Around 55,000 children are in foster care across the UK and sadly, this continues to rise every year. Many of these children will have experienced, or are at high risk of, neglect or abuse. Other times, a parent may become so unwell that they’re no longer able to care for them. There are many different reasons for a child to be taken into care.
As a therapeutic fostering agency, we work with some of the most vulnerable children, who often have more complex needs. Our foster parents are given a high level of specialist support from an entire team of professionals – including therapists, social workers and educational experts – to build brighter futures for children in care.
Reason for children to be taken into care
- Physical abuse – often, a pattern of unexplained injuries - such as bumps, bruises, broken bones and scolds – are found on a child’s body which raises concern with the local authority. Physical harm is intentional for cases where a child is taken into foster care under these circumstances.
- Emotional abuse – this type of abuse is more difficult to spot than physical harm. However, emotional abuse can involve deliberately trying to scare, humiliate, isolate or ignore a child. Having an emotionally abusive parent can have a detrimental effect on a child’s emotional development and mental health.
- Sexual abuse – children who are sexually abused are often forced or tricked into partaking in sexual activities and often this is by someone they know. Children who have been sexually abused may be afraid to tell anybody about it or, in some cases, they’re simply not aware that it was wrong.
- Physical neglect – children who come into care under these circumstances haven’t had their very basic needs met, such as food, clothing and shelter, or they haven’t been adequately supervised or are living in unsafe conditions. Children who have experienced neglect often have poor appearance and hygiene, live in unsuitable home environments and may develop a variety of health and development issues.
- Emotional neglect – this type of neglect means that a child hasn’t received the nurture and stimulation they need. This can sometimes be due to drug and solvent abuse or a parent’s mental health condition.
- Educational neglect – this happens when a parent doesn’t ensure the child attends school, meaning they’re not provided with an adequate education.
- Medical neglect – this happens when a parent is unable to provide proper health care to a child, such as dental care or refuses to follow medical advice.
- Family dysfunction – children may have been caught up in or witnessed domestic abuse, experienced parent-child or sibling conflict or not had their needs met due to their parent’s mental health condition.
- Child or parent’s illness or disability – sometimes, a parent’s illness or disability may prevent them from being able to provide adequate care. Other times, it may be the child who has a disability or illness and for various reasons, the parent isn’t able to meet their needs.
- Family in acute stress – a significant family member death, financial issues, homelessness, trouble with the police or involvement in gangs may require a temporary foster family for a young person.
- Parent or caregiver death – when nobody is able to care for a child after the death of their parent or legal guardian, the child may be taken into foster care.
Sadly, most of the children who are placed with our foster families have suffered early emotional deprivation, neglect and/or abuse. As a result of these past traumatic experiences, we find that children are not always able to regulate their emotions and may express their feelings through the way in which they behave, which can sometimes be challenging.
The kinds of behaviour we often see from children include:
- Withdrawing and not caring – the child switches off her desire for contact and tries to avoid all feelings of disappointment, loss, anger or frustration by a facade of not caring.
- Pushing boundaries – children feel compelled to test the boundaries as if driven by a conviction that all good things come to an end and it’s better to get it over with sooner rather than later.
- Demanding total attention and possession – to feel uncared for is a devastating experience of loss and for many children, one way of avoiding these feelings is to imagine that one can have everything.
- Pushing away intimacy – when a child receives attention this can provoke terrible feelings of resentment arising from the earlier neglect. The experience of being close to another person, which she may really want, feels too much and she pushes the adult away. This is double deprivation, rejecting intimacy in the here and now as a result of the previous neglect.
- Becoming aggressive – feelings may build up and erupt in a volcanic-like explosion. Terrible feelings can’t be put into words and their source often pre-dates the use of language. The explosion may occur over some minor frustration because the volcanic pressure has been building for some time.
Through our therapeutic care programme, our foster parents are specially trained to look beyond the ‘misbehaviour’ and try to understand what it is they’re trying to communicate, so they can help them to learn positive new strategies to express their emotions and appropriate ways of behaving.