It can be incredibly hard to run a household while also dealing with the challenges of helping a foster child. Foster parent education groups and professional counselors can help you feel less alone, and both are resources you should use.
But it’s also important that you practice self-care on a daily basis. Taking care of your emotional well-being can help the children living with you find their own stability and strength.
When you feel like giving up as a foster parent.
Sometimes, taking a traumatized child or teen into your home can seem overwhelming. You may reach the point where you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. If you feel like the placement isn’t working and you want to give up, contact the child’s DCF social worker as well as his pediatrician or counselor right away. Foster children are often very aware of any placement instability, and this can make mood or behavior problems even worse (see the section on RED FLAGS).
By letting people know there’s a problem with a placement as soon as possible, you can get help for the child and for yourself. Sometimes, it’s not that the placement isn’t working, it’s just that the child needs more help than you can give. In those situations, other people may be able to step in to give more specialized help.
What you can do:
- Lower your expectations of yourself. It’s OK not to do it all.
- Put off what you can, and ask for help with what you can’t.
- Learn to accept help from others so you have more time to spend with the child (children) who needs you.
- Get plenty of rest, maintain your normal sleep schedule, and eat a healthy diet. Moderate exercise, like a 20-minute walk, can also help minimize stress.
- Maintain normal routines—they’re reassuring for children and they’re stabilizing for you. When day-to-day activities continue, it helps everyone stay focused (see the section on Establishing a routine).
- Make sure you spend enough time with your partner or with friends who care about you. Maintain and protect relationships that are separate from your foster child.
- Make time for your own social or spiritual life.
- Use paper and pen. Writing can be a healthy outlet for all the challenges you’re facing. Try keeping a daily journal. It’s a positive way to let go of stress and put away overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
- Give to yourself. Give yourself a treat, such as quiet time, magazines, walks, movies, an ice cream cone, or a good book.
- The job you’ve accepted is incredibly demanding. It takes courage and commitment. There will be times when you’ll wonder if you’ve taken on more than you can handle. But with your help, children can learn to manage the overwhelming effects of trauma and find that they are stronger for having done so. There is no greater gift you can give.
Establishing a routine
- Traumatized children are very sensitive to changes in schedule. Many come from chaotic homes where life was unpredictable. They need consistency and repetition. Have an established routine that shows that YOU, the adult, are in control.
- Wake the child up at the same time every morning.
- Have breakfast together at the same time.
- Do regular chores, and have the child do easy chores with you.
- Have the child take a nap at the same time every day.
- Prepare dinner at a regular time, and have the child do simple things to help, like helping to set the table.
- Eat dinner together as a family.
- Put the child to bed at the same time every night.
- Read a soothing book to the child at bedtime. Sing softly or have soft music playing.
- Try to keep daily schedules as non-rushed as possible. In general, the more predictable your routine, the better it is for your foster child.
RED FLAGS: When to call for help
Taking on the challenge of helping a traumatized child can seem overwhelming.
Remember that you are not alone, and that there are many people who can support and advise you. Some of the professionals you can call on include the child’s DCF social worker, pediatrician, therapist, or psychiatrist.
There are also certain situations that you should NEVER manage alone. Contact the child’s DCF social worker and any of the other people listed above as soon as possible if a child demonstrates one of the following behaviors:
- Any suicidal thoughts or attempts, even if the child says it’s a “joke” or the suicide attempt doesn’t seem serious.
- Self-mutilation, including cutting, burning, branding, etc.
- Observed or suspected substance abuse, including use of alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal drugs; inappropriate use of prescribed medications like Ritalin or pain medications.
- Observed or suspected eating problems, including anorexia (child is very thin but refuses to eat anything) or bulimia (throwing up food, using laxatives).
- New disclosure of past or current sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
- Violence, including threatening others in the home, starting fights, fire-setting, vandalism, etc.
- Involvement with the police.
- Skipping school.
- Behaviors that make you feel you are unsafe or that others in your home (including other children) are unsafe.
- Any other behavior that places the child or someone else at immediate risk of harm.
If you are unable to reach one of the people listed above and are concerned that a child needs urgent help because of the way he is feeling or acting, call 911 or go to the Emergency Room.
Disclosing something a child may have told you in confidence may seem wrong, but it’s critical that you share this information with professionals so the child receives the right kind of help. Keeping secrets can allow a bad situation to continue or get worse, and may prevent a child from getting much-needed help.
You should also call for help as soon as possible if you are feeling overwhelmed or ready to give up as a foster parent. Failure of a foster placement can become an emergency situation for both foster children and foster parents.