ARC Reflections: Helping Caregivers Understand and Respond to Kids in Foster Care

Posted June 1, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Best friends

There is no pre­scribed path for repair­ing a young life rocked by trau­ma — but ARC Reflec­tions can help. The nine-ses­sion cur­ricu­lum, devel­oped by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and Jus­tice Resource Insti­tute, teach­es fos­ter par­ents a crit­i­cal skill: how to under­stand and respond to chil­dren who have endured chal­leng­ing times.

One way that ARC Reflec­tions deliv­ers this les­son is in the form of Olivia’s Sto­ry.” A com­pos­ite case study of a child at dif­fer­ent ages and devel­op­men­tal stages, Olivia’s Sto­ry gives care­givers an inti­mate view into anoth­er fos­ter home — and sets the stage for learn­ing by example.

A sam­ple scenario:

Olivia, a 7‑year-old in her fourth fos­ter care place­ment, had a hard day at school. Chil­dren laughed at her and called her stu­pid, some­one scrib­bled on her note­book, and a teacher said she need­ed to work hard­er. Slam­ming the door when she arrived home, she ignored her fos­ter parent’s greet­ing. When asked what was wrong, she angri­ly replied: School sucks. I don’t want to go back.”

This sce­nario, shared with care­givers, paves the way for an open dis­cus­sion on how to respond to Olivia’s anger. Com­mon reac­tions might include set­ting lim­its (“I don’t care how angry you are, you can’t slam doors.”), push­ing the child (“What do mean you don’t want to talk about it?”) or min­i­miz­ing the prob­lem (“It’s only a note­book, you can always get anoth­er one.”).

More sup­port­ive options, how­ev­er, would involve:

  • Val­i­dat­ing Olivia’s per­spec­tive with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly agree­ing with it (“It’s so hard to feel like peo­ple don’t like you. It makes sense that you are upset if you feel like that.”); or
  • Nor­mal­iz­ing Olivia’s expe­ri­ence to reduce shame and iso­la­tion (“I can imag­ine how upset I would be if I felt every­one was being mean to me.”).

Accord­ing to the ARC Reflec­tions guide Mir­ror, Mir­ror: Chil­dren and teens affect­ed by trau­ma are send­ing us sig­nals or clues all the time, and the clues don’t always make sense or feel good to those around them.” As a care­giv­er, the guide acknowl­edges, it is easy to react to those sig­nals or clues with­out ful­ly under­stand­ing them.”

Observ­ing a child is a crit­i­cal skill — one that requires look­ing beyond sur­face behav­iors and focus­ing on ver­bal and non­ver­bal clues, such as tone of voice, facial expres­sions and body ten­sion, accord­ing to experts. By mir­ror­ing a child’s lan­guage and behav­ior, fos­ter par­ents can help that child feel seen and understood.

As part of the ARC Reflec­tions train­ing, care­givers also learn how to tune into their own expe­ri­ences and needs so that they can stay calm in try­ing cir­cum­stances. There’s a lot of self-explo­ration that takes place in the cur­ricu­lum,” says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Mar­garet Blaustein, co-author of ARC Reflec­tions. I think that is real­ly valu­able for fos­ter parents.”

All ARC Reflec­tions mate­ri­als are avail­able online, free of charge. These mate­ri­als, which incor­po­rate every­thing a child wel­fare agency would need to con­duct the train­ing, include an imple­men­ta­tion guide, Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions, facil­i­ta­tor guides and more.


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