According to SAFY, one in four children in foster care will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout their lifetime. Recognizing what causes and triggers trauma, as well as how to care for a child with trauma, is essential for foster parents and all those who work closely with children within the foster care system. At SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, we’re addressing the higher rates of PTSD within our community through providing training for Foster Parents and staff, on-site clinical therapists, and wellness programs to increase emotional stability for the children and families we serve.
What is Trauma?
Trauma, or a traumatic response, is an emotionally-signaled response to a high-stress event that threatens or causes harm to a person or group of people. This type of harm can be physical (such as being hit) or emotional (such as being harshly scolded), and real (happening now) or perceived (the potential of occurring). As there are different types of trauma, an individual may have multiple traumatic experiences, each being triggered in specific ways and showing different manifestations.
How Does Trauma Effect a Child?
Trauma can have sweeping effects on a child or family, specifically if triggered often. These effects tend to fall into three, main categories;
- Emotional manifestations, like obsessions, anxiety, paranoia, fear, hysterical crying, etc
- Physical manifestations, like overeating or not eating enough, physical pains, losing hair, sleep too much or not sleeping enough, etc
- Action-based manifestations, like hurting oneself or others, throwing frequent tantrums, inappropriate sexual activity, etc
What Causes Trauma and PTSD in a Child in Foster Care?
PTSD often occurs when trauma victims relive traumatic occurrences, causing distress. These types of reoccurrences may be caused by triggers or triggering situations — smells, sights, sounds, behaviors, words and phrases, and objects that recreate the specific trauma in the mind of the victim. They can happen soon after or may manifest months or years later, often into adulthood. Sometimes, an individual may not even recall a traumatic moment until exposure to a trigger occurs.
While trauma that leads to PTSD is specific to each child, children in foster care may have experienced one or more of the following prior removal from their home and placement into foster care, causing trauma:
- Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual)
- Witnessing harm to pets or people (domestic abuse, animal abuse or neglect)
- Bullying (at school, online, or in peer groups)
- Impacts of poverty and housing insecurity (such as hunger, lack of medical care, or homelessness)
- Family separation (incarceration, deportation, etc)
- Parental addiction or mental health issues
Additionally, the very act of being removed from home – whether or not child abuse or neglect is occurring – is often traumatic enough to cause a child to have lasting symptoms and manifestations of trauma, including PTSD.
In fact, PTSD is so common in the foster care system that children and teens in foster care are twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than veterans who have engaged in combat. Due to this high rate of occurance, specific awareness, actions, and solutions are necessary in order to create healthier childhoods and adulthoods for those who have experienced foster care.
How Does SOS Illinois Address PTSD for Children in Foster Care?
At SOS Illinois, all three of our Villages were created around providing the absolute best care and support system possible for children entering foster care. Our mission is to provide youth a community of hope while helping them grow into caring, productive adults. Part of that care is centered on helping children heal from past traumas and lower the effects of PTSD. Due to our unique model of care, we are able to so in a few, key ways:
On-Site Clinical Services
Each of our Villages offers on-site clinical services that are available to children in our care whenever they need them. Individual and group counseling services allow youth at SOS Illinois to obtain the help they need, in a setting that provides comfort, security, and trust. By devoting time and attention to each child, one-on-one, our on-site therapists are able to address the particular needs they have to ensure they’re getting the help that will best serve them as an individual. In doing so, we create an environment in which children can move forward productively, feeling safe and secure.
Dedicated and Trained Team
The professional therapists and caseworkers at SOS Illinois are highly trained in assisting with trauma, and they are dedicated to the growth and success of each and every child that enters foster care. Additionally, each of our full-time Foster Parents undergoes extensive training to address the needs of children in their care with complex behavioral and emotional challenges, including those with PTSD. Administrative staff are also offered training during orientation and throughout the year to equip them with tools to compassionately work with youth on our Villages and at Casa Tepeyac.
By addressing the mental health needs of the children in our care from the very beginning, we are able to identify those that may need extra support healing from traumas, navigating PTSD and PTSD manifestations, and educate children and teens on advocating for their mental wellness.
How Can I Help Youth Experiencing PTSD?
If you’d like to help in the effort to heal the effects of PTSD on children in foster care at SOS Illinois we invite you to make a gift in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month. By doing so, you help us continue to provide the groundbreaking services that are healing lives and providing hope for a healthier future. You can find out more about giving here.