ARC Reflections: Helping Kids in Foster Care Build Healthy Attachments

Posted May 24, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Casey Foundation developed a training for foster parents that help them build strong attachments with young people who may have experienced trauma.

Children’s inter­ac­tions with care­givers shape their under­stand­ing of them­selves and the world around them. Kids who expe­ri­ence abuse, neglect and loss in their ear­ly rela­tion­ships often approach sub­se­quent rela­tion­ships assum­ing oth­ers will hurt them. And when chil­dren expe­ri­ence lov­ing, sup­port­ive and nur­tur­ing rela­tion­ships, they are able to process their trau­ma and thrive, accord­ing to research.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, inter­ac­tions with the child wel­fare sys­tem can com­pound trau­ma and loss in young peo­ple — and at a time when they are most in need of pos­i­tive, sup­port­ive rela­tion­ships and environments.

When you inter­act with chil­dren and teens who have expe­ri­enced repeat­ed harm,” writes clin­i­cians Mar­garet Blaustein and Kris­tine Kin­niburgh of the Jus­tice Resource Insti­tute, it’s impor­tant to remind your­self that at any giv­en moment the child or teen may be inter­act­ing not just with you, but with every per­son who has ever hurt, reject­ed or aban­doned him or her in the past.”

Blaustein and Kin­niburgh are coau­thors of ARC Reflec­tions, a train­ing cur­ricu­lum for fos­ter par­ents and kin care­givers. Devel­oped with sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, ARC Reflec­tions teach­es care­givers about trauma’s effects on kids and helps them bet­ter sup­port young peo­ple in their care who have expe­ri­enced trau­ma and loss. The cur­ricu­lum, pro­vid­ed free of charge, includes an imple­men­ta­tion guide, Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions, facil­i­ta­tor guides and oth­er mate­ri­als to help child wel­fare agen­cies con­duct their own trainings.

Healthy attach­ments with care­givers enable chil­dren to devel­op a pos­i­tive sense of self and explore and par­tic­i­pate in the world around them. ARC Reflec­tions focus­es on attach­ments between adults and kids that, all too often, are bro­ken or dam­aged when a child or teen enters fos­ter or kin­ship care,” says Tracey Feild, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. The new train­ing cur­ricu­lum pro­vides care­givers with impor­tant tools to help chil­dren deal with trau­ma and rebuild rela­tion­ships with caregivers.”

Some of the every­day activ­i­ties that can strength­en attach­ment over time include:

  • pre­dictable, con­sis­tent rou­tines, includ­ing around meals and bed­times, which can enhance a child’s sense of safety;
  • praise for age-appro­pri­ate activ­i­ties and behav­iors, which rein­forces a child’s com­pe­ten­cies rather than high­light­ing their deficits; and
  • attune­ment and pos­i­tive engage­ment — for exam­ple, rec­og­niz­ing and respond­ing to a child’s needs — which help kids build trust in their envi­ron­ment and the peo­ple around them.

A caregiver’s aware­ness of their own emo­tion­al state is cen­tral to build­ing attach­ments. ARC Reflec­tions encour­ages fos­ter par­ents to prac­tice self-care tech­niques such as deep breath­ing, exer­cise and mak­ing time for them­selves. These and oth­er approach­es can help fos­ter par­ents respond effec­tive­ly to chil­drens’ needs rather than sim­ply react to their behaviors.

I have nev­er seen a child who does not desire some lev­el of con­nec­tion,” Kin­niburgh says. These moments of con­nec­tion are usu­al­ly ground­ed in things that all kids want to expe­ri­ence. They want care­givers to respond pos­i­tive­ly and rec­og­nize the parts of them that are competent.”

See the results of the Child Trends eval­u­a­tion of ARC Reflections

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