope with their feelings.
- Attachment Formation Between a Caregiver and Child
- Formation of a Healthy Attachment.
- Attunement: Critical To Healthy Development
- Formation of a Traumatic Attachment
- Abused Foster Children’s Attachment Patterns To Their Biological Parents
- Foster Children and Attachment Trauma
- The Six Question Separation Model
- Types of Unresolved Losses
- Ambiguous Loss
- Loyalty Conflict
- Strategies for Connecting with a Foster Child
- Suggestions for Helping Children Manage Feelings of Ambiguous Loss
To purchase the workbook, click here