You may have heard the expression “children are resilient,” promoting the idea that children can overcome and conquer hardship and trauma. While it may be comforting to believe in the rhetoric of childhood resilience — that children are immune to adverse experiences and won’t be damaged by trauma — research informs us that isn’t the case. Childhood trauma can significantly impact the brain, even altering brain structure.
Trauma is a prevalent issue among children and youth in foster care. Children in foster care have often experienced trauma, which can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and neglect. The exact percentage varies depending on the study and definition of trauma used. Still, some estimates are that as many as 90% of children in foster care experience at least one traumatic event in their young lives.
Although foster care is designed to protect and care for children when their biological families aren’t able to care for them for various reasons, being removed from their homes and family is also traumatic.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Some people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of experiencing traumatic events. Studies estimate that one in four youth in foster care will experience PTSD. In addition, a study by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the University of Michigan, and Casey Family Programs found that former foster children are twice as likely as US war veterans to experience PTSD as adults.
A PTSD diagnosis includes:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD, is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by chronic, long-lasting, or repeated traumatic events. For example, child abuse or childhood trauma — physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect — often develops into C-PTSD.
The Impact of Trauma
A significant amount of research indicates that trauma can profoundly impact children’s development and well-being. Trauma can refer to any experience that overwhelms a child’s ability to cope, including events like abuse, neglect, natural disasters, accidents, and violent crime.
Studies also suggest that trauma can lead to various negative outcomes for children, including increased risk of mental health problems like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders. Trauma can also affect physical health and result in chronic health conditions, like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
In addition, trauma can impact a child’s social and emotional development, impairing their ability to form healthy relationships with peers and adults and leading to difficulties in academic and occupational settings. It can also affect their cognitive functioning, like memory, attention, and executive functioning.
The impact of trauma in foster care can also have long-lasting effects. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that adults in foster care as children were more likely to experience mental health problems, substance abuse, and unemployment than those who had not been in foster care.
Foster Parents Play a Crucial Role in Mitigating Trauma
Despite the challenges children and youth in foster care face, foster parents can help mitigate the impact. Recognizing the impact of trauma and prioritizing safety and support is critical. In addition, foster parents can provide a safe and stable environment, offer emotional support, and connect foster children with resources for healing.
Consider Becoming an SOS Foster Parent
Foster care is a challenging and often thankless task, but it’s also an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of children. By providing a stable and nurturing environment and addressing any trauma that a child may have experienced, foster parents can help children thrive.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, consider signing up with SOS Children’s Villages Illinois. One thing that sets SOS Illinois apart from traditional foster care is full-time, professional Foster Parents. The SOS Illinois model places Foster Parents in single-family homes in one of its Villages that up to six children, ranging in age from infants to young adults, call home.
Change a Child’s Life Today!
If you decide that becoming a foster parent isn’t right for you, there are many other ways to support foster children and other foster parents. Donations change lives! You can also help by participating in an SOS Illinois fundraising event. The generosity of donors has enabled us to provide safe, stable, loving homes for more than thirty years.