Foster parent Karen Grundy says her family couldn’t have coped with a troubled youngster without specialist therapy aimed at helping children whose traumatic experiences make it hard to trust anyone.
She said: “The support we received was excellent. It made a massive difference to what we were trying to do. We wouldn’t have been able to continue fostering without it.”
Karen and her family foster in Derbyshire and have been working with the Chrysalis Consortium. They specialise in a system called Theraplay, which aims to get youngsters who have suffered severe abuse, neglect or other trauma to build a bond with their carers.
Chrysalis are now setting up their own foster care service in Sheffield, using Theraplay principles, which they say can help any child who has to be parted from their birth family, even if they haven’t been badly treated.
Karen said: “Most of the children that are in care have some sort of issue, which is the reason we went. A child we were looking after had severe attachment issues.
“We had to learn how they helped the child and for us to manage the child with those issues and help them come through what had happened.
“These children don’t trust anyone and they are not going to believe that a new person is going to look after them. They are very self-reliant.”
Karen said that only someone who has lived with a child with attachment problems can imagine what it is like. If a youngster has a problem, they won’t come to anyone else and they rarely show emotion at the time.
“They can fall over and seriously hurt themselves and they will just pick themselves up. You want to cuddle them and help make them feel better but you can’t.”
The children become closed off because in their past no-one could or would provide the care that they needed, so they don’t believe anyone ever will, Karen said. For many youngsters, it’s a lesson they begin to learn as babies.
She said: “It was like living with a cardboard cut-out. They showed no emotion.”
Some children also have challenging behaviour and will be defiant, aggressive or violent or will self-harm.
Karen added: “These kids are so scared, so frightened, so damaged and so vulnerable that they don’t live in the same society we live in. You have to realise their lives are different.”
By working with Chrysalis, she began to learn how to recognise how the child did express themselves and to empathise with them to show the child that someone did care about them, to gradually build up trust.
The whole family went to sessions with the Chrysalis team and used Theraplay games to show the children that they could have fun in a safe environment.
They still go to a support group and Karen says it is a big relief when someone else understands what your family is going through.
She added that the youngsters find quite strict rules and boundaries really help them, which can sometimes look alarming to people who don’t know a child’s background. She said she has often been challenged by strangers.
That’s another way that the support group really helps families because other carers have found the same.
It’s been a long haul but Karen said it’s been important to realise that no-one can wave a magic wand and make serious traumas go away.
She said: “We made lots and lots and small progress over quite a long period of time. I look at where we started and how far we’ve moved on and made a difference to an individual that without it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
CHILDREN’S charity KIDS has launched an eLearning package for parents and carers of disabled children, aimed at explaining the key points about personal care budgets.
KIDS has developed the package as part of its Making it Personal project as personal care budgets are introduced for young people, to help families understand the effects it might have. Instead of providing free services for young people, the government has moved to giving young disabled people budgets so that they can buy the social care that they need.
To access the free eLearning package, create an account by going to http://elearning.kids.org.uk/login/index.php
The eLearning package is intended as a simple guide to some of the information presented in its handbook, Taking a Personal Approach: A Parent’s Guide to Personal Budgets.
The handbook was produced earlier this year for parents and carers about personal budgets and how government changes may affect them.
The Parent’s Handbook is still freely available in long and short versions as a download from the KIDS website. Go to www.kids.org.uk/information/
KIDS has also pioneered a range of approaches for working with disabled children including Portage (home learning), Direct Short Breaks and England’s first inclusive adventure playground.