WELCOME TO TRAUMA BASED PARENTING
I'm on a mission to change the child welfare system.
Here's how I'm doing it.
1. Educating foster and adoptive parents on the impacts of early trauma.
2. Offering foster and adoptive parents hope on their journey.
3. Creating a community that acknowledges trauma and works to bring healing.
4. Speaking out about the impacts of the foster care narrative (foster child need to be rescued, foster parents are the heroes, biological family is the villain).
5. Launching a non-profit called Famally.
What is Trauma Based Parenting?
It All Starts With Loss.
On January 30th, 2012 we opened our door for the first time ever to a foster child and her foster care worker. It was our first foster placement and we were equal parts scared and excited. We welcomed her into our home and into our hearts and thus began our foster parent, adoptive parent journey. Since that day, we’ve welcomed eleven other children into our home. Adopting two of those children who called our house their home.
Our first foster children was a thirteen year old girl. She had been adopted by her parents when she was eighteen months. They were struggling to parent her and so they asked for her to be placed back with Children’s Aid Society for a short term placement to access supports. She moved in on my birthday. The placement was full of challenges, but also of moments of joy. She was the placement that made me a mother.
Our second foster child was a nine year old boy. He moved in to our house in a flurry. The foster placement he was living at broke down when he and another boy tried to run away in the middle night. Unfortunately they couldn’t start the van, so they spent the night eating oreos and camped out in the van in the garage. He lived with us for a long while before moving on and eventually being adopted.
Our third and fourth foster kids were our forever kids. They moved in while we still had foster child number two, and then foster child number one moved back in with us for a short period as well. They came at a young age, but having many hurts already. We were supposed to have a series of overnight visits, but at the first overnight visit, they asked us to take them permanently from that day on.
Our fifth foster child placement was a little boy who desperately missed his mom and brothers. I spent every night rocking him to sleep as he cried and cried. No one was able to take all three boys, so him and his two brothers were placed in separate foster homes until they could safely return to their mama’s house. He only stayed with us for about three weeks.
Our sixth and seventh foster children were brothers. Little babies who needed love and care. Sweet, sweet little babies who I rocked to sleep and cried many, many tears when they went home to their mama. They were our youngest placement and my kids loved them dearly. The oldest was special needs, which I always thought I wouldn’t do as a placement, but fell so madly in love with his little life.
Our eighth placement was hard. We should have asked more questions before we jumped in, but the call came and we headed out to the hospital to pick her up. She was going through chemotherapy for leukaemia and the expectations of our family were really hard. She lived with us until she got a clean bill of health and could return to live with her dad and sisters. She missed them dearly. She was brave and a fighter but missed her family.
Our ninth placement was another thirteen year old girl. This one was hard. When they called to see if we would accept placement, I was recovering from surgery, so the timing wasn’t right. They begged us to consider and so my husband reluctantly agreed to a weekend respite to meet her and make a decision about placement after the weekend. She moved in that weekend and stayed a year and a half until it eventually broke down. Her and I made a good connection in the beginning, but ultimately her distrust of adults ran deep and our forever babies didn’t feel safe with her living in the house.
Our tenth placement was a sweet boy that we hoped to adopt. We jumped in with both feet. And then his sister needed a place to land too. So she became our eleventh placement. Unfortunately the agency didn’t fill us in on their sibling relationship and it was not a healthy one. Her presence caused his behaviour to escalate. We held on, hoping and praying that things would change. When both of our kids told us that they didn’t feel safe in the house and our baby began being fearful when he entered the room, we had to end the placement of both kids.
Eleven placements. Eleven children ranging in age from a year to thirteen years. The reasons they came into care were different. The places they were coming from before coming into care were different. Foster breakdowns. Hospitals. Homeless shelters. Adoption breakdown.
Totally different stories.
One common theme.
They all experienced devastating loss.
Loss of biological family.
Loss of familiarity.
And yet, so often our foster parent training and adoptive parent training doesn’t equip parents on how to handle this overwhelming loss.
"Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.” Rev. Kevin C. Griffith
We expect these kids to come into care and just feel gratitude. After all, they have “been saved.” They are often leaving a situation that we as adults think is unhealthy for them.
They may be leaving abuse.
They may be leaving neglect.
They may be leaving unhealthy relationships.
And we’re going to give them love and safety. So we expect them to be happy and to feel gratitude. But the truth is to them, for them this is a monumental loss. Which is often followed by so many additional losses.
Often up until the point of removal, these kids don’t know that anything is wrong with their lives. This is normal to them. They think this is how all families act.
They may have seen glimpses of different families. But until that moment in time, this is their family. And this is what they know.
As foster parents and adoptive parents, have we ever stopped and spent time thinking of the massive loss our children have had to endure to come into care, to be adopted?
Do we really spend time understanding just all they have gone through to get to this point? To arrive at your doorstep with their belongings in bags unsure of what awaits them on the other side of the door.
If we can recognize the loss that has occurred, if we can see their behaviours as a direct result of that loss, maybe we can change our lens. Maybe we can change the outcome of a child’s life. We can connect with them and help them to begin from their losses.
Maybe, just maybe we can learn to parent with a trauma base.