Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Art Therapy and Foster Children: What are We Forgetting?


I work with many children and youth who are part of the foster care system. It is a complex, messy, and chaotic system of care. I contract with many amazing caring Social Workers who try hard to provide homes for children that are safe and nurturing. The system often falls short of what it should be, sometimes traumatically. Over the years I have come to believe that a few things need to be in place to assist children who move through the maze of foster homes and transitions. We are hard wired to belong, attach and be safe in a “home”. For the children I work with, this is not always the case. I work with many caring nurturing foster parents; sadly I also work with foster parents who fall short.  

Over time I have come to realize that following are some of things that help children who journey through foster care:

1. Not being split from their brothers and sisters. The first thing children want is their Mom or a loving nurturing parent. If that can’t be possible, then travelling through multiple homes with adults who are not Mom and Dad is less painful if your brothers and sisters are along side to provide family, sense of belonging and safety. Splitting up siblings causes all children to go through abandonment once again. If possible, keep families together.

2.  Not being lied to. Children need and desire to hear the truth. It is their right to know why they are in foster care. It helps stop self-blame, guilt, shame and fear. The children of care have suffered some form of trauma to be removed from their biological parents, being lied to about the reasons why they are in foster care by Social Workers, Therapists, Foster parents causes more trauma.

3. Home visits with as many relatives as possible is important. The children I work with live for their family visits. Every effort necessary should be made to ensure the visits happen no matter how complex it becomes.

4. All questions about family, the system, and the future should be honestly answered by those in charge. The worst thing for a child lost in the system is not knowing.

5. Foster parents should receive education, training, support, and ongoing guidance. Foster children often have complex behavioural issues, trauma, emotional issues, grief, and attachment issues. Families who are supposed to be helping these children grow and flourish need the knowhow and skills to deal with dissociation, food problems, anger problems and a host of other issues resulting from children being raised in a traumatic environment and then going through the pain and grief of losing their biological parents.

Life is messy, complex and challenging. When we work along side children we can never forget to keep the needs of the child at the forefront of the system called Social Services. Children’s safety and wellbeing depends on having true attachment, real family, and authentic care, not being placed in an environment that looks like it provides nurturing but really it doesn’t. If you’re interested in reading more about my work with children please see my new book, “There is No Need to Talk About This.”

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