Most youth in the foster care system have experienced difficult home lives and many have been exposed to acts of abuse. This abuse comes in many forms including physical, emotional and sexual abuse. This can leave foster care youth with conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), behavioral disorders and other mental or physical conditions due to things like abandonment, neglect, parental substance use and sex trafficking. It can also leave them traumatized, desensitized and/or withdrawn.
As a foster parent, it can be overwhelming to deal with the aftermath of abuse. In the role of protector and caregiver for these fragile yet resilient kids, it’s important to be patient, be understanding and above all, be loving.
Signs a Child Has Experienced Abuse or Trauma
The first step in helping foster youth who have been abused or neglected is learning to recognize the signs of maltreatment. Do you notice any of the following in the foster youth you care for?
- Balling up fists
- Talking quickly
- Short temper
- Getting red in the face
These reactions aren’t personal but instead are often the result of experiencing trauma. These behaviors are a cry for help from those who are unable to control emotions such as anger, anxiety, worry, fear or frustration. Foster parents should provide a stable and loving home, but sometimes victims of abuse or trauma need something greater in order to recover from difficult beginnings.
What You Can Do to Help Victims
If you suspect or know that a child was abused or neglected, there are ways you can help them to cope. Provide them with a safe space to share their experiences or connect these youth with a counselor who is trained to help. Encourage the child to talk with you or another trusted adult. This may be a very difficult conversation to have, but it can begin the healing process and strengthen your relationship. Additionally, there are national and local hotlines youth can call for help. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline has counselors available 24 hours every day to talk with children and adults about abuse and neglect. To reach a Childhelp counselor, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) and then press 1. For more information about Childhelp, visit https://www.childhelp.org/hotline/resources-kids/.
The Lasting Impact of Childhood Trauma
Child abuse and neglect can have lifelong implications for victims. While the tangible wounds may heal, there are many long-term, intangible effects of experiencing abuse that affect a child’s well being. Some lasting effects of trauma include:
- Difficulty in developing and maintaining healthy relationships
- Difficulty managing emotions
- Disassociation with others
- Learning difficulties
- Self-blame, shame, guilt, low self-esteem or a poor self-image
- Long-term health consequences
- Body dysregulation, meaning an over-response or under-response to sensory stimuli
A foster child’s ability to cope and thrive after trauma is a testament to their resilience and many foster parents today are helping youth work through and overcome their past experiences. It’s important to take measures as soon as possible to get foster children the help they need if they have experienced abuse and trauma.
SAFY Offers Counseling and Supportive Services for Victims of Abuse
SAFY offers behavioral health services and therapeutic foster care for at-risk children experiencing mental challenges. Our Lima Behavioral Health Center offers open access to mental health counseling services for individuals and families seeking immediate treatment. Additionally, our Youth Drop-In Center offers access to counseling and supportive services for youth ages 12 to 17 who have been victims of crime. Call our referral line at 1-866-270-2201 for more information.