By the time a child enters foster care, their development has already been affected due to the circumstances that have led them to be removed from their birth family.
For a lot of children, they are in care due to extreme circumstances such as neglect, abuse, or abandonment, which will have already had a huge impact on their development. Through no fault of their own, these children have been taken away from the place they know, the place they call home, to be fostered by a family they do not know. This is a terrifying prospect for most children, no matter the conditions they have been removed from – so what is the impact of foster care on child development?
For a lot of children taken into care, they will physically be behind their peers. Children who have been removed from their birth family will often be either underweight, overweight or a lot shorter than children their own age. Foster parents give their foster children a safe place to feel at home, ensuring they feel comfortable and safe. Along with this, they offer them appropriate diets, and consistency.
Children thrive off routine; when they know what time dinner is and what time bedtime is, you will begin to see a difference in the child. As mentioned, a lot of children that are taken into care may not be used to regular meals or being looked after in a loving environment, so they will struggle with this at first. A lot of children take a little while to accept that they aren’t going to go hungry anymore.
Along with this, some children that get taken into care have medical complications that physically have affected their development. For example, a child could have substance-exposed related developmental issues or autism. The important thing to know here is that in foster care, the children will be getting the one-to-one attention they deserve and need to reach their full potential and thrive.
Children who are taken into care tend to develop more emotional needs that other children will never experience. This is either due to being emotionally mistreated, physical abuse or experiencing emotionally distant parents. It is because of this that foster children might develop some negative coping strategies to make up for these feelings. These can include head-banging, continuous crying, or food hoarding. This sort of behaviour can come as quite a shock to people, but it is important to realise that this behaviour is happening as a result of trauma and is the only way a child might know how to express their feelings, if they aren’t quite sure how to do it verbally.
Being in foster care allows the child to experience their vulnerability in a safe environment and, as a result, undo some of these emotional reactions. Foster care offers a safe place for a child to naturally develop emotionally, in a way that would have otherwise not been accessible to them.
Socially, children in care are behind other children their age. Given that children in care are often emotionally and physically behind children of the same age as them, it is not uncommon to find an older child socialising with younger children. A lot of children in care will not have had the same experiences and social interactions as other children, so it is to be expected that they might feel uncomfortable in these situations.
Foster carers may be offering a child their first Christmas, or even birthday celebration; and the child will not always know how to react to this. A foster parent needs to be prepared to keep an eye on their foster child in these situations, as they may not like being centre of attention, or feel uncomfortable with large groups of people.
Cognitive and Mental development
Unfortunately, a lot of children taken into care will have experienced a lot of mental trauma in their short lives. They will often have gone to bed scared, or worried about when they will get their next meal; they will have possibly experienced police officers and strangers coming into their home and this can lead to a negative impact on their mental development.
Even once they are in an established foster placement, being well fed, clean and loved, they will still carry the fears they have developed with them.
The mental health issues they develop in early childhood will stay with them for a long time and will not simply ‘vanish’ because they are now in a safe environment. That being said, however, in foster care a child now has the opportunity to receive specialist mental health support and really work on the challenges they might be facing. Foster care is a chance for them to get the support they need to continue their development safely and successfully.
Foster care can have a positive impact on a child’s development, after a difficult start to their lives. But it is important to know that there is no ‘quick’ way to aid a foster child’s development. It will take a lot of time, patience, love, and energy to get a child to the point they should be at.
If you feel as though you could support a child through their development and make a difference to their lives, you can contact us on 0800 566 8317 or request a digital brochure today to find out more about how you could do this.