Talking to children about death can be a difficult task. Many parents and caregivers struggle to know where to start, concerned about how their child will react.
You might think it easier to avoid the topic of death with your child completely. However, this often causes more confusion and anxiety for them in the long run.
In fact, talking openly with children about death can make them feel more supported and secure, aiding them in managing their grief and understanding difficult emotions.
Keep reading to learn how you can talk to your children about death in a sensitive and supportive way, without increasing any feelings of anxiety or worry.
Be Honest and Direct
It’s difficult to judge how a child will react to death. Every child is unique, and death will mean something different to them depending on a range of factors.
Children’s understanding of death primarily depends on their level of development, meaning children react differently to death depending on their age. Children as young as 0-2 years old experience feelings of pain and loss, while between the ages of 5-8, most children demonstrate an understanding of death and the fact that it is irreversible.
Often, parents and caregivers opt for gentler phrases or euphemisms to describe death, in an effort to protect their child’s feelings. Phrases like ‘gone to sleep’, ‘in a better place’, or ‘gone away’ may sound less scary, but they often scare children more by confusing them.
Instead, try to be as honest and direct as possible with your child – all while being mindful of their level of development. Use plain language to explain the death, without over complicating details or offering more information than they can understand.
Encourage Them to Explore Their Feelings
When it comes to coping with loss, it’s important that children are given plenty of opportunities to express their feelings. Don’t dismiss their feelings by telling them not to worry or be sad.
Talking about how they are feeling will help your child process grief in a healthy manner, helping to prevent the development of mental health issues like depression, or anxiety. You may find that your child shows curiosity about death and wants to ask you some questions.
Depending on their age, your child may also need some extra help understanding their emotions. Fortunately, there are lots of grief activities for kids that can help children better understand and manage their emotions.
One activity that might be useful is naming their emotions. Encouraging your child to name their emotions out loud – such as sadness, anger, or confusion – will help them to recognise each feeling and identify possible causes.
Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your Feelings
Sometimes, we feel like we must be ‘strong’ for our children – meaning we shouldn’t show them our true emotions. However, when it comes to grief, this isn’t always a good idea.
Children will often imitate their parents or caregivers when it comes to dealing with grief. So, while hiding your feelings might feel like the right thing to do, sharing them with your child can actually be beneficial for them.
Expressing your own sadness lets your child know that it is okay to feel that way, reassuring them that their feelings of sadness or pain are valid. Showing your feelings might also help them feel less alone, as well as encouraging them to be more open about their feelings in return.
It’s not uncommon for children to feel like they are to blame for the person’s death. Many children will still be in the process of understanding what death is and may feel partly or wholly responsible for the death, even when it wasn’t their fault.
Some children might feel that the person died as a result of something they said or did. It’s important to reassure your child that they had nothing to do with the person’s death.
They may benefit from having the cause of death explained to them in simple language, to help them understand they are not to blame. For example, if the person died of a heart attack, explaining that their heart stopped working will help to alleviate feelings of guilt or blame.
Be Patient with Them
Children react to death in different ways to adults. You may notice that your child’s emotions become difficult to predict, and that they are more anxious or worried than usual.
They may abruptly switch between crying and playing or become angry without a clear cause. Sometimes, some children appear to regress and display behaviour that is younger than their age as a coping mechanism.
These shifts in emotions can be distressing for parents and caregivers to witness. At times, they can also be misleading. You may think that your child has finished grieving, or is coping well, because they appear happy. However, this is not always the case.
Coming to terms with death and dealing with grief takes time. Sticking to routines can help children feel secure and comforted, which may ease the grieving process. Above all else, be patient with your child, and make sure they know you are there to support them, no matter how long it takes.
Know When to Reach Out
Supporting a bereaved child can be a difficult and challenging process; especially if you are also dealing with grief yourself.
If at any point you feel unable to cope, it’s important to reach out to get the help you and your child need. If you’re need of some support, get in touch with family or friends or contact a bereavement support service like Cruse Bereavement Support (0808 808 1677) or Barnardo’s Child Bereavement Service (028 9066 8333).
If your child’s loved one is unwell or suffering from an illness like cancer, there is plenty of information and resources available that look at how you can support children when their loved one has cancer.
When you join the Compass Fostering family, you’re never alone. We offer extensive and ongoing support to help carers deal with many difficult issues that can arise when looking after a foster child. Get in touch to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Compass Fostering.
Being in foster care is difficult for any child, but it can be even more challenging for young people that are LGBT in foster care.
It is widely recognised that the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by mental health issues and higher rates of suicide. Sadly, many young people report feeling the need to hide their gender identity or sexual orientation in their foster homes.
That’s why foster carers must have adequate knowledge and understanding when fostering LGBT youth. Foster carers that are open and accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities can have a transformative impact on LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. Foster care offers LGBT+ young people in care the secure base that they need to manage stigma and other challenges associated with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.
Foster carers described the importance of offering LGBTQ young people not only the nurturing relationships that all children in care need but also availability, sensitivity and acceptance to help young people manage stigma and other challenges associated with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.
To help, we’ve put together a guide for those who foster LGBT+ youth. This guide will cover things like gender pronouns, gender and sex distinctions, different sexual orientations – and some general tips to help you create a supportive and inclusive environment for your foster child.
How Many LGBT+ Youth Are in Care?
LGBT+ youth are overrepresented in foster care – while they represent an estimated 4.4% of the general population in the UK, the number in foster care is much higher.
Many factors contribute to this discrepancy. LGBT+ youth are more likely to be forced from their homes because of conflicts over sexual orientation or gender identity – in the US, it’s estimated that 26% of youth in foster care have had to leave their homes for this reason.
They are also more likely to be subject to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from family members (a staggering 30%), and to experience homelessness as a result of their sexual orientation (43% of homeless LGBT+ youth in the US are sleeping rough as their family does not accept them).
