You won’t be surprised to hear that many children in foster care have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. This could be physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual trauma or some sort is sadly inevitable in most cases.
It is very important as foster carer parents to understand the signs of trauma, what it can do to the brain and body and most importantly how to help if you see the signs.
Signs of trauma
Each person will react to trauma differently, but there are a few common signs you can look for are:
- Lack of sleep
- Unusual sleeping habits
- Regressing to younger behaviour such as sucking their thumb or wetting their bed
Older children signs might differ a bit, such as:
- Disordered eating such as hoarding food, binge eating, starving
- Poor boundaries
- Poor social skills- This can look like a lack of privacy towards others and not picking up on social cue
Signs to look for in all age ranges:
- Anxious attachment style- terrible separation anxiety or attachment disorder
- Self-harm- in younger kids this would involve hitting their head or biting themselves
- Old kids self-harm- cutting, causing bruising or skin lesions
Now that we have looked at the signs of trauma, lets look at how this affects the brain and body.
When a child experiences trauma this can have a significant affect to their cognitive development as there is an increased release of stress hormone. This stress hormone increase is considered a fight or flight response. When there is repeated trauma, these stress hormones can cause damage to the brain. This creates this ‘always on’ state of alert and hypervigilance. This state can decrease the development of other neural pathways that help with decision making, emotional regulation and judgement.
Here are a few things that happen to the body that has suffered from trauma. Increased release of cortisol or stress hormone as mentioned above, can cause chronic headaches or migraines, irritable or irregular bowels, shortness of breath, sensory issues, sensitivity to undiagnosed illnesses or hypochondriac tendencies.
Once you have identified the signs of trauma, it is important to try and the appropriate help for the child. The first step would be to enroll your child for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can help build their toolset of ways to deal with trauma and triggers that come with it. Once a child has communicated their triggers or traumas, it is important to do everything you can to avoid situations that may bring those things up. Along with these steps you should provide them with a safe, loving and comforting environment. These are just a few steps which would help a child a lot when coping with trauma.