Introduction to attachment and foster care | Joe Nee

Expert in attachment theory Joe Nee highlights some of the impact a child’s attachment experience can have on them and their foster families.

 

As children develop, from conception to adulthood, they need support from those responsible for protecting them during this journey.

When going through the various stages in this developmental process their experience of attachment plays a crucial role.

This continues throughout the young person’s development, from absolute dependence, to independence and autonomy as an adult.

And the different needs of children at each stage demand differing responses from those charged with their care.

Each develops at their own pace — from being unable to let their main carer out of their sight to the ‘terrible twos’, ‘sibling rivalry’ the ‘lazy teenager’ and so on.

Studying how a child attaches to their parents/carers helps us understand how this process is affected by the nature and quality of our early experiences.

This is particularly true of children who have experienced early trauma and/or neglect.

All children need to develop a secure emotional attachment to their parents or their primary/main carer at an early stage.

Young people may seem ‘unable’ to learn, or understand consequences, behaving in ways that seem to guarantee they won’t get what they want.

They may even feel responsible for their problems and those of their parents, believing themselves to be ‘bad’ or deserving of punishment.

The quality of the attachment relationship a child develops with their key caregiver is a good indicator of their ability to cope and adapt.

And as the child grows, this relationship means they continue to view this caregiver as a potential source of comfort in any stressful situations.

Unfortunately, this can continue to be the case even if the caregiver proves to be abusive, neglectful, fails to protect them, or their life seems to be in chaos.

For foster parents, this can clearly prove a challenge, as the child seeks comfort and approval from whichever caregiver to whom they have been attached.

 

The effects of attachment on foster parents

Attachment relationships are a biological inevitability, designed to ensure a child’s protection and survival.

But a child or young person’s ability to attach and form a bond with a caregiver often depends on the type of care they received from others earlier in their life.

It’s important that foster parents get appropriate support to promote healthy attachments for the children and young they care for in their family.

And where young people are removed from birth parents permanently, it’s vital that the appropriate matching and training takes place.

Foster parents looking after children who have disorganised or extremely anxious attachments can experience similar emotional upheaval.

Of course, fostering can be challenging at any time — but the stress involved in caring for some children can have a serious impact on the placement success.

In such situations, support from social and/or professional networks is typically a major factor in alleviating carer stress.

Particularly important is access to timely and effective support from social workers and other professionals.

Research has shown that the absence of this can exacerbate the strain on carers and their families.

 

Meeting a young person’s needs

Some younger children with a history of maltreatment can respond quickly to changes in their emotional environments, forming secure attachments to carers.

But research and experience tells us that this will not always be the case with certain children.

Some appear to resist support, continue to distrust adults and seem unable to seek care or comfort when distressed.

In these cases, if foster parents wait for a ‘signal’ or sign from a child to provide care, the young person’s needs may remain completely unmet.

We know that looked after children benefit greatly if they can develop secure attachments with their caregivers.

To enable this for those with attachment or trauma issues, foster parents can aim to engage with them at their emotional age (rather than chronological).

In order to ensure that young people with attachment issues are cared for most effectively during foster placements, several measures can help:

  • Capacity of prospective carers to recognise/tolerate difficult behaviour and remain sensitive/responsive to a child’s needs should be evaluated
  • Regular training and support to ensure carers can reflect on a child’s behaviour with reference to their needs rather than react immediately to their behaviour
  • Carer access to reflective space and non-judgmental listening to promote sensitive, responsive care and alleviate the strain on all concerned

Any professionals, including foster parents, who are asked to care for or work with looked after children should have basic but specific training.

This should concern the impact of early attachment issues and trauma on those children.

And the support available should be proactive — not crisis driven or occurring only when stress levels are unacceptable.

 

Attachment and teenagers

A young person may appear to be settled, happy and thriving in a foster family environment.

But one of the triggers that can disrupt the situation for all concerned can be the onset of puberty.

The stresses and confusion for a young person during this time and their teenage years, can pose problems in terms of changing behaviour.

Another potential influential factor is young people’s vulnerability to harmful external influences.

A teen’s early experiences of mistrust, inappropriate attachment and confusion about relationships can make them an obvious target.

The potential threat of controlling relationships, sexual exploitation or gang associations increase for those with an inability to manage social relationships.

 

Learn more about attachment

Understanding the impact of attachment and how it can affect the fostering experience for young people and carers is important.