The Difference Between Gender & Sex
Gender identity and assigned sex do not have to correlate. People often use these terms interchangeably when, in reality, they represent different things and should be distinguished from one another.
Sex refers to the physical differences between people who are male, female and intersex. A person’s sex is usually assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, such as genitalia or chromosomes.
In contrast, gender is a social construct. It refers to the role that each sex plays in society, shaping how people behave and present themselves. People may identify with a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Some people do not identify with any gender and are ‘gender-neutral.’
Only an individual can discern what gender they identify with, and this may also change over time.
The Importance of Gender Pronouns
Gender pronouns are the terms that individuals choose to refer to themselves as. These gender pronouns reflect their gender identity – how a person feels about their gender.
Pronouns are usually assumed based on a person’s assigned sex or other perceptions of physical appearance. However, for many people, their appearance or assigned sex may not align with their personal experience of gender.
Depending on their gender identity, people may use different pronouns. Different pronouns that people use include he/him, she/her, or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them.
LGBT+ youth may identify with different gender pronouns. It’s important that foster carers know and use their young person’s gender pronouns properly; this can reduce the odds of depression and suicide in LGBT+ young people. Being misgendered or misnamed may make your young person feel invalidated and disrespected.
Understanding Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation refers to who people are sexually attracted to, or who they choose to be in relationships with. Sexual orientation is not a fixed characteristic; it can change over time as a person develops.
Some labels that people use to describe their sexual orientation include:
- Heterosexual (experiencing attraction to people of the opposite gender)
- Gay/Lesbian (experiencing attraction to members of the same gender)
- Bisexual (experiencing attraction to members of both your own gender and to people with genders that are different from your own)
- Asexual (experiencing little or no attraction to others at all)
- Pansexual (experiencing attraction for all members of all gender identities and expressions)
Unfortunately, despite progress in recent years, many people are still discriminated against in the UK as a result of their sexual orientation. When considering how to foster LGBT+ youth, young people must be never made to feel ashamed of their sexual orientation.
Supporting LGBT+ Youth in Foster Care
You can support your foster child in finding their path safely – no matter what it may be – by taking the following steps.
- Don’t make assumptions. Young people may still be figuring out who they are, so create a safe and open environment for them to discover their identity.
- Avoid pushing gender stereotypes. Let your foster child explore their interests without labels.
- Make information easily available. Your foster child may be more comfortable accessing resources independently to start, so having information around the home can make it easier for them to take the first steps on their own. It’s also a great way to promote acceptance and inclusion amongst children who aren’t LGBT+.
- Celebrate differences of all kinds and challenge any homophobic language or behaviours you encounter. This will show your foster child that you accept them as they are (even if they haven’t quite figured out who that is yet).
- Be patient. Coming out is a lifelong process and every child will handle it differently. Allow your foster child to come to you when they’re ready to talk.
Resources For LGBT+ Foster Children and Foster Carers
There are many charities and organisations in the UK dedicated to supporting the LGBT+ community. Some that are particularly great for foster children and their families include:
- LGBT+ Youth in Care has valuable information for LGBT+ youth and foster carers alike.
- Mosaic Trust offers many resources for LGBT+ youth, including youth clubs and mentoring.
- Albert Kennedy Trust supports LGBT+ youth aged 16-25 who are living in crisis.
- The Proud Trust provides support groups, training for schools and other great resources for LGBT+ youth.
Compass Fostering is also paired with New Family Social, a UK based charity led by LGBTQ+ adopters and foster cares. New Family Social provide support, training, and guidance for LGBTQ+ foster carers and social workers that is free to access.
We make it our mission to support diversity and create inclusive environments for all foster children and foster carers. We welcome LGBT foster parents and offer support for foster families that includes training on how to talk to young people about LGBT+ issues.
You could change the life of an LGBT+ child by providing a safe and welcoming foster home. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch with our team today.
This is a publish article by our Head of Therapeutic Services, Michelle Newman-Brown. Michelle has been dedicated to work within the Therapeutic Care Sector for over 30 years, beginning as a Residential Support Worker.
As a Tavistock, MSc qualified Systemic Psychotherapist with an MA is SW and Diploma in Therapeutic Play she now promotes the importance of understanding the links between Attachment, Developmental trauma, Belonging and Trust. With this understanding, Michelle believes passionately that all children are able to heal and flourish from their negative experiences.
Therapeutic thinking and understanding is central to the ethos of Compass, which is why we do not simply provide therapy for the child but an on-going wrap-around service to ensure they progress successfully on their therapeutic journey.
The work that Michelle and her wider team do is incredibly important. The therapy provisions our children and young people receive is individualised for them. Read below how Michelle managed to create a therapeutic analogy with Harry about his anger.
Playing with words is one of my favourite pastimes! Some people like Monopoly and others like Lego but I like words! They’re free and easy to store; you can keep acquiring more, adapting, adding, moving, reconnecting, bending, and moulding, so this ‘word playing’ could catch on with even more people.
Sometimes I feel I am the luckiest therapist because I see a young man on a weekly basis who enjoys playing with words as much as I do. We have managed to explore and develop a significant level of change in his world as a result of this talking playfulness. Even in writing this, I am wondering about his descriptions of word play!
Henry is a chosen pseudonym for a nearly-fifteen-year-old, white, English boy who has been living in a therapeutic care home for several years. Unlike many young people in care, he does not want to move into foster care and does not yearn to return home. As a result, he is not riddled in quite the same way with the complicated emotions of permanent effort to prove to professionals he is worthy of ‘progress’.
Instead, he can concentrate fully on choices he wants to make and how he feels in the here-and- now as well as to think about and discuss his experiences in his past.
It has been through discussion about this past that we have been able to become very playful with our language. It is difficult to say now how our use of metaphors or analogies began, as there is an experience of rolling between them together in a seamless and effortless manner, a genuine evolution of therapist and client co-construction at work.
