*This article is re-published from AdoptUSKids, a national resource on adoption and foster care. You can view the original article here.*
All children in foster care have been exposed to some form of trauma. The very act of being put in foster care is traumatic for children, because it means the loss of their birth family and often friends, schoolmates, teachers, and everything that is familiar.
But many children in foster care have experienced more than one form of trauma or repeated trauma, the lasting effects of which should be acknowledged and understood by families considering foster care and adoption.
What is trauma?
Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope and interfere with daily life and their ability to function and interact with others.
The type of trauma experienced by children in foster care can vary widely from neglect to domestic violence to physical and sexual abuse.
How does trauma affect children?
Trauma can affect children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. Ongoing trauma often disrupts children’s sense of security, safety, and sense of themselves and alters the way they see and respond to people and situations in their lives. Approximately one in four children in foster care will show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children who have experienced trauma—especially ongoing trauma—may have developed unhealthy habits and behaviors, including increased aggression and distrusting or disobeying adults. These behaviors may have helped protect the children from neglect or abuse in the past and may be strongly rooted. It will take time, patience, and often therapeutic support to address and overcome them.
A recent and growing body of research into children’s brain development is shedding new light on the ways that maltreatment changes the structure and chemical activity of the brain and the resulting emotional and behavioral functioning of the child. Research is shifting the way that professionals view and treat children who have experienced trauma by providing biological explanations for what had traditionally been described in psychological, emotional, and behavioral terms.