Find out more about the available training and support available by using the bibliography below, contacting KinderCare, or see further resources on attachment from the Fostering Network.

 

About the author

Joe Nee is an independent psychology professional with extensive experience in the education and child protection sectors.

He has worked with local authorities, government departments, the police, prisons and voluntary organisations throughout the UK.

As a renowned authority on child protection, families, fostering and adoption, his expertise as a consultant is both insightful and invaluable.

 

Bibliography

  • Dozier M, Albus K and Bates B (2001) Attachment for infants in foster care: the role of caregiver state of mind, Child Development, 72, 1467-1477
  • Dozier M, Peloso E, Lewis E, Laurenceau J P and Levine S (2008) Effects of an attachment-based intervention on the cortisol production of infants and toddlers in foster care, Dev Psychopathology, 20, 845-859
  • Fonagy,P. and Target, M. (2002) Early Intervention and the Development of Self Regulation. Psychoanalytic Inquiry. V 22,Issue 3
  • Furnival, J. Practice with looked after children and young people IRISS Insights no.10. May 2010
  • Hughes, Dan (2006) Building the Bonds of Attachment
  • Holmes, J (2001) The Search for the Secure Base: Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy. Routledge
  • Hosking G and Walsh I (2005) Wave Report 2005: Violence and what to do about it, Croydon Wave Trust
  • Kochanska G, Barry RA, Stellern SA and O’Bleness JJ (2009) Early Attachment Organization Moderates the Parent Child Mutually Coercive Pathway to Children’s Antisocial Conduct, Child Development, 80, 1288-1300
  • Millward R, Kennedy E, Towlson K and Minnis H (2006) Reactive attachment disorder in looked-after children Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, 11(4)
  • Steele M (2006) The ‘added value’ of attachment theory and research for clinical work in adoption and foster care, in J Kenrick (ed) Creating New Families Therapeutic approaches to fostering adoption and kinship care, London: Karnac Books
  • WilPerry B and Hambrick E (2008) The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, Reclaiming children and youth,17(3)
  • son K (2006) Can foster carers help children resolve their emotional and behavioural difficulties? Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 11(4), 495-511
  • Zeanah C (2001) Evaluation of a preventive intervention for maltreated infants and toddlers in foster care, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(2), 214-221

Our Carers: Marlene and Glenn

Hi, my name is Marlene and my husband is Glenn. Glenn is a chef and I’m a full-time carer.

In my previous life, I was a Management Consultant within the NI Civil Service and Criminal Justice System.

I am 45 and Glenn is 43.

We decided to foster in 2015 after we saw a Kindercare advertisement in a local paper.

As we had plenty of room, time and love, we thought, “Why not?”

After the initial call and first meeting, we were excited and definitely up for the challenge!  We had the opportunity to ask lots of questions during these initial meetings, and we were given lots of really useful and relevant information.

We really enjoyed the “Skills to Foster” course, but to be honest, aspects were a little daunting!

We pressed on, excellently supported by Hannah, Niall and all of the Kindercare Team.

We had our health and safety check and the house was fine, and up to scratch, but were we?!

Thankfully panel thought so, and on 30 March 2016, we were approved as Foster Carers! We were so excited and nervous!

I had left my job in January 2016 and was more than ready for some new challenges.

After various telephone calls about potential placements, we were told about two little girls, siblings of 5 and 7.

Marlene and Glenn
Our Amazing Foster Carers

Hurriedly, we bought and assembled bunk beds and duvets, towels etc etc. basically we filled the car with Peppa Pig and Minions and crossed our fingers!

They arrived on 12 April and our hearts almost stopped when we saw these two little people, so strong, resilient and brave.

We went to the park and got pizza.

Eventually, that night, they went to their new beds….for five minutes before the  requests for more stories, water, company, questions began.  The average hostage-taker has less demands than our lovely girls did that first night!

Together, we all set off to school the next morning (armed with google maps), and when we dropped them off and met teachers etc, we flipped into the car and just looked at each other- what had just happened?!

Two years later, we are lucky to still have these girls in our lives, our home and our hearts.

We have been on two holidays; one foreign, one domestic and both a success!!!

There have been ups and downs; of course there have. But ultimately, we are, luckily, surrounded by a great Kindercare team, from our emergency carers to both social workers and contact workers.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely!

But we also know the first part can be tough and scary, so I am more than happy to share my experiences and talk to any new or prospective carers.  Lift the phone or contact Kindercare online – you won’t look back!!!