The one I am presenting today is our discussion over time about his ‘cupboard of anger’.
‘Cupboard of anger’
Henry had been talking about how he has had so many experiences throughout his life that have contributed to strong feelings of anger and acknowledged a sense of pride that he has predominantly managed them well. However, every so often, traumatic memories resurface and, as his relationship with them intensifies, he feels heightened levels of anger about them.
He recently explained to me he now believes he has not resolved his anger but, because he rarely vents it, he is frightened he has the potential for it to erupt, resulting in him being so violent he would end up killing someone.
Having listened to the language Henry used, such as “not losing”, “letting go” and “storing” his various memories that increase his anger, I began discussing this as a “store of anger”. When working with young people, one strategy I employ with them is to try to identify which episode in their wealth of traumatic experiences particularly stands out; which one resurfaces the most to try and formulate some hierarchy and to begin work with some specifics to reduce the overwhelming feelings that trauma and abuse can invoke.
However, when we attempted to talk about Henry’s experiences, he could not identify any as the least or most difficult. He just maintained there were so many things in his ‘anger store’ that they had all interconnected. He was clear that, whilst he was able to name many episodes of abuse, neglect, sadness, and abandonment, talking in depth about any of the memories was painfully difficult.
This created a contradiction for Henry who ordinarily was highly articulate and had a desire to free himself from feeling angry about so much and so many people and yet facing the events through his usual means of direct discussion was leading him to feel highly vulnerable.
Below are some of the repeating narratives Henry returned to but found intolerable to elaborate on, as he feared the outcome of his angst.
“My mum went out and my dad shut me out in the rain. I remember trying to crawl in through the cat flap.”
“My dad didn’t care who he hurt as long as he had his drink.”
“I used to think it was funny that I ran out the house down the road in my nappy and people had to take me home. Now I just want to know why my dad didn’t know I was gone.”
“A lady found me once in the street and took me to the wrong school ‘cos I had an old school uniform jumper on. No one knew what to do with me or where I was from.”
”I can’t get over that I was the only one in my family who didn’t know we were going into care.”
“I can remember the social worker asking me what pizza I wanted; like that was gonna make it OK that I left my mum and was waiting in some room to be split up from my brothers and sister.”
“My mum was allowed to choose one of us to go back home. It wasn’t me.”
We began talking about his memory being like a kitchen cupboard that has been filled with many jars, tins and sauces, each one representing a component of his anger.
I suggested we just open the door and take one sauce out at a time. In this way, we could look at the sauce, see how old it was, whether there was still a use for it, whether it could be thrown away or stored elsewhere. Sometimes, we do not realise we have food in our cupboards we no longer want or have a need for. It sits on a shelf, impacting negatively on the space and organisation, out of date and unwanted.
However, Henry was initially dubious. He was concerned he was so saturated with anger that there was the potential for the bottles to tumble out if we opened the cupboard too wide; so we tentatively imagined us opening it a small amount and peering in. I repeatedly told him we were opening it together and I could support the door and catch anything that fell out.
Identifying the ketchup
I was excited by this approach! In my thought processing, Henry could approach individual issues and discuss them in a more playful and less intense manner.
Likening ketchup to his anger about physical abuse he experienced from his father he told me that, if he opened the cupboard, the biggest thing to fall would be the ketchup. He believed it might spill everywhere, ruining and damaging everything around. He thought that perhaps this ketchup was the largest bottle possible and there was more than one in the cupboard because extra had been repurchased over the years.
Henry was able to work within the metaphor of ketchup representing all the negative experiences he remembered about his dad. We explored how he could physically hold the ketchup, when he thought he would be able to not only take a bottle out of his ‘cupboard of anger’ but also control how much he squeezed out. We anticipated in detail the dilemmas of the screw top lids in which you shake the ketchup out and at times it is harder to manage, potentially spoiling parts of a meal!
Henry grasped this concept with enthusiasm; Instead of telling me it was safer not to talk about his abusive father, he tackled the concept of the impact of his abuse in detail, multi-layering his thinking and anguish when the focus was connected to ketchup.
When people talk about therapeutic parenting, they often talk about the PACE model of parenting.
Children that have experienced trauma and instability throughout their lives often suffer from attachment issues, meaning it is difficult for them to form healthy attachments with the people around them, which can lead to various challenging behaviours.
In these situations, traditional parenting methods, like conditional parenting, can be less ineffective. In some cases, they do more bad than good for the child.
The PACE model of parenting, developed by psychologist Dan Hughes, is designed to provide a framework for caregivers whose children may require a different parenting approach. PACE parenting is especially effective for supporting children that lack secure emotional bases, meaning it is ideal for foster carers.
What is PACE?
PACE therapeutic parenting is a holistic approach to parenting that involves thinking, feeling, communicating, and behaving in a manner that cultivates feelings of safety and security for your child. More than just a technique, PACE is often described as a ‘way of being’, influencing the way you relate to your child on multiple levels.
Based on the way caregivers interact with very young infants, this style of parenting encourages parents and carers to focus on the whole of the child, not just their behaviour. PACE invites caregivers to consider the ‘inner life’ of the child as well as the external.
Its four principles of communication – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy – facilitate the building of healthy, secure attachments between caregiver and child. PACE asks caregivers to pay close attention to how different communication styles deliver different messages to their children, encouraging them to maintain a calm and measured approach.
Playfulness encourages caregivers to maintain a level of playfulness when interacting with their child. This means keeping communication fun; try using a light tone, like the one you might use when telling a story. Refraining from using a harsh tone or lecturing enables your child to maintain a sense of security, while defusing tense or difficult situations.
Adopting a playful stance doesn’t mean being funny all the time, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean making jokes when a child is sad. Rather, using a light, playful communication style when appropriate helps children to be more open.
