PTSD in Foster Care

The Prevalence of PTSD in Foster Care Youth

Did you know about one in four youth in foster care will experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms? Former foster children are also twice as likely as U.S. war veterans to experience PTSD in adulthood.

For young people suffering with PTSD, it is a continuous challenge that can be a debilitating mental illness when undiagnosed. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is often triggered by traumas, especially when it is filled with physical and emotional abuse.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm. The harm can be physical or emotional, real or perceived, and it can threaten the child or someone close to him or her. Trauma can be the result of a single event, or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time. Trauma can affect a child’s:

  • Body
  • Brain
  • Emotions
  • Behavior

PTSD occurs when victims relive traumatic occurrences after the event or events. These episodes may be caused by “triggers” — sights, sounds, smells, words and items that recreate the trauma in the mind of the child. They can happen soon after or may manifest months or years later.

What Causes Trauma?

While trauma is highly personal for each child, foster children with PTSD may have experienced one or more of the following prior to foster placement:

  • Abuse (physical, emotional or sexual)
  • Neglect
  • Effects of poverty (such as hunger or homelessness)
  • Family separation
  • Bullying
  • Witnessing harm to pets or people
  • Natural disasters or accidents
  • Parental addiction or mental health issues

Tools for Helping Foster Children Deal with PTSD

Fortunately, there are treatments for children experiencing PTSD. A personalized care plan should be developed based on age, symptoms and overall health with physicians and mental health providers. This might include medication for depression or anxiety or cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage emotions and situations.

Learning about normal trauma responses, developing skills to combat anxiety, revisiting the trauma under guidance and sharing with a caregiver are all important aspects to the therapeutic process, according to experts at the Child Mind Institute.

That’s why it’s important for parents and guardians to engage with a healthcare provider to determine the best plan of action. They must also be aware of the life-threatening warning signs of depression and suicide that can accompany PTSD. Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, provides this resource with tips to guide and care for children with PTSD.

SAFY can also help with behavioral health resources designed to address trauma and PTSD, among other mental health issues.

Continuing Support Matters

Following the age of 18, the foster care system no longer has an obligation to provide foster children with family placements. However, most are not ready for complete independence at this age. This lack of permanent support and access to mental health services can be detrimental to young adults and even contribute to PTSD.

That’s why organizational support is also critical. SAFY’s older youth services are a foundation that helps children transitioning from foster care to adulthood with resources for employment, housing, education and more. Additionally, our therapeutic foster care is specifically designed to support youth experiencing trauma and other complex problems.

June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day

Stress is a normal part of life for children and adults of all ages. Trauma is not. And although childhood trauma can have serious, lasting effects, there is hope. With the help of supportive, caring adults, children can and do recover. SAFY is dedicated to family, youth and mental health support. Learn more about what we do.

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