Marlene ❤ Glenn

“Love is Love”: Melanie and Mel’s Foster Journey

Melanie and Mel took their first steps towards becoming foster carers last year, and have not looked back since. With high-quality training, an efficient approval process and great support, they have taken on their first placement. We recently spoke to Melanie and Mel about their experiences since deciding to become foster carers. Here is what they had to say…

An Idea, Long in the Pipeline

We first talked about fostering eight or nine years ago when we initially got together. A few years after the birth of our daughter Brooke in Feb 2011, we both felt that our biological family was complete but still had room in our lives for another child. We decided to wait until Brooke was of an age that she could have an input into our decision making.

In 2017, we did some online research into fostering in Northern Ireland, finding out what exactly respite, short-term and long-term fostering meant, what challenges we could expect as well as training and support offered.

We contacted all agencies in Northern Ireland as well as our local trust for information and to arrange home visits. From the beginning Kindercare stood out, they were informative and prompt in their replies. We received a home visit from Stephanie and after one further email had all our questions and queries answered and excitedly decided to proceed with Kindercare. We were really impressed with the training and ongoing support offered by Kindercare and this was one of the determining factors of why we chose to foster with them. We would definitely recommend contacting as many agencies as possible – that way you will get a feel for which agency is right for you.

After Choosing Kindercare NI

At this point, we had some paperwork to complete. Medical disclosures, police checks as well as personal and employer references. We were booked onto Skills to Foster training and found this really beneficial as the training included an actual foster carer and a social worker who had been through the care system herself, so we really got an insight into the realities of fostering. I would say to anybody considering fostering, do not let your physical or mental health stop you from applying. We thought it might have been a barrier for us after a number of close family bereavements, but it wasn’t and we are now fully fledged foster carers with a lovely placement.

We were assigned an assessor with whom we built up an excellent rapport. She called to the house weekly for around 10 weeks building up our Form F, which is then presented to panel when the time comes. We discussed our strengths and weaknesses, our childhoods, parenting style, what experience we did and didn’t’ have. You don’t need to have children to foster, it turned out that there were loads of things in our lives that contributed to us being suitable foster carers. Between us, we arranged times and dates that suited us, it was really flexible. We completed a few online courses which were easy to access and counted as part of our training. We were also given weekly tasks to complete, for example dealing with certain case studies and scenarios. We enjoyed doing these and felt it really helped to open our minds to fostering.

When we got our date to go to panel, we were excited but nervous. Our assessor was great and really had faith in our application. She was behind us 100%, providing support when we needed. Panel couldn’t have gone better, they were so encouraging and supportive. We were approved that day, for one child aged 0-18, for either respite, long-term or short-term fostering.

 The First Placement

We received notification of our first placement, two weeks after being approved at panel. Since then, things have gone from strength to strength. We have attended regular training and receive weekly contact with our Supervising Social Worker Hannah who is fantastic.

Being LGBT hasn’t been an issue at all and we would recommend fostering to anyone regardless of their situation. Love is love, and these children need that. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, employed or unemployed, you can foster, and the support you will receive is amazing.

We’d like to thank Melanie and Mel for taking the time out to talk to us, and for all their hard work.

If you’d like to start your own foster journey, register your interest here or call our team on 028 90 020 247.

Foster Carers and HMRC

For anybody who is considering becoming a foster carer, and for those that are already fostering, you have been invited to take part in a free webinar hosted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The webinar aims to help you understand tax responsibilities and any National Insurance issues that may arise for a self-employed foster carer.

The free, hour-long webinar will take place at 11am on the 14th February and will include an interactive question and answer session.

The webinar can be accessed from all laptops, iPads, iPhones or tablets, provided you have internet access.

Spaces are limited and reservations are necessary.
To register, please visit HMRC Foster Carers Registration

Saying ‘Goodbye’ To A Foster Child

The time between the beginning and the end of a placement with a foster child can feel like no time at all. Saying goodbye can be one of the biggest challenges faced by foster carers, as well as for the young people in their care.

Having looked after a person for a period of time, you celebrate their successes, are a shoulder to cry on and you watch them grow up. They become a substantial part of your family.

The Importance of Staying Positive

Whatever the reasons for the departure, it’s normal for foster carers to experience a range of emotions when a child leaves their home. It’s important to realise that having stayed with you for a period of time will have benefited their lives for the better.