Being playful together encourages the growth of a healthy bond, showing the child that it is okay to have fun with their caregiver, promoting a positive connection to them. It also creates a safe, engaging environment that invites closeness without asking too much of your child, signaling to them that their presence in your life is positive.
Acceptance means validating your child’s experiences and emotions, rather than trying to change or censor how they are feeling. You might not agree with their interpretation of a situation, or the way they are expressing themselves, but you accept them, nonetheless.
You can show your child it is okay to feel the way they are by actively communicating your understanding. When your child says something like ‘everyone hates me,’ you might feel like telling them that isn’t true, or they shouldn’t say things like that. However, responses like this might invalidate their experience and make them feel unheard or misunderstood.
Instead, a PACE approach would mean answering with something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry you think that everyone hates you, that must be upsetting’ or ‘I didn’t realise you felt like that, no wonder you are angry.’ These responses not only accept their emotions, but also help to reduce any feelings of shame.
Curiosity invites you to ask yourself questions about why your child is feeling or acting the way they are, without placing judgement or blame.
Ask yourself questions, like what is important in your child’s life? What are their strengths? How can you bring out the best in them? Approaching your child with an air of curiosity means wondering about the experience of your child and using this to better your understanding of them.
When a child is acting out or is expressing their emotions in a certain manner, avoid asking them questions like ‘why did you do that?’. Children often do not know why they are behaving in a certain way. They may not have the right words to express their feelings.
Instead, try approaching these situations with curiosity and the goal of understanding. A PACE parent might say something like ‘what do you think that was about?’ or ‘you seem upset, I wonder if you might be a bit tired?’. These questions help to diffuse tension, all while conveying to your child that your intensions are to understand them, not punish them.
Empathy reminds you to always approach difficult situations through your child’s eyes, whether or not they are behaving in a way you condone.
Being empathetic is not about reassuring the child or trying to make their problem’s go away. Rather, empathy means being present for your child in the moment, helping them feel less alone in their emotions, sitting with them and providing support and comfort. By feeling the same upset or distress your child is feeling, and communicating this to them, you are helping them to feel seen and understood.
With empathy, you can demonstrate to your child that they are not alone in their experiences. That, together, you will get through this. Taking an empathetic approach and feeling your child’s emotions with them will help to lay the foundation for deeper connection, enabling you to establish a more trusting relationship.
How can PACE be put into practice?
PACEful responses can often be more appropriate for resolving conflict between you and your child. In many situations, your response will vary between Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. You might also wish to use a combination of these approaches.
Below are a few examples of situations in which a PACE parenting approach might be more effective.
Peter has homework that he does not want to do. He is crawling under the table, drawing on his homework and cannot sit still in his chair. He says he can’t do it and he hates the work, his school and you.
Some typical responses might look like:
• ‘If you don’t do your homework, you can’t watch TV later.’
• ‘That’s not a nice way to speak about me or the school.’
• ‘You’re wasting time when you could be getting on with it.’
In this situation, using the PACE parenting model might help to diffuse the tension in this situation and lead to an overall better outcome.
A Playful response might sound like: ‘Wow! Look at that homework! It looks like a dog has tried to have it for dinner! Do you feel okay, Peter? You seem quite upset. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this out together.’
An Accepting response might sound like: ‘It can be really difficult when you feel like you can’t do something. Its not nice when you feel rubbish, but it’s okay to feel like that. I’m sorry that you feel like you hate the work and your school.’
A Curious response might sound like: ‘You usually enjoy doing your homework. I wonder what has changed today? Is there something else that is making this tricky? I wonder if you are feeling quite tired today. Do you think that is what’s upsetting you?’
An Empathetic response might sound like: ‘You seem to be really upset and frustrated right now. Is that right? I know how that feels, especially when you don’t want to do something. Why don’t we work through these feelings together?’
Lucy’s caregiver has organised a fun art activity for her. They have spent a long time preparing it, using her favourite colours and buying special materials. However, Lucy doesn’t want to do the activity right now, and says she thinks it looks boring and rubbish.
Some typical responses might look like:
• ‘That’s a really rude thing to say, Lucy.’
• ‘I spent a long time making you that.’
• ‘Why did you say that?’
A PACEful response might use a combination of Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy to approach this situation.
This might sound something like:
‘You usually really enjoy this kind of activity, I’m wondering if you can help me understand what is different today? You seem to be having a hard time settling down. Maybe you have something on your mind? I find it difficult to relax and switch off sometimes too. It can be hard to get excited about something when you are worried or upset or tired.’
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Being PACEful in your interactions with your child isn’t easy, and you won’t get it right all the time. When things don’t go to plan, its important to take time to reflect on what happened, what was said, and what can be done differently the next time.
It can be useful to plan ahead for certain recurring situations that you know can cause difficulty for your child, such as getting ready for school, bath time, or bed time. By considering what tasks might be challenging for you and your child, and anticipating how they might react, you can plan PACEful responses that you can use to diffuse those situations.
At Compass, we provide 24/7 support for all our carers. Our carers receive essential training that prepares them for all kinds of therapeutic parenting, including PACE. We also offer additional therapeutic care and support for our children, alongside specialised education plans that are aimed at supporting our young people and ensuring they achieve the best outcomes possible.
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.
What is Therapeutic Parenting?
When we think of traditional parenting styles, we often think of reward and punishment-based approaches. These parenting styles rely on the idea that children will increase or decrease their behaviours based on rewards and punishments.
However, for children without emotionally secure bases – such as children in foster care – these parenting styles can be less effective because they focus on regulating behaviour rather than understanding it.
The word ‘therapeutic’ is associated with the idea of healing. This notion of ‘healing’ speaks to the key ideas and principles behind therapeutic parenting. Therapeutic Parenting does not mean practising psychological therapy on your child, though.
