separation, grief and loss of children in foster care

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Kimberly Keith, MEd, LPCAcademic Partnerships for Public Child WelfareDepartment of Behavioral & Social SciencesSouthern Arkansas UniversityMagnolia, Arkansas

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Grief and Loss of Children in Foster Care

Grief and Loss of Children in Foster CareEvery child removed from home grieves that loss, no matter how superior the foster care placement may be. (Wallace, 2003)

7Individual Exercise HandoutBefore we startAs we go through the developmental stages, think of a child you know in each age range who is showing these or other expressions of grief. On the Individual Exercise Handout, list the behaviors the child is showing. (Dont put the childrens names; just keep them in mind.)As we go through the lesson on helping the grieving child in foster care, think of what might be done to support and encourage the child during separation, grief, and loss? List on the Individual Exercise Handout. What We Know about the Grief of Children in Foster CareThe grief of children in foster care is different from a child who loses a parent to death.The level and type of grieving in foster children depends on many factors.Grief in foster children is complicated and proceeds in both linear and circular patterns.The way grief is expressed and coped with depends on the childs developmental level.How to Help the Grieving Child in Foster CareThe salvation for foster children is in learning to take the energy from their grief and trauma and focus it on something positive, like school, positive play, and relationships with friends anything that is positive for that child. (Anderson, 2000 in Wallace, 2003)

Infants and ToddlersCrying loudly, mournful crying, Withdrawal, apathySleeping and eating problems (too much, too little)Needing to be heldSeparation anxietyRegressionIrritability and temper tantrumsRocking back and forthHead banging

How Infants & Toddlers May Express GriefInfants and ToddlersProvide lots of physical contact and nurturingProvide a consistent routineProvide concrete rules and limitsExplain what has happened in very simple termsMake time for playLet the child have things from home (blanket, stuffed toy) to provide a sense of securityHow to Help the Grieving Infant or Toddler

PreschoolersBedwettingThumb suckingClinging to foster parentsExaggerated fearsExcessive cryingTemper tantrumsRegressionStubbornnessHow Preschoolers May Express Grief

PreschoolersAnswer the childs question honestly; allow them to talk about the parent and how things were at home; help them share their fears and worries.Provide simple routines Give the child affection and nurturing; attempt to connect with themProvide opportunities for playBe patient with regressive behaviors such as thumb suckingKeep them focused on their immediate environment and activities.Let them know where you are going and when you will be back.How to Help the Grieving Preschooler

Elementary-School AgeSchool and learning problemsPreoccupation with the loss of parents and related worries; trouble paying attentionBedwettingEating and sleeping problems (overeating, refusing to eat, nightmares, sleepiness)DaydreamingFighting, angerHow Elementary-Age Children May Express Grief

Elementary-School AgeKeep tasks simple. Explain things before they experience them court, new school or church, foster family outings and traditions.Provide a structured environment that is predictable and consistent. Limit choices. Introduce small, manageable choices over time.Contain acting out behavior. Push them to express their wants, needs, and feelings with words, not by acting out.Encourage them to let you know when they are worried or having a difficult time.

How to Help the Grieving Elementary-Age Child

Pre-Teens and TeensPhysical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, sleeping and eating disorders, hypochondria)Wide mood swingsVerbally expresses emotions but also needs physical outletsFeelings of helplessness and hopelessnessIncrease in risk-taking and self-destructive behaviorsAnger, aggression, fighting, resistance, oppositional behaviorWithdrawal from adults, increased time with friends Depression, sadnessLack of concentration and attentionIdentity confusion; testing limits

How Pre-Teens and Teens May Express Grief

Pre-Teens and TeensAccept that they will experience mood swings and physical symptoms.Encourage them to honestly recognize their painful feelings and find positive outlets in physical and creative activities. Listen for the feelings behind their words and actions and respond with empathy.Be truthful and factual in explaining their circumstances.Help them develop and maintain their sense of identity.Allow teens to make choices that are not harmful. Encourage safe expressions and experiences of freedom and independence.How to Help Grieving Pre-Teens and Teens

Ways to Support and Encourage a Grieving ChildGive children affection and nurturing. Infants through preschoolers need physical contact for a sense of security. Affection and attachment with older children takes time, but is still just as important.Be empathetic to the emotions that children express directly and indirectly through acting out or withdrawal. Learn to recognize the emotion behind the words or actions and acknowledge it.Maintain an atmosphere of openness to verbal expression of feelings, but not allowing bad or harmful behavior to self or others in the expression of those feelings.Be alert to expressions of grief and use listening skills to help children talk about what is on their mind. It doesnt hurt to ask children questions about how they did things at their house or about memories of family events, both good and bad. Encourage them to let you know when they are having a hard time.Ways to Support and Encourage a Grieving ChildBe truthful and factual in explaining the situation. This helps a child feel more in control.Crying really does help. Children need a safe place to talk about their losses and grief. All children who are removed from a parent should receive therapeutic counseling services as often as possible.Use planning, structure, and clear limits to help children who have been traumatized to stay in control. This will also help to contain acting-out behaviors associated with the avoidance of painful emotions in grieving.Keep the childs tasks simple. Dont offer too many choices. Explain things before they experience them court, new school or church, foster family outings and traditions.Encourage children to find positive outlets for the emotional energy that accompanies grief through playtime, physical activities, and creative activities.Ways to Support and Encourage a Grieving ChildAddress the physical and medical needs of the child and encourage healthy habits of proper rest, nutrition, and grooming. Seek extra help for the child in their schoolwork, such as after-school tutoring, to help remediate academic delays that are common in grieving and traumatized children.Help children develop a survivor identity rather than victim. Help them recognize their strengths and call attention to the positive steps they take in coping with their losses.SourcesDevelopmental Issues of Grieving Children and How to Help by Dr. Sheri SiegelThe Grieving Child in Care Factsheet by Sheri WallaceChildren: Grief and Loss in Foster Care by Holly MartinacA Childs Journey through Placement by Dr. Vera FahlbergHelping the Grieving Student: A Guide for Teachers from the Doughy CenterHelping Children Cope with Death from the Doughy CenterHow Do We Tell the Children? by Dan Schaeffer and Christine LyonsThe Grieving Child by Helen Fitzgerald