If they’re an older teenager and they’re now ready to live independently, you will have probably played the part of an important role model. You would have helped teach them valuable life skills such as learning to cook, clean and manage budgets in preparation for them to live their life on their own.

For younger children who move onto more long-term, permanent placements, it’s important to remember that moving on is in their best interests as it’s eventually helping towards placing them with their ‘forever family’.

Dealing with Grief

Losing a foster child is likely to provoke feelings of grief, so give yourself time to recover and also to celebrate the journey you’ve had together. Being open about these feelings with friend, family and other foster carers will help you to heal.

How We Can Help Foster Carers

If you are a foster carer or are considering becoming a foster carer, we can provide a range of training on how to deal with foster children moving on. Contact our team for more information by clicking here.

Fostering February 2018

Don’t rule yourself out…find out!

This month we will be showing our support for Fostering February by starting conversations about fostering both online and offline!

What is Fostering February?


Fostering February is a month dedicated to raising awareness about the facts of becoming a foster carer and aims to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions which surround it.

It gives an invaluable opportunity to people who are considering becoming a foster carer to have their questions and concerns addressed.

Have you ever thought about becoming a foster carer, but immediately ruled it out?

“I’m in a same sex relationship so I won’t be allowed to foster”
“I am disabled so I won’t be allowed to foster”
“I don’t have a driving license so I won’t be allowed to foster”

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

There are lots of different family living situations that can allow for a foster child which are often assumed can’t. Be sure to find out before making assumptions. For example, your sexual orientation won’t affect whether you are allowed to become a foster carer. The most important factor is that the children feel safe and loved and importantly are properly looked after.

How can you get involved in Fostering February 2018?

Whether you are considering becoming a foster carer or just want to help raise awareness, there are plenty of ways for you to get involved with Fostering February 2018. Take a look at their website here.

If you think you could help a child, please register your interest by clicking here and a member of our friendly team will be in touch.

National Storytelling Week 2018

Connect with your foster family through stories

From 27th January – 3rd February 2018, it is National Storytelling Week, held by The Society for Storytelling.

The week is the perfect chance for families to come together and celebrate the power of telling stories, an oral tradition which was the very first way of communicating life experiences and the creative imagination!

Sourced from https://www.sfs.org.uk/national-storytelling-week

What’s so important about storytelling?

Storytelling isn’t just a fun activity for children and young people, it can also have a significant impact on their psychological development. Not only can it improve their language skills and imagination, but their ability to tell their own story, articulate their emotions and make themselves heard.

Stories can provide a child with insight into how the world works and can help them to understand themselves and others. Stories can help give a child greater understanding of human emotion and feelings.

The Importance of Storytelling in a Foster Family Environment

Storytelling can be useful for foster children to help strengthen their relationship with their foster carers, as the process of telling and listening to stories can build attachments and relationships.

The storyteller’s own reactions, both in how they tell and talk about the story, can create an environment that brings well-being and playfulness to the relationship.

Go on, join us in celebrating National Storytelling Week and find time to sit down the with the family to tell some inspiring stories!

Reasons To Kick-Start Your Fostering Journey

If you’ve been thinking about fostering for a while, but have been dwelling on the reasons not to foster, here are some reasons that might encourage you to make your initial enquiry.

  1. You’ve got a lot of love to give
  2. Feeling loved and cared for is one of our most basic and fundamental needs, no matter what age we are. However, when children miss out on the feeling of love and care during their early years, it can have a negative impact on their personal development and cause low self-esteem.

    Becoming a foster carer is an opportunity for you to provide a vulnerable child with the love and care they deserve.

  3. Children need to form lasting attachments
  4. Forming lasting attachments in our early years is important to help develop relationships in later life. Unfortunately, many children within the foster care system have not had the opportunity to form these attachments in their childhood due to their changing environment.

    Foster carers play a crucial role in helping children and young people to trust people by forming positive, responsive relationships with them.

  5. Too many children don’t grow up in a family setting
  6. Too many children within the foster care system grow up without their basic needs being met in a safe and happy family environment. Fostering is an opportunity to provide a child with the guidance and support that we all need.

  7. Your care can have a lasting impact
  8. The impact you could have on a foster child, even in emergency and short-term placements, can stay with them forever. Foster children can learn what being part of a caring family environment is like which can, in turn, have a positive effect on their outlook on family life and can positively influence their future.

