Nov 01, 2016
by Mary Beth Hadley, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor
Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley
Children in foster care are most likely to ask:
What happened (or is happening)?
Why is this happening? and
What is going to happen to me?
These questions can come in various forms, and you might need to decipher what the child is truly asking. Each child is different. Some who are not yet able to communicate their questions verbally communicate through behaviors instead—it may help to ask yourself what might be the “why” behind the behaviors.
If parents don’t attend visits regularly, children will want to know why. When routinely scheduled visits are intermittently cancelled, this can create significant emotional responses in children. With so much already unclear, adding the uncertainty of whether visits will occur increases the intensity of their emotions. But also understand that some parents have to take three buses and a train to attend visits, and things can happen. Connecting with your Bethany team can help you know how to answer the child’s questions.
When returning from a parent visit, children may ask when they are returning home or why they have to live with you.
They may express fear about their parents’ safety, as they may have felt the need, or even had the need, to keep their parents safe in the past.
Asking about siblings if they are not in the same home can also be foremost in their minds.
After years of experience working with children in foster care and adoption, my advice to you is to be ready for anything. If they ask a question you need to think about, reflect the question back to make sure you understand what they are asking (e.g, sometimes we answer the whole “birds and bees” question when they are really asking for something much simpler). Let them know you need to think about it, and will get back to them. Reassure them, and then check with a member of your team, if needed.
The child will need you to be there for them emotionally after a visit.
The child will mostly need your safe, calm, regulated, caring, and supportive demeanor. If something happened at the visit that was upsetting—to the child or to you—take a few deep breaths, say a prayer, or do something to calm yourself first. Connect with the child in a way that shows that they are the most important person to you in that moment. If there are several children involved, take a minute or even a few seconds to connect with each and then address the needs of the child who is struggling the most. All the children will be affected by this child’s big feelings.
Plan ahead and have some regulating games, items, or activities with you that you can engage in with them, or they can engage in by themselves. Music, taking a brief walk, blowing bubbles, fidgets, practicing breathing, and other things can help. Having books at home they can relate to can help younger children who have more difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings.
- Children and Parents in Foster Care: Understanding their Emotional Needs
- Family Visits in Foster Care: Big Emotions and Hard Behaviors
- Validating and De-escalating Big Emotions