Fostering Attachments – What children in care need from you.
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, you might want to know about the kind of children you will be caring for. Make sure that the foster care agency is equipped to help you care for these children.
All children develop an attachment style based on the way they have been brought up. Of course, in a birth family, that style is in keeping with the family they have been brought up in and might not be a very obvious aspect of their life. However, foster children have been brought up in another, often chaotic, environment potentially different from your own family life.
There are four attachment parenting types. Specifically, foster parents should study the disorganized attachment style. Why? Because 80% of abused children come from a home with a disorganised attachment style – an attachment based on FEAR. (Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel)
How do children get Disorganised Attachment?
Children need a caregiver to survive and they are programmed from birth to find one for this reason – it’s often their mother. However, if the birth parent is frightening, dangerous, or causes terror, the child cannot find a solution to this and this results in disorganised attachment. As you will appreciate it’s a kind of trauma.
What is Disorganised Attachment?
Children in these circumstances will often have significant difficulty with behaviour, emotions, attention, and relationships until they re-assess who the reliable caregiver is. Obviously, as a foster parent, that’s you, but it takes some time and consistent parenting from you, before the child trusts and responds to the new environment.
In the meantime, the young person may attempt to control their “caregiver” in order to make them more predictable. This behavior carries over from the initial care giver to the foster parents until the trust mentioned above returns. This can take some time and of course understanding from the foster parent.
During this time, young people are prone to dissociation from relationships which means that they may reject you or other family members who are there to help them. This is not personal but it does feel like that of course. It’s part of the young person’s development as they re-assess the trust and safety of these relationships.
What are the cases?
Here are three main causes of disorganized attachment that many parents may portray from time to time:
The person a child relies on for security and care causes fear in the child. In the worst cases this can be physical or sexual abuse but it can be something simpler like habitually chastising or humiliating a child. This is especially damaging if it is in public.
A parent who is permissive, weak or out of control can cause a chaotic, disorganized family structure. In these circumstances the young people make the decisions in the home and the entire family suffers. There is a subtle difference between being permissive and encouraging the child to be engaged with family life. This is always a difficult balance to set especially when you inherit a strong willed child. Parents must be in charge, but in a kind way.
Sometimes parents are simply not there and a child has to fend for themselves, the child lacks security and the family becomes disorganized. The parent does not have to be physically absent, a parent that is high using drugs or drunk is not present either, even if they are in the home with the child. There are many cases where a child of an alcoholic, experience loneliness and become caregiver instead of care-receiver in a family. Even a sober parent can be absent if they are preoccupied with other things in their life such as TV, electronics, video games, or work. A child needs to feel a connection with their parent in that their emotional needs of feeling important are met.
Foster Parents can and do change these circumstances for young people and that’s why fostering is so valuable for the young people involved. The process of change from disorganised attachment to a more healthy style of attachment takes time, patience, resilience and care. Each child will have their own path to recovery and the process continues based on the level of trauma the child has faced and the resilience of the family they are placed with. You have to believe that in the right environment, every child gets there in the end.
Parenting children with disorganized attachment is a challenge not to be taken lightly. But by learning a variety of parenting techniques that encourage attachment, a parent can help a child learn to trust and become more secure in their attachment.
That’s why Synergy Fostering says “we help foster carers, to help young people reach their full potential”.