Helping Kids in Foster Care Learn to Manage Their Emotions and Behavior

Posted February 10, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Helping kids in foster care learn to manage their emotions and behavior

Help­ing chil­dren and young peo­ple in fos­ter care learn to man­age their thoughts, emo­tions and ener­gy is a two-part process. This is espe­cial­ly true when fos­ter par­ents, kin and oth­er care­givers are work­ing with chil­dren who have expe­ri­enced trauma.

One part of help­ing chil­dren and young peo­ple mas­ter self-reg­u­la­tion is to pro­vide them with sta­bil­i­ty through com­fort­ing dai­ly activ­i­ties, such as estab­lish­ing bed­time rou­tines or lis­ten­ing to music. Part two involves read­ing children’s sig­nals and help­ing them use calm-down strate­gies when they are stressed.

We tend to think of reg­u­la­tion as some­thing we only have to pay atten­tion to in those acute, crit­i­cal moments,” says Mar­garet Blaustein, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist with an exper­tise in treat­ing com­plex child­hood trau­ma. But the expe­ri­ence of hav­ing increas­ing­ly orga­nized inter­nal states over extend­ed peri­ods of time actu­al­ly decreas­es the like­li­hood of those intense moments.”

Blaustein is the co-author of ARC Reflec­tions, a pow­er­ful new skill-build­ing course that teach­es fos­ter par­ents how to sup­port chil­dren heal­ing from trau­ma. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Jus­tice Resource Insti­tute to devel­op ARC Reflec­tions, and the result­ing cur­ricu­lum includes a com­pre­hen­sive suite of train­ing mate­ri­als, includ­ing an imple­men­ta­tion guide, Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions, facil­i­ta­tor guides, hand­outs and more.

Dur­ing the nine ses­sions of ARC Reflec­tions, care­givers learn how trau­ma affects chil­dren and prac­tice key self-reg­u­la­tion skills at home. Facil­i­ta­tors work with care­givers to:

  • iden­ti­fy pat­terns and activ­i­ties that either soothe or upset a child;
  • devel­op pre­dictable dai­ly rou­tines that help chil­dren feel safe; and
  • use ongo­ing activ­i­ties such as sports, arts or read­ing to sup­port day-to-day functioning.

Kris­tine Kin­niburgh, a clin­i­cal social work­er and co-author of ARC Reflec­tions, stress­es that self-reg­u­la­tion — much like any oth­er skill — takes time and sup­port to use inde­pen­dent­ly. Think about how kids learn to eat with a spoon,” she says. You don’t hand them a spoon and expect them to scoop. There are a num­ber of steps that hap­pen. It is that way with reg­u­la­tion, too.”

The ARC Reflec­tions ses­sions also teach fos­ter par­ents about help­ing chil­dren dur­ing moments of dis­tress or over­whelm­ing emo­tion. Advice here includes:

  • offer­ing chil­dren oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­trol and choice, which can help calm kids who asso­ciate pow­er­less­ness with danger;
  • catch­ing moments of dis­tress at their ear­li­est pos­si­ble point, ide­al­ly when chil­dren still have an abil­i­ty self-regulate;
  • serv­ing as a mir­ror,” which encour­ages care­givers to name feel­ings and let chil­dren know that they see them and under­stand their needs; and
  • remain­ing calm, cool and connected.

Fos­ter par­ents are the back­bone of the child wel­fare sys­tem,” says Tracey Feild, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. We are hon­ored and pleased to pro­vide a cur­ricu­lum that helps them under­stand and sup­port the chil­dren and teenagers in their care.”

Down­load a free copy of the ARC Reflec­tions Train­ing Program

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