This is the second article of a series on foster care and adoption. Next: What to think about before becoming a foster or adoptive parent.
Children who are placed in foster care or are adopted often carry trauma and other mental health issues with them. It is a natural response to their experiences.
While many receive counseling and other mental health services, there are several ways the community can help the children to build resiliency to their adverse childhood experiences. Examples of adverse childhood experiences are emotional, physical and sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, physical and emotional neglect, incarceration of a parent, substance abuse, homelessness and more.
Morrison County Social Services Supervisor Melanie Erickson said the Social Services and the Child Protection team work together to help decrease the impact childhood experiences can have on children. A lot of their focus is on early prevention, discovering buffers and what can be done for each child. Left without, the child’s ability to bounce back in the face of adversity decreases and leaves them with a greater risk of developing poor coping mechanisms that can result in lifelong chronic illnesses, such as depression, heart disease, obesity and substance abuse, Erickson said.
“Children who are in foster care often don’t want to talk about it or want their friends to know. Many are embarrassed that they are in foster care because there is a stigma about it,” she said. “Some may feel their parent did something wrong and may blame themselves even though they had nothing to do with getting placed.”
Erickson encourages the community to consider the organizations they are involved in, whether they are faith-based, hobby or community-oriented to go the extra mile to make children feel included and accepted.
“You may have kids there that you suspect may be struggling. Embrace those kids by being warm and friendly to them rather than push them away. Teach your children to do the same,” she said. “The more connections kids have, the more they feel like they belong and the better they will do in the long run.”
Other examples of community-level buffers are supportive peer relationships, non-family relationships and social support, community cohesions, civic engagements and economic developments.
Buffers can also be created at the family level, which includes providing various resources, supportive relationships, family coherence, a parental relationship, stable caregiving, spousal support and a stable environment.
All of those buffers can help the child build individual-level buffers, such as strengthening and developing personal characteristics, personal traits, intellect, self-efficacy, coping skills, appraisal of adversity or maltreatment and overall life satisfaction.
At this time, there are 50 foster care providers in Morrison County. Because children in foster care often struggle with mental health and other behavioral issues, some of that may be shown outwardly, in public.
Erickson encourages people to take that into consideration before jumping to conclusions when they witness it.
“Don’t make assumptions that they don’t know how to parent. If you’re out in the community and you see a child misbehaving, consider that child may be a foster child, may be adopted, may have some serious mental illness and their parent is coping with that. Be open to all of those second stories that are out there that you don’t know,” she said.
Ways to support parents who are dealing with misbehaving children include smiling and giving the parent an understanding look, acknowledging that children can sometimes be difficult and understanding that they often are doing the best they can.
“Saying and doing things like that doesn’t take a lot of time. But things like that make a huge difference to those kids and parents who are suffering,” she said.
Erickson said when people overhear or witness a parent react in a less than positive way to the child who is misbehaving to also consider that the parent may have been dealing with that behavior non-stop that day. After all, they, too, are human and have a breaking point.
“Understanding goes a long way,” she said.