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Nov. 23, 2021

What is Attachment Trauma in Foster Care?

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Attachment Trauma in foster care is one of those topics that for some people feels like once you get a family “it should all go away.” Unfortunately, that is unlikely the case especially when you understand how trauma brain works. I am not going to go into all of the specifics of the brain in this blog. However, I want to provide you with an antidote that may shed light on how trauma brain works.

Just Imagine

Imagine you are in your mother’s womb, and that mother is already struggling with mental health, maybe she’s addicted to substances, and maybe she’s in a violent domestic relationship with her partner. From “utero” this baby is increasingly affected by stress and chaos thus increasing the likelihood that they may be experiencing trauma brain.

Then this baby is born, maybe they are addicted to a substance at birth. So they are “forcibly removed” from their mother and taken to an isolated place to heal and recover. This baby has already endured trauma, stress, isolation, and separation from their first attachment source.

Now let’s factor in that this baby is detoxing off an addictive substance and placed in the home of strangers. Their brain is feeling all kinds of new sensations maybe this home is safe, maybe the voices are quieter, and maybe there are no dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere. While that sounds like a perfect place to raise a child this is also all new to this baby. The baby is feeling the significance of not being with their family of origin…this is attachment trauma.

Understanding Attachment Trauma in Foster Care

While not all children get removed in this manner and enter foster care. I use this story to highlight how at birth are bodies are wired for certain levels of stress depending on our beginning to the world. Most children in foster care have faced at least three different removals from their attachment figures on multiple occasions.

Think about how you may feel being removed from your parents, then transferred to a temporary family, and maybe multiple moves to come. This is something that changes how our brain and bodies feel about a family and connection with others. These moments of great transition impact are very ability to trust that family means that we are to remain together and in a stable way.

I see this so often even in adult survivors of foster care (even in myself) at times. I second guess my own life and its stability, because when I am stressed or overwhelmed my body and trauma brain take over to remind me of the very things I would want to forget.

Tips to Navigate Attachment Trauma in Foster Care

You may be reading this and thinking great? I am wanting to help children in foster care what are we in for? What are the expected outcomes? What do I need to know to connect to these children? Well here’s one of my favorite tips….

Firstly, connect with these children before we correct the behaviors we see. If they are distant find ways to connect with them from a distance they choose, (maybe throw a ball back and forth).

Secondly, if they have big BIG BIGGER emotions, love them during these emotions…Let them know they can share these feelings and emotions with you anytime and that they don’t scare you.

This is harder than it sounds. It takes us as the adults to realize that a safe family will be triggering for a child who doesn’t know what that feels like. A child who has never understood that term before. So remember that the key is to connect before correcting and loving them where they are at.

All the best,

About Our Guest Author

Maurissa Szilagi is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of her own practice titled at The Connecting Therapist. She brings to this work over a decade of service to helping families work through issues around connection and attachment. As someone with first-hand experience in foster care, Maurissa is part of the 3% of former foster youth who’ve graduated from college. She has competed with the 1% of elite students and completed two academically rigorous programs.

Maurissa is determined to be a voice for foster youth in the importance of their emotional well-being. She wishes to change the lives of as many as she can. Her life’s mission is that all children who have encountered trauma and foster care get the chance to heal and live a life they can be happy and proud of. We are grateful for her unique understanding of mental health and the foster care community. We hope her insights offer you guidance and comfort.

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