Helping children heal from abuse or neglect is rewarding but hard. Like the children in their care, kin and foster parents need to find ways of experiencing strong feelings without becoming overwhelmed. They must also take care of themselves — physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
“You can’t give away what you don’t have,” says Annie E. Casey Foundation Senior Associate Doreen Chapman. “You can’t provide support, nurturing and compassion until you learn how to take care of yourself.”
Tools and exercises for self-care are part of Trauma Systems Therapy for Foster Care (TST-FC), a powerful new training curriculum that helps caregivers meet the needs of kids and teenagers who have experienced trauma.
Go to the TST-FC training curriculum
TST-FC includes techniques that help both children and caregivers regain control when struggling with difficult emotions and behaviors. Learning these coping skills can help caregivers think about and recognize their own trauma triggers.
TST-FC also emphasizes the importance of social support networks for caregivers. These networks can be sources of practical assistance, emotional support, energy and hope and they can include other foster parents, social workers, faith-based professionals as well as family and friends.
“One of the adages of TST-FC is that no one should ever worry alone,” says Kelly McCauley of KVC Health Systems, Inc., who wrote the curriculum in consultation with Dr. Glenn Saxe of NYU Langone Health.
TST-FC’s self-care assessment allows foster parents to develop plans to support themselves. The assessment measures both strength and potential growth in the following areas:
- physical self-care (e.g. diet and exercise);
- psychological self-care (e.g. reflection and curiosity);
- emotional self-care, (e.g. friends and recreation);
- spiritual self-care (e.g. prayer and meditation); and
- workplace self-care (e.g. breaks and workload).
Following this assessment, participants have an opportunity to discuss their goals with other caregivers and to outline ways to achieve these goals.
“In TST-FC training, we want foster parents to feel safe, to be able share their challenges,” says McCauley. “We can then equip them with skills and tools that help children manage their emotions and behavior and that help caregivers maintain confidence in their ability to make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
The TST-FC training curriculum includes four group sessions, where facilitators lead caregivers through role playing, hands-on exercises and reflective conversations that connect a child’s life experiences with his or her behavior. The curriculum also offers detailed facilitator guides, training presentations, handouts and a foster parent resource guide.
Supported by the Casey Foundation, TST-FC has been tested by child welfare agencies and evaluated by the nonprofit research center ChildTrends. It is available online without charge.