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Some people say the common saying for foster parents that begin their journey with a foster child in their home is “I didn’t expect this to be “like this.”” First time foster parents expect a foster child that is ready to receive the needed proper care and affection from foster parents who are ready to deliver. However, first time foster parents fail to realize that these children experienced an upbringing that damaged their childhood (physically and psychologically). Research suggest that in early childhood development, trauma within the context of the caregiving relationship creates a conundrum for children because they experienced a bifurcated relationship with their caretakers; who, by description, are the source of some degree of care and are also the source of the child’s pain and fear. There is neurochemical evidence of the ravages that such exposure to neglect, abuse, and harm caused by caretakers can have on a child’s capacity for self-regulations and overall psychical functioning. The consequences for such interference with children’s brain functioning are found in their difficulties with impulse control, affect-regulations, and self-soothing. Neglect and abuse have long-lasting impacts on brains development resulting in significant relational difficulties (Shea, 2015). Majority of these children are placed with foster families who exhibit none of the horrible experiences that the foster children endured and lack understanding their behaviors. The psychological theories that align with the history of foster children are called, “dismissive-avoidant attachment theory” and fearful-avoidant attachment theory.” This paper will discuss the background of both theories and how they apply to the field of foster care.
Keywords: attachment theory, psychical functioning, childhood development, trauma
Children depend on their parents/caretakers to cherish and provide safety to them. Parents/caretakers are their largest influences on life. When children receive proper care and upbringing during their developmental stage, they will always feel safe to explore the world without any fear. This is known as a “secured attachment.” But, if their developmental stage is interrupted with acts of trauma, abuse, or neglect, their relationships will and can be impaired. Placement in foster care is unfortunately another traumatic experience. A significant number of children that remain in foster care are usually there for long periods of time. Children that experienced foster care for a long period of time go through more placement changes after they have been in an out-of-home placement for more than two years; which negatively affects development, ability to control behavior and adjustment to the educational setting (DeVolld, & Rickman, 2014). I learned that majority of their foster children (at my practicum site) don’t return to their biological families. They will remain in the foster care system until they are adopted or grow past the age that they will no longer be in the system. As I continue my practicum in a foster care agency, I have observed two different attachment theories that foster children exhibit when in the care of foster families: dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant.
When a child in foster care exhibits an attachment known as “dismissive-avoidant,” the child will avoid their foster parent relationship or will feel emotionally indifferent towards the foster parent. One of the best examples of this type of relationship would be the main character from the 1996 movie Malitida. The movie surrounds a child that is raised by a very distant father and mother. The child will suppress her feelings and expressions for her family lives among them as if they’re strangers. The child in this movie will take care of herself. Foster children who exhibit this attachment are most likely raised by parents who were neglectful or who were avoidant of affection the child expressed to them. Usually the parents will dismiss or end any emotion the child attempted to express. In time, the child will get used to suppressing their emotions until they simply no longer express them. In other words, become emotionless. They would develop the sense of independence and would look and act okay. Even if they are in need for anything, they usually don’t ask for help become children will develop assumptions that no one will help they anyway, even if they asked. When they do receive positive influence such as admiration or approval from their foster parents, they will continue to keep their distance, emotionally and physically. After a while of suppressing their feelings, the child becomes less aware of their feelings. Whenever they focus on other things such as reading a book or watching TV, it serves as a distraction from their reality.
Foster children who exhibit “fearful-avoidant” attachment, it is described as a constant battle the foster child has with themselves. The foster child wants their parent to meet their emotional needs and feel connected. The child, as expected, is depended on their foster parents to meet those needs. However, foster children that develop this attachment also expect more from their foster parents. Their expectation is for the foster parents to exhibit negative behavior (trauma, abuse, neglect) like their parents as well. Evidently, the foster children don’t trust them. When the foster child realizes a positive connection with the foster parent, they will quickly pull away from them. These children developed the illusion that trauma, abuse, and neglect are part of care and affection. Regardless if this “love” that the child witnessed between their parents or was the victim of it, the child believes and expects this love from any parental guardian. The child is too fearful of any type of potential hurt (foster parent unable to attend a child’s dance performance) that any relationship (foster parent and child) can have. When the foster child starts to connect well with their foster parent, they develop the sense of fear, helplessness, and feel trapped in their relationship that they may respond with anxiety, anger, and resentment towards their foster parent. The child will continue their emotional turmoil within themselves.
Theories Applying to Foster Care
Both theories are equivalent to foster care because the majority of the children in the system develop varies psychological impairments; which include dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant attachment towards those that want to provide the proper care and affection. In order to be a foster parent at the practicum site, individuals are required to complete eight training courses on how to recognize and handle these behaviors. It is strongly advised to potential foster parents that the children in the system have experienced trauma, abuse, and neglect and have grown accustomed to this unfortunately lifestyle because of their biological parents/former parental guardians before foster care placement. Most of the children understand their foster parents are welcoming them into their homes, wanting to provide them what very child should have, which is a loving and nurturing family. But foster parents have to realize that this positive reinforcement can be unwanted or scary to foster children. Foster parents often despair over the lack of information about the past experience of the children in their care, particularly with children who have experienced infant trauma and neglect (Brown, 2015). Trainings are given to the foster parents on how to respond to a foster child in their care and to be understandable of their reactions and behavior in regard to their care.
This paper identified what psychological theories apply to foster care. These attachment theories are “dismissive-avoidant” and “fearful-avoidant.” This paper also provided the description of both theories and how they are applied with foster care. The children in the foster care system share how common foster children display these symptoms when placed with a foster family. The background of the children is similar and it presents how there are significant reasons why foster children express themselves in this way. This paper provided information on how both attachment theories imply majority of foster children’s mentality and behaviors that will provide an understanding to potential foster families.
- Brown, J. M. (2015). Therapeutic moments are the key: foster children give clues to their past experience of infant trauma and neglect. Journal of Family Therapy, 37(3), 286–307. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6427.2012.00606.x
- Catlett, J. (2018). Avoidant Attachment: Understanding Insecure Avoidant Attachment. Retrieved June 2, 2019, from https://www.psychalive.org/anxious-avoidant-attachment/
- DeVolld, R. L., & Rickman, M. A. (2014). Attachment, Fostering Parenting and Placement Stability. Retrieved June 2, 2019, from http://scholarworks.lib.csusb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1031&context=etd
- Hughes, D. (2017). Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP): An Attachment-focused Family Treatment for Developmental Trauma. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 38(4), 595–605. https://doi.org/10.1002/anzf.1273
Shea, S. (2015). Finding Parallels: The Experiences of Clinical Social Workers Providing
Attachment-Based Treatment to Children in Foster Care. Clinical Social Work
Journal, 43(1), 62–76. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-014-0488-z
Turner, L. (2008). Attachment style of children in foster care and its … Retrieved June 2, 2019,
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