Instead, the principles of Therapeutic Parenting are based on creating highly-nurturing, highly-structured relationships between children and their parents. These relationships combine empathy with well-defined boundaries, routines, and behavioural expectations.
Because of its healing-based approach, therapeutic parenting is an excellent tool for foster carers. A lot of foster children have experienced traumatic experiences in their life, and may suffer from varying degrees of attachment trauma, meaning they require therapeutic care.
This style of parenting allows children to creature secure attachments and begin healing, as it cultivates feelings of safety and security.
Boundaries and Routines
Establishing firm boundaries and routines is a core part of therapeutic parenting. This includes having fixed mealtimes and bedtimes, or even having a fixed seat at the dinner table.
These routines and boundaries helps children to predict their environments, enabling them to feel safe and develop a sense of security within the home setting. The consistency of routines and boundaries can be comforting, especially for children that have experienced instability throughout their lives, like foster children.
This includes minimising surprises, as surprises represent a change in the child’s routine. In young children especially, the sensation of surprise can be confused with the sensation of fear, creating a fear response.
In therapeutic parenting, reward and punishment-based approaches are replaced with more empathetic practices. Empathy refers to the ability to ‘feel’ with someone, particularly difficult emotions.
When a child is upset or distressed, an empathetic approach means their carer can feel and relate to those feelings of sadness and distress as well. By feeling what your child is feeling, and putting yourself in their shoes, you can communicate your understanding of their experience and support them through it.
This is particularly important in the building of strong, healthy connections between a parent/carer and their child.
As aforementioned, therapeutic parenting does not use punishment or rewards to mark a child’s behaviour. Instead, therapeutic parenting calls for the use of empathy-based responses to a child’s behaviour. These responses are aimed at helping children regulate their emotions, rather than making them feel anxious, isolated or abandoned.
Empathic responses include never asking a child ‘why’ they have done something, but rather commenting on the way they chose to express their feelings. You might say something like ‘that is an interesting choice you have made,’ or ‘I can see you are really struggling with this’ or ‘you seem upset, I wonder if you might be a bit tired.’
Another therapeutic parenting technique is practicing ‘time-ins’, rather than ‘time-outs.’ In a time-in scenario, rather than isolating the child for misbehaving, the child spends a period of time close to their carer, in order to ensure their safety and help them calm down.
For instance, if a child needs to leave the room because they are exhibiting strong emotions or challenging behaviour, their care giver will leave the room with them, and help them work through their feelings. This helps the child feel connected and supported with their caregiver, helping them to better grasp why their behaviour may not have been appropriate.
How can I be more therapeutic in my parenting?
Therapeutic parenting involves recognising that your child’s behaviour is communication. Your main goal should be helping them move from an emotionally dysregulated state, to a regulated one, without the use of punishment or isolation.
It can be difficult to maintain a therapeutic approach to parenting all the time, so its important to remember self-compassion. It can be tough to exercise emotional restraint sometimes, especially when your child is acting in a challenging way. However, if a caregiver can adopt a therapeutic approach to their parenting even most of the time, this will have a considerable positive impact on the development of their child, allowing them to build healthy, secure attachments.
At Compass, we encourage our carers to begin with the PACE model when adopting a therapeutic parenting style.
The PACE model, developed by psychologist Dan Hughes, is comprised of four principles of communication: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. The PACE approach provides a framework for supporting children throughout emotional and behavioural challenges.
Find out more about PACE parenting.
• Learn more about therapeutic parenting at the National Association of Therapeutic Parents
• Check out Kim S. Golding’s book ‘Everyday Parenting with Security and Love: Using PACE to Provide Foundations for Attachment’
• Beacon House has numerous online resources, including therapeutic parenting
At Compass, all our foster carers receive essential training that prepares them for therapeutic foster parenting. We also offer additional therapeutic care and support for our children, alongside specialised education plans that are aimed at supporting our young people and ensuring they achieve the best outcomes possible.
If you’d like to make a difference to the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.
Attachment is a clinical term that refers to the strong bond between a child and their primary caregiver. Children can build attachment bonds with more than one caregiver, but most often the bond with people who cared for them throughout their early infancy is the most significant bond.
These early infancy bonds are developed through attachment cycles, in which the infant has a need, and these needs are met by their carer. These attachment cycles teach infants that they can rely on their carer for safety, comfort, and security.
Children who receive responsive, sensitive caregiving during early childhood develop secure attachments to their primary caregiver. These children are comforted by their caregivers, and perceive their caregiver as a secure base, from which they can begin exploring their environment.
However, when this initial cycle of care is disrupted, children no longer feel stable or secure within their attachment bond.
Unfortunately, many children in the care system suffer from broken attachment bonds. Many of them suffer from varying degrees of attachment trauma, as the disruption or loss of attachment bonds can have profound psychological and emotional impacts on a child.
How are Attachment Bonds broken?
Attachment bonds can be broken in a variety of different ways. Certain circumstances make it more difficult for children to form healthy attachment patterns.
- Abuse, maltreatment, or trauma in child or caregiver
- Caregiver substance abuse
- Caregiver mental health difficulties
- Household stressors, such as financial troubles
- Multiple care placements or living in care
- Prolonged hospitalisation
- Neglect of child needs
- Loss or bereavement of caregiver that child had an attachment with
Even though some of these circumstances are unavoidable, the effect on a child’s psyche and development is the same. In the breaking of their attachment bonds, children learn to believe that their needs do not matter as they will not be met.
What are the warning signs of Attachment Issues?
Attachment issues or disorders, such as Reactive Attachment disorder (RAD) or Disinhibited Social Engagement disorder (DSED) can manifest in children in a variety of different ways. Issues with attachment can have an effect on a child’s behaviour and emotions.
The signs of attachment related trauma can vary with a child’s age.