  9. Fostering is an opportunity to learn new skills
  10. Foster carers receive ongoing support and training, which provides the opportunity to develop new skills and improve existing ones. Your supervising social worker will be there to help you along the way and will provide you with access to various training courses.

    If you’re ready to take the first step to becoming a foster carer and changing a child’s life for the better, click here to get in touch with our friendly team today.

Helping Foster Children Through the Holiday Season

Christmas can and should be one of the most wonderful times of the year for children, excited about the arrival of Father Christmas and the magic the festive period brings. But, for many looked after children and young people, Christmas can be a stressful and difficult time of year.

In the build up to Christmas, all around us the vision of the perfect family enjoying the festivities is portrayed – not only through the media, but through conversations with friends about their plans for the holiday, with whom they’ll be going to visit and what activities they have planned with their families. For a looked after child who has been separated from their birth parents this can evoke powerful emotions, both positive and negative, and stir up memories and feelings from their past.

With this in mind, we’ve come up with simple things you can do this Christmas time to help looked after children cope and make this festive season a happy one…

  1. Talk about Christmas
  2. A child in care may not have a good understanding of the Christmas holiday, what it means and what traditions it brings in your home. Take time to read a few books in the run up to Christmas and be ready to hear about their past Christmases. Encourage them to share good memories, then work out ways that traditions can be integrated. Let them know what to expect, even if it’s as simple as decorations, Christmas music, stockings and lots of family meals!

  3. Maintain routine where possible
  4. Christmas can be a hectic time of year, with gifts to be bought being left until the eleventh hour and plans being changed last minute! It’s important to remember the importance of planning and how children thrive on routine. If for any reason routines can’t be maintained, talk the potential changes through with your foster child, discuss any worries they may have and outline the steps you can both take to help them cope.

  5. Involve everyone
  6. Make your home inviting and cosy together! The key is to ensure that the children or young people see the change in setting as positive and a fun activity to do together.

  7. Write a letter to Santa
  8. For younger children, if this is their first Christmas with you, it’s important that Father Christmas knows where to find you!

  9. Anticipate Christmas to be an emotional time
  10. Expect Christmas to be an emotional time for the children you look after, especially for those who may be unable to see their family. All families have their good moments, even if they are few in number and children may want to talk about these and share memories with you. Take time to listen and enjoy time to bond.

  11. Prepare for guests
  12. Introducing children or young people to extended family or family gatherings can be a daunting experience for them. Planning around family gatherings is important – let them know who’s coming and when. Sometimes, it helps to talk about the visitors in advance, so that your foster child feels a familiarity and level of comfort before they have arrived. If the children or young people want to social that’s great, but remember to give them time and space to get comfortable at their own pace if they would rather.

  13. Be alcohol aware
  14. Be wary that children in care may have witnessed the misuse of alcohol and drugs at home, and seeing people drinking at home could cause anxieties to surface, so drink responsibly.

Tips for a Successful Winter’s Day Out

Winter is a wonderful time of year, but often the chill of the outdoors is motivation enough to close the curtains and stay well within the warmth of your home. Whilst this is cosy, it often doesn’t take long until the kids are bursting with energy and looking for things to do. Here are some tips and ideas for a successful Winter’s day out:

Staying warm:

  1. Make sure everyone is all wrapped up with scarves, hats and gloves. Keeping heads and hands warm is crucial and will ensure nobody catches a cold!
  2. Waterproof clothing – expect the expected! Always take big coats or waterproof anoraks with hoods to hand. An umbrella is always a good idea if you’re planning to be outside, and of course wellies! After all, squelching about in the mud and jumping in puddles is what it’s all about.
  3. Thick fluffy socks are a must.
  4. Don’t forget lip salve and hand cream – cold, windy weather can dry out lips and hands.
  5. Portable hand warmers – an inexpensive treat.

Things to do:

  1. Take a walk around the park. Though it can be a bit nippy, admiring the changing season, kicking up piles of leaves and stopping for a quick coffee or hot chocolate can make for a lovely time with the children.
  2. Trip to the local cinema. You can find great deals online to keep the kids and your wallet happy!
  3. Ice skating – search online for a Winter Wonderland near you.
  4. Visit somewhere you haven’t been before, or haven’t visited in ages. Beaches can be perfect this time of year, especially with dogs.
  5. Explore the Christmas markets! Christmas comes around quickly – now’s the time to start your Christmas Shopping and pick up little gifts for the family.