Providing care and support for children in the foster care system is challenging work! Secondary traumatic stress is a real condition that occurs when people who did not directly experience the traumatic event empathize and internalize it as if they had. As parents listen to their children’s’ stories and navigate behaviors that are sometimes destructive, it takes an emotional, physical and spiritual toll on foster families and those involved with the families.
As Dr. Rachel Remen described, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”
There are several indications that one might be experiencing secondary traumatic stress:
Severe sadness, anger and/or anxiety
- Feeling isolated and detached from loved ones
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent fatigue
- Physical illness or pain
Addressing Secondary TraumaWhen you see these indications, there are several ways to address secondary trauma:
- Connect with Others. Connecting with others is the best way to combat feeling alone and overwhelmed. In addition to professional help, foster/adoptive support groups can be beneficial to validate traumatic experiences. By providing child care or helpful counseling resources Support Team Members can help alleviate barriers to seeking services.
- Establish Plans For Self-Care. Determine what coping skills and hobbies have been helpful in the past and re-implement them into a daily routine! Support Team Members and respite caregivers can provide activities and care for children in order to promote rest & self-care.
- Take Parent Out For a Special Day. Plan a day or afternoon with activities that might be a blessing for one of the parents. Perhaps a spa day, hike or fishing trip would provide them a mental and physical break from the pressures of caring for a child. Support Team Members could take turns treating both mom and dad to a day out to spend with caring team members.
- Meet Them Where They’re At. Families are in need of community that is not focused on cheering them up or expecting them to be “pulled together” all the time. Allowing them to speak honestly allows them to purge the things they cannot express around their children. Encouraging words can be appropriate as long as they do not tell the parent what they “should” be doing differently or minimizing their thoughts or feelings.
- Pray For Hope. “Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.” (Psalm 119:116) Through Christ alone we can have hope in this world because He has overcome and is sufficient when we are lacking.