Signs of attachment issues in infants include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Inconsolable crying
- Don’t reach out to be picked up
- Not smiling or laughing
- Don’t respond to efforts to comfort or calm them
- Don’t seem to notice or be bothered when left alone
Signs of attachment issues in children include:
- Problems with control
- Manipulative behaviour
- Inability to regulate their emotions
- Aversion to touch or physical affection
- Struggle to focus on tasks and instructions
- Failure to show guilt or remorse
- No fear of strangers or unfamiliar places
- Violation of social boundaries
- Unresponsive or detached
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
Looked-after children are at greater risk of developing ongoing attachment issues than the wider population. They are affected by the separation they experience when removed from their primary birth caregiver, regardless of whether their attachment to them was healthy or problematic.
What are the long-term impacts of Attachment Issues?
If a child doesn’t learn how to form healthy attachments and build positive relationships, it is likely these issues will continue throughout their life.
People that grow up with unresolved attachment trauma often find it difficult to regulate their emotions and may act rashly and impulsively. Life skills such as budgeting and career planning will be difficult, and they may be prone to high levels of stress, leading to substance abuse and an increase the risk of long-term health conditions.
Adults with attachment trauma also continue to struggle forming interpersonal relationships. They may also become overly dependent on other people in their lives, and struggle to recognise the abusive and manipulative behaviours.
How can I help my child with Attachment Issues?
It can sometimes be challenging to connect past disruptions to the attachment bond with a child’s current difficulties. Caregivers sometimes state that they feel ‘blamed’ or ‘confused’ when confronted with the fact their child may have attachment trauma. It is important to remember that each child is an individual with their own unique set of experiences that may have nothing to do with your relationship with them.
If you suspect your child is suffering from attachment trauma, you should seek professional guidance. A professional will be able to help advise you how best to support your child and may help in developing a therapeutic treatment programme. If you are a foster carer, we also recommend talking to your Social Worker about any concerns you have.
Alongside professional support, there are various things that you can do to help support your child while they learn how to get over attachment issues.
One of the most important things you can do is create a secure base for your child. This means being available for them and sensitive to their needs, all the while remaining firm in your routine and boundaries.
How Foster Carers can Help Children with Attachment Trauma
At Compass, we encourage our foster carers to take a therapeutic approach to their parenting. Therapeutic training embraces four principles of communication, called PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy). PACE provides a framework for supporting children in crisis.
Playfulness means keeping communication fun, open and light. A playful approach creates a safe, engaging environment that invites closeness without asking too much of your child.
Acceptance means validating your child’s experiences and emotions. Instead of trying to change or censor how they’re feeling, acceptance asks that you merely acknowledge, sit and experience it with them.
Curiosity invites you to ask questions about why your child is feeling or acting the way they are without judgement or blame.
Empathy reminds you to always approach difficult situations through your child’s eyes, whether or not they are misbehaving or acting in a way you do not condone.
Your goal should be aimed at helping your child transition from a dysregulated state to a regulated one. As they learn to trust you, your relationship will begin to form a new blueprint for what a secure attachment looks like.
We see this process happen frequently with our foster carers. Foster carers can have a huge influence in helping foster children learn to understand and manage their feelings. The relationship between foster carers and foster children helps children learn how to build strong and secure attachments for the future.
- Learn more about attachment trauma at the Attachment & Trauma Network
- NSPCC Learning
- Learn more about therapeutic parenting at the National Association of Therapeutic Parents
- Beacon House has numerous online resources to help support children with developmental trauma
- The British Association for Adoption and Fostering has additional resources available for foster parents.
While dealing with attachment disorder can be difficult for foster carers, it is also one of the most significant ways you can have a positive impact on the life of a child in care. If you’re ready to find out more about becoming a foster carer, please get in touch today.
A lot of people denounce small talk as meaningless or insincere. However, in some cases, small talk can save lives.
This week, BBC Radio One’s Teen Hero, Harry, stopped someone from taking their own life. Harry was on his way to school when he passed someone who was ‘clearly in distress’. Harry soon realised that this person was moments away from attempting to take their own life, and so, with ‘great sensitivity’, checked in to see if they were okay.
By starting a simple conversation, Harry managed to break them out of their negative thought patterns. He kept them talking and persuaded them to reconsider their decision. With small talk, Harry saved a life.
We were so inspired and moved by Harry’s incredible bravery and courage. Harry’s story is a brilliant example of the way in which a conversation can transform someone’s mood. As the Samaritans campaign states: small talk saves lives.
Spotting someone in need
The past few years have been tough on everyone. The pandemic and its restrictions have made all of us feel lonely, isolated, and down at points. That’s why its all the more important to look out for one another throughout these challenging times.
People in need don’t all behave the same. However, there are a few things you can look out for:
• Isolated or standing alone
• Appearing distressed or withdrawn
• Not moving from their position for a long period of time
It can be hard to approach a stranger. But, if you think someone might need help, it’s important to trust your instincts.
That’s why we’ve come up with a few small talk questions and topics that you can use to strike up conversation with someone in need and aid their suicide prevention.
Talking to someone in need
Many conversations begin with simple introductions. By introducing yourself, you instantly create a connection with the person you are talking to. You are also encouraging the person you are talking with to ground themselves, by remembering their own name and introducing themselves in return.
Where and What
Asking what has brought a person to this location, or where they are going, can be another good ice breaker. Sheila, one of the Samaritan’s Small Talk Saves Lives success stories, said she ‘was on the way to (her) weekly shop’ last year, when she ‘came across a young woman in floods of tears.’ Sheila stopped her car and asked the woman, ‘has something happened to bring you here today?’ and could tell immediately that this basic question ‘instantly broke her thoughts.’
Straightforward questions like this can also have a grounding effect on a vulnerable person. It can encourage them to reconsider their surroundings and centre them within the moment.
