According to research, many children are affected by separation anxiety disorder from a very young age. The reason for this is that when they grow up and become toddlers, they realise very quickly how much they depend on their parents or guardians. For this reason, they can feel anxious when they are not around these people or left to be cared for by strangers or people they don’t know particularly well.
However, unlike children who grow up with their biological parents or the same parents from birth, children who are removed from their home and, as a result, their birth parents can experience separation anxiety and carry it with them into early adulthood.
This is usually as a result of being passed between multiple homes, which causes them to feel unstable and unable to trust very easily. Foster child separation anxiety occurs typically when a child longs for their home, but they cannot return to it for safeguarding reasons. Foster children can have extremely complex relationships with their birth parents, which, oddly enough, can make the separation anxiety even worse and very difficult to deal with while they are in care.
What is important to know is that separation anxiety is very real and should be handled with caution, love, and consideration – it is not likely to go away overnight, so you will need to be patient and work closely with your foster child as they navigate these emotions.
How to handle your foster child’s separation anxiety?
Your foster child is going to be feeling extremely vulnerable, so it is important they are made to feel as welcomed and as comfortable as possible. For that reason, it is important you do all you can to help manage the symptoms of separation anxiety, to make sure your child feels both safe and secure while in your care:
Your foster child has potentially been through a lot throughout their life and will have probably experienced being let down more than children outside of the care system. For this reason, building trust is an essential part of being a foster parent. When a child feels as though they can trust their caregiver, the separation anxiety they may have felt is likely to become less distressing for everyone involved. Ensuring your home feels safe and welcoming for your foster child to feel part of your family will help massively with foster child separation anxiety.
Voice the problem to relevant people in their lives
Once you have established that your foster child is experiencing separation anxiety, it is important to let all the relevant people know. Teachers, social workers and, where appropriate, birth parents should all be made aware that the child is suffering from separation anxiety.
By doing this, you are not only letting everyone know, so they can take the right precautions around the child, but you are also allowing for the child to speak up about their problems. As we have mentioned, foster children will have gone through a lot already and, in some cases, they may not have had a chance to be children at all. By opening up the conversation to relevant adults in their life means the child may feel more able to vocalise how they are feeling, without having to fully explain themselves.
Develop a sincere bond
Quite often, children are unaware as to why they have been taken into care and may see you as a threat to their birth family; this is completely normal. Children can get very defensive of their birth parents and may see you as somebody who has taken them away with little to no reason. Due to this, it is vital that you find the time and make the effort to build a bond with your foster child. By doing this, you are showing them that they are in a safe environment, and you only have their best interest at heart, resulting in the symptoms of separation anxiety being reduced.
Dealing with something as complex as separation anxiety can put a huge strain on you, your family, and your foster children. For this reason, it is important that you talk to professionals if you are feeling overwhelmed by it all. Remember to never feel guilty if you are beginning to feel upset or helpless, what you are doing is challenging, but incredibly rewarding.
To find out more about the support Compass Fostering offers to foster carers, please get in touch and our friendly team will answer any questions you might have. No question is too big or too small for our team, so never feel as though you cannot ask.