Strengthening The Mental Health Of Foster Families During National Foster Care Month
Foster parents provide a stable, healthy, and supportive home for children who cannot live with their birth family. Often, foster parents work to care for children until they can reunite with their birth family, but in other cases, foster parents go on to adopt a child legally. Children in the foster care system face mental health concerns at a higher rate. During national foster care month and throughout the year, we must work to strengthen the mental health of foster families. Similarly, what can foster parents do to manage their mental health? Our foster families deserve to thrive, and some things can help.
Common Mental Health Challenges And Disorders Among Foster Children
Up to 80% of children in foster care experience significant mental health concerns. This translates to roughly four out of every five kids in the foster care system. Here are some of the mental health challenges and disorders that we see most frequently among foster children:
Trauma And PTSD
Many children in the foster care system are survivors of multiple traumatic events or sources of trauma. These include abuse*, which can occur in various forms, separation from parents and siblings, etc. Adverse childhood experiences like this strongly impact development and mental health. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but post-traumatic stress disorder is a prevalent concern among foster children. It's said that foster children are twice as likely to live with PTSD as war veterans. If a child doesn't meet the criteria for PTSD, trauma can still impact their life and well-being. The way this manifests can vary from person to person.
*If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Kids who have been in the foster care system frequently experience behavioral concerns. These can include but aren't limited to angry outbursts, stealing, and difficulty with authority. This can affect schooling, family interactions, and other parts of life. Diagnoses of conduct disorder (CD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are more common among youth in foster care.
Anxiety And Depression
Statistics show that children and the child welfare system have higher symptom profiles when it comes to both symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Children who have been in the foster care system are more likely to exhibit behaviors such as hoarding food, and some research suggests that they're at a higher risk for eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa.
If you or someone you know lives with an eating disorder, please call or text the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for resources and support.
Substance Use/Substance Use Disorders
Youth in the foster care system are substantially more likely to live with a substance use disorder. One study that looked at 17-year-olds in the foster care system found that 35% of these individuals met the criteria for a substance use disorder. A diagnosis of PTSD or conduct disorder increases the risk of substance use disorders. There are different kinds of substance use disorders, and help is available for those who live with a substance use disorder.
If you or someone you know lives with a substance use disorder, please contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or use the treatment locator on their website.
The experience of being in the foster care system can affect a person's life not just when they are young or in foster care but for the rest of their life. Legal battles, poverty, and difficulty with employment are also extremely common for those who are or have been in the foster system. The good news is that having the correct support in place can help. All children need to be cared for to support their overall well-being. It's important to consider behavior and overall emotional, psychological, social, and physical health.
What can be done to help with the challenges foster children face?
- Consistency and support at home
Children in foster care often face a lack of consistency. Consistency in positive regard and daily routines alike is crucial for children. Unconditional love, affection, follow-through, attention, and routine (i.e., a reliable schedule during the school week) can all be advantageous in helping children gain a greater sense of stability. Even if you don't care for a child long-term, being a positive adult in a child's life who treats them with respect can have an incredible impact.
- Professional mental health care
Therapy is the gold standard for a wide range of mental health concerns. Professionals who offer various therapy modalities may specialize in specific age groups or populations. The course of treatment or methods used in therapy can be tailored to the client's age. A therapist can help with anxiety, anger, ODD, CD, social skills, trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and many other concerns that might affect a foster child. If applicable, foster parent involvement in care is said to be valuable.
- Confidence and self-esteem
Confidence and self-esteem support better mental health outcomes. This may be especially necessary to highlight for foster children who may experience trouble related to their self-worth.
- Help with school
It is very common for foster children to face challenges in school. Maintain patience and try different things if you need to. Take pride in the effort that a child gives. The level of hardship a child has in school may vary. Alternative schools, accommodations, tutoring, and other forms of support can all be worthwhile options to consider if a child has a tough time in school.
- Assistance with current or future employment
Young people who age out of foster care face unemployment at a higher-than-average rate. Since unemployment rates and financial challenges are so high among those in the foster care system and are in or moving close to adulthood, this is another area to offer extensive support.
Of course, another crucial part of any foster family is the foster parents. Foster parents may benefit from support groups or mental health therapy. Parents may be able to find support groups in person or online. Support groups are often peer-led and are not the same as group therapy. Therapy is confidential, and various types of therapy can be advantageous for foster parents, including but not limited to individual therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy.
How Can Therapy As An Adult Help You Thrive As A Foster Parent?
Though it is a remarkable, gratifying experience, a lot of work goes into becoming a foster parent. Foster parents generally display strong dedication and love for the children in their care. There can be a lot of worries surrounding the future of a child, especially if they are currently facing substantial mental health concerns. Foster parents fight for kids and work to create a positive space for them. Others may not know all that goes into this process, and there can be a high level of stress when working with the foster care system and moving through the potential hurdles that may arise. Grief can come up if you have to part ways with a child. A therapist can help you cope with stress, fear, balancing life as a foster parent, or anything else that you're going through that may affect your mental health as a foster parent. Therapy is proven effective, and it can help you manage stress and thrive so that you can be the best you can be. You can find a therapist to work with face to face by searching the web, asking your insurance company what is available to you, getting a referral from a medical doctor, or viewing a provider directory. You can also try online therapy options.
Online therapy is a convenient and cost-effective way to get quality mental health care from the privacy of your own home. It's great for busy parents, caregivers, professionals, or anyone who wants to work remotely with a therapist. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform with over 20,000 licensed, independent therapists. The platform has continued to improve throughout the years, and research shows that online therapy leads to outcomes that are just as promising as those seen in in-person therapy settings. Remote therapy maintains a spectrum of different benefits. When you sign up for BetterHelp, you will take a short questionnaire that will help us match you with a professional who meets your needs based on your answers. You can stop services or change therapists at any point if you need to.
Ready to try it? Join BetterHelp to get started, or look at the therapist reviews and FAQ on our website to learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are the pros and cons of being a foster parent?
Being a foster parent can be incredibly rewarding, and of course, the biggest pro is that when you become a foster parent, you are helping a child or multiple children who need it. It can be a more affordable route for adoption if you can adopt the child (in cases where a child does not return to their birth family). If this isn't the case, one downside is the toll that it can take to part with a child. Licensing is required to become a foster parent. Requirements for licensing vary from state to state in the United States.
Which country has the best foster care system?
Though various countries have different ratings for childhood safety, it's hard to say which country has the best foster care system. One piece of this is that outcomes can vary heavily—even in the same country. For example, in the United States, foster care differs in many ways state by state.