Kris’ Corner- From the Trenches: What I Wish I’d Known part 1

by Andra Martinez

I wanted to take the next few weeks and do a short little series of posts called “From the Trenches: What I Wish I’d Known”. To garner my information, I surveyed a pool of foster parents and asked them what things they wish they would have known prior to fostering. There are so many things to know, of course, but what are some of the hard-core pieces of information they wish they had been aware of prior to jumping in.

There were a number of responses, but to be clear, each foster parent assured me that they still would have fostered had they known this information; they just wish they had known ahead of time because they feel like it would have made their experiences slightly easier.

So with that, I would like to introduce the first post in the series, and this deals with the fact that any child removed from biological family has gone through a traumatic, difficult experience. Now I know we have touched on this in the past, and several different ways, but here’s what this foster parent had to say.

One foster parent begins by explaining that successful foster parents must recognize and accept that traumatic experiences are very real and can shape the child’s perspective of the world.  The child will probably carry the memory of that trauma throughout their life.  “Trauma is real for any child (even brand new babies) in the foster care system. Their placement in your home will in and of itself be trauma. You need to educate yourself as much as possible before you bring these children into your home.”

“Much of what you think you know about parenting and children will need to be forgotten for a child who is dealing with trauma. Be prepared and willing to learn how to parent children with trauma differently. Love can’t fix everything.”

I cannot express to each one of you reading this how deeply I feel this same sentiment. As I’ve shared before, we have two biological, neurotypical children and we felt like we were doing good job raising them; not to brag on ourselves, but they are pretty good kids. We *clearly* knew how to parent and things were going to be fine when we brought foster children into our home. How different could they be, right?

Well, let me tell you…they are. Not because they want to be, and not through any choices they have made for themselves. But their behaviors are the results of choices which others have made for them, experiences they have had, as well as the family history from which they have come…and for every child in the welfare system, this assuredly includes trauma.

Now…I promise you, I sat through the training that my agency provided, and I took notes and I read books and I listened to others share their experiences, but I clearly was not fully absorbing what they said.

It’s much like when I had a major surgery several years ago, and I’m not going to lie…the recovery was brutal. And I recall, at one point during the recovery, my mother said to me “were you not listening when the doctor told you before surgery what this recovery would be like?” I assured her that I was listening, but I knew that the outcome, beyond the short-lived recovery, was going to improve things vastly and it was something that I really wanted to do. I was willing to put aside the short term pain for the overall, long-term gain.

Being a foster parent is very much the same way. I was listening in those trainings, but I felt like the short term pain would be worth the long term gain. Unfortunately, the “short term” in the foster care world is much longer than I had anticipated because it honestly may never completely go away.

Children are resilient, but their success hinges on their support from caregivers.  And we, as foster parents, are major players in helping the child diminish their “symptoms” and recover from trauma.  Having a healthy, safe, and supportive relationship with a reliable adult is an important factor needed for children to overcome their trauma. Think of their time in foster care as the post-op recovery room, where they wake up, become alert, and meet treatment measures, until they can be allowed to go home.  The healing continues beyond the recovery room, but the scars from trauma will still exist, even if those scars age and fade.

Of course, we are seeing progress, we see results, and we see healing; TBRI and trauma informed care, which I have mentioned in previous posts, as well as various medical, emotional and behavioral therapies and interventions have greatly improved the quality of life not only for our child but also our overall family. These things help the effects of the trauma diminish…and we know things are better overall.

At the same time, we have come to the realization that traces of trauma do stay with the child forever; you can never fully root it out of a person because life experiences make a person who he is.  We can’t cut that chapter out of his book, but we can help change the direction of the story.

All that to say, this foster parent’s quote written above is spot on…you do need to grasp fully, or as fully as you can because I know you are excited to jump in to help vulnerable kids and might think I’m wrong about this, but trauma will always be with the child on some level, and as a result you cannot parent the same way as you would a neurotypical, biological child.

Well, to be fair, you *can* parent the same way…but the results will be vastly different and will definitely not have the impact you are probably seeking. I don’t tell you all this to scare you or dissuade you from tossing your hat in the ring. Just wanting each one of you to go in with eyes wide open.

Sincerely,

Kris