Ask about Coffee
Asking someone a question such as ‘where can I get a coffee?’ is an easy and effective way of striking up, or continuing, a conversation. This kind of innocent question might help to snap someone out of a negative place, without placing too much pressure on them. You might also ask them for directions for something else, such as the bus station, or a local shop.
Comment on the Weather
Much like asking about coffee, making an observation about the weather is another way to ease into a conversation. People in the UK are always talking about the weather, so this should feel relatively natural for both yourself and the person in need. Talking about the weather also provides an opportunity to establish a rapport between the two of you.
Sometimes, simple words of reassurance can be enough to stop someone from taking their own life. In 2008, Jonny Benjamin was preparing to take his own life on London Bridge, when a stranger stopped to talk to him. The stranger – later revealed as Neil Laybourn – stopped, and told Jonny ‘it will get better mate, you will get better’. These few compassionate words from a stranger were enough to ‘burst the bubble of that world (he) was in.’
Continuing a Conversation
Once you have initiated contact with one of these small talk starters, encourage them to keep talking.
Try move the conversation somewhere safe and quiet, like a bench. By listening to what they have to say, and repeating it back to them, you can help to make them feel heard and understood.
Once they are safe, ask them if there is someone you can call for them – such as a family member, close friend, or a crisis line. If you feel it is necessary, you can also call the emergency services on 999.
If they are unresponsive or aggressive
If the person is unresponsive when you first try to talk to them, try not to be put off. Give them some time, before trying to talk to them again. Ensure you stay near them, within their eyeline, and be patient. Sometimes, when people are in emotional turmoil, they feel disconnected from the world around them, and it might take them some time to realise you are there.
If the person in need behaves aggressively to you, or is defensive, make sure you also keep your own safety and wellbeing in mind when interacting with them. You can either wait for them to calm down, and try talking to them again, or you can find someone to help you.
If you don’t feel safe approaching them, you should call emergency services.
Remember, there is no such thing as the wrong thing to say when talking to someone in need. No matter how you initiate a conversation with someone, you are doing the right thing in approaching them. Just do your best and trust your instincts.
In certain situations, you might call a crisis line on behalf of the person in need. These lines are free to use and available to anyone who might need them.
Call 116 123 (24hr)
Email [email protected]
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call 0800 58 58 58 (5pm – 12am daily)
Visit the webchat page
0300 123 3393
Text 86463 (weekdays from 9am-6pm)
Papyrus (for people under 35)
Call 0800 068 41 41 (9am – 12am)
Text 07860 039967
Email [email protected]
Looking after yourself
You can make a huge difference to the life of someone in need by talking to them, but the experience may also take its toll on you. You might feel quite overwhelmed afterwards.
If you feel the need to talk to someone about what you have experienced, you can also call the Samaritans on 116 123.
If you are a foster carer with Compass, you’re never alone. You can reach out to your support team for further guidance. Get in touch to find out more about becoming a foster carer with Compass Fostering.
Half of all children in care are considered to have some form of emotional or behavioural problem, with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being one of them. In the UK alone, it is thought that between 2 – 5 % of school aged children have ADHD.
ADHD is a common neurological condition that affects the way a person feels, thinks, and behaves. The symptoms of ADHD are usually noticeable at an early age and tend to become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as starting school or entering care.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The symptoms of ADHD in children and adults can be categorised into two types of behavioural problems like inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Some people with ADHD will exhibit symptoms that belong predominantly to one or the other. Other people with ADHD will have what is known as a ‘combined’ presentation of ADHD, in which they show symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactive impulsiveness simultaneously.
Examples of Inattentive symptoms include:
• Struggling to follow instructions
• Short attention span
• Difficulty finishing tasks
• Making careless mistakes
• Becoming easily confused
• Appearing to not listen when spoken to
Examples of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity symptoms include:
• Restlessness (fidgeting)
• Excessive talking
• Speaking before thinking
• Interrupting conversation
• Difficulty waiting their turn
• Little or no sense of danger
How does ADHD affect day-to-day living?
The symptoms of ADHD can be the cause of various significant challenges in a young person’s life.
One of the primary challenges that young people with ADHD face is the barrier it creates to learning and education. ADHD affects a young person’s ability to focus, sit still, filter information and think clearly – all essential skills that are required in the classroom. This often means that, without the proper support, their academic achievement suffers.
ADHD can also have a profound effect on a young person’s ability to create and maintain personal relationships. Not only are the symptoms of ADHD difficult for the person experiencing them, but they can also be difficult for the people surrounding them to deal with.
Because of the difficulties with self-control that people with ADHD can experience, many young people with the disorder tend to behave impulsively. They react to social situations without thinking about the consequences of their behaviour, and the impact their actions might have on the people around them.
As a result of challenges such as these, people with ADHD often have a lower self-esteem, as their symptoms can make them feel incapable or unable to deal with day-to-day life.
What’s it like fostering a child with ADHD?
As a foster carer, there is a chance that you may foster a child that is diagnosed with or presents the symptoms of ADHD. Its estimated that children in foster care are three times more likely to develop ADHD than other children, possibly due to the close relationship between trauma and neurological conditions.
Two of our foster carers, Mark and Nick, have first-hand experience fostering children with ADHD. Two of their foster sons, C and L, both have ADHD.
Mark could recognise the symptoms of ADHD in the two of them straight away. “I could identify straight away that both of them had ADHD. They were showing so many signs. At school, they use to bounce around and wouldn’t sit still.”
According to Nick and Mark, C and L had great difficulty at school but were frequently told by the school and by authorities that it wasn’t ADHD. They found it very challenging to get a diagnosis for C and L, and felt they had to fight to be heard.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes be quite difficult achieving a diagnosis for ADHD. This is because many of the ADHD symptoms in children can be dismissed as behavioural issues, or confused with other neurological conditions, such as autism. The diagnostic process for ADHD is also intensive and involves gathering a lot of information about the presentation of symptoms.
“Nobody would listen to us. They just kept putting it down to attachment issues or challenging behaviour, saying they were just playing up.” In the end, it took Mark and Nick three years to get the diagnosis they needed to access the right support for C and L.
“They (the school) didn’t want to put them into a category, they didn’t want to label them. But it wasn’t about labelling them, it was about making sure that throughout life they get the support that they need.”
Although getting the right diagnosis was difficult in their case, Mark and Nick will have made all the difference to the lives of their foster sons, C and L. With an ADHD diagnosis, C and L will be able to access the proper support necessary to manage their symptoms. This support could include therapeutic treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, or stimulant medication.
How can I support my foster child with ADHD?
If you suspect your foster child might have ADHD, its important you get them seen by a professional to ascertain a diagnosis and treatment plan. Compass Fostering aims to support all our foster carers as much as possible throughout this process, by providing them with specialised training and the information necessary to care for their child.
That being said, caring for a child with ADHD can be challenging, and it can often be difficult to know where to start. It is important to remember that a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour. As we established, ADHD is a neurological disorder, meaning the child is unable to supress or control their symptoms.
The NHS has some advice on supporting children with ADHD.
Foster children with ADHD are sometimes more difficult for local authorities to place in homes, but the stability and warmth of a supportive home environment can make all the difference. While fostering a child with ADHD can be a challenge at times, it can also be incredibly rewarding if they are given the right environment within which to flourish.
If you’re interested in changing the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.
For some children, a foster carer plays an extremely important role in their lives; giving them a family-based environment to thrive safely. Training, developing, and supporting these foster carers to provide this care, love, security and stability to each and every child is vital – and this professional and emotional support requires a specific, specialised role: the supervising social worker. But what is the role of a supervising social worker? And how do they work with our foster families?
What is the role of a supervising social worker?
The role of a supervising social worker involves many different responsibilities. Not only does it involve the supervision of foster carers, which might include safeguarding issues raised by a child’s social worker, but they also help with the emotional and practical support a foster carer may need. The role of a supervising social worker includes:
Keeping in touch
A supervising social worker will ensure all lines of communication remain open. They will keep in frequent touch with foster families, social workers and the foster children and young people throughout the entire placement. A supervising social worker will make regular home visits to the foster parents’ homes, along with making regular phone calls and generally touching base with everyone involved in the child or young person’s life.
Arranging additional support
If any interventions are ever needed, or a child is in need of any additional support (such as therapy or learning support) a supervising social worker will be able to arrange for any additional support services that may be needed.
The role of a supervising social worker is also to support foster carers with attending all their meetings, helping with their report writing and keeping records for them. Along with this, keep records on each child’s progression and monitor how each of them is getting on in each of their placements and make all statutory visits.
Support with a child’s birth parents
The supervising social worker helps to bridge the gap between the children and young people in a placement and their birth parents and families. They will work with the child’s foster parents and social worker to manage and, where appropriate, maintain contact between the children and their birth families.
Supervising social workers will also help the foster parents navigate the emotions that might come with a child being unable to be in contact with their birth parents, which can happen for various reasons.
Identify training opportunities
Along with all of the above, the supervising social worker will also identify any training opportunities each foster carer may need. They will help to get each foster carer up to impeccable standard, and help them to achieve their own, personal learning and development goals.
The supervising social worker helps to recruit our incredible foster carers, they arrange and run ‘Form F’ assessments and let’s our carers know about all the training opportunities every potential carer may need before the child arrives into their care.
Think becoming a supervising social worker is something you would be interested in doing? Find out more about How to Become a Supervising Social Worker. Alternatively, if you have more questions regarding fostering, please contact us, or give us a call on 0800 566 8317 and we’ll be able to answer any questions you may have.
Social workers play a valuable role in helping foster children and families. They give important guidance and support to both young people and carers, helping them navigate the sometimes-tricky realities of living in care.
While there are different types of social workers within foster care, all contribute to helping children achieve their full potential. These include supervising social workers (SSWs), who work on behalf of fostering agencies like Compass Fostering, and youth social workers, who work with children on an individual basis.
If you’re considering a career as a supervising social worker in foster care, or wonder what SSWs do, here’s what you need to know.
What is the role of a supervising social worker?
Before a child arrives with a new foster family, SSWs work with the family finding team to make sure that the child and the family are a good match. They also talk through any questions or concerns with the soon-to-be foster parents. The supervising social worker’s in-depth knowledge of fostering legislation and practice means they can support carers to give the foster child the best home possible.
Once the foster child joins their new family, the SSW checks in frequently to see how the child is settling in and how the family is adapting. They’re on hand day and night to advise whenever an issue comes up – which often helps parents get through any fostering hiccups.
The Supervising social worker role also involves help recruit foster carers, run ‘Form F’ foster assessments and get carers the train-ing they need to prepare for the arrival of a foster child and advance their skills.
How to become a supervising social worker
Social workers need an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree in social work that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They also need to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
In addition, social workers need good organisational skills, a friendly and flexible attitude, strong communication with the ability to prioritise, and a good dose of empathy and enthusiasm. Due to the nature of the work, many social workers also need a valid driving license, and SSWs should have experience of foster care practice.
If you’re a qualified social worker looking for a position as a SSW in foster care, consider joining the Com-pass Fostering family! You can view our current vacancies here.
Why become a social worker in foster care?
Social work is a rewarding field for anyone who wants to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Supervising social workers help improve the foster experience for children, birth families and foster families.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of social work is being able to watch a foster family and foster child go from arrival through the adjustment period, to where the child becomes part of the family and starts thriving and achieving. There are few feelings in the world like knowing that you’ve made a difference in the life of a child in need!
If you’re interested in finding out more about the foster care system, please get in touch and our friendly team will be happy to answer your questions. Or if you’d like to know more about supervising social workers, you can read about a day in the life from one of our Supervising Social Workers, Steph.