Vol. 18, No. 1 November 2013
Taking Care of Yourself Is Part of
Taking care of themselves is a must for foster, adoptive, and kin caregivers. If you don't, life becomes a spinning top, constantly twirling, and eventually you won't have what it takes to help the young people who depend on you.
Because you work with children who have histories of trauma, self-care also means protecting yourself from secondary traumatic stress.
Secondary Traumatic Stress
When foster, adoptive, and kin caregivers hear about the traumatic experiences of children or birth parents, they can experience extreme distress or even secondary traumatic stress (also called "vicarious trauma" or "compassion fatigue"). If you're exposed to others' trauma stories, you may have similar stress reactions.
How to Protect Yourself
Be aware of how your work with children and families can affect you. Try to recognize when you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, and identify ways to take care of yourself. These can include relaxation techniques, prayer or meditation, getting plenty of sleep, exercise and a healthy diet, keeping a routine schedule, making time for fun activities, and of course maintaining a robust support network of friends and family.
Talk to other resource parents, a therapist, or people who have gone through similar experiences to help you keep things in perspective, understand your own reactions, and avoid words or actions that could make the situation worse.
Why Make Time for Self-Care?
- Makes you more effective at accomplishing your goals.
- Gives you strength to manage difficult situations as they arise.
- Ensures you have the emotional resources and focus you need to help children, making you a more effective and fulfilled parent.
Challenges for Kinship Parents
Working with a traumatized birth parent can be more complicated for kinship parents, who often don't have training before becoming foster parents and may have a shared family history of trauma or feelings of shame, anger, responsibility, or guilt related to the parents' or child's trauma. Kinship parents may also have a strained relationship with the birth parent related to the parent's involvement with the child welfare system.
Kinship parents may be more personally impacted by both birth parents' and children's actions and reactions, and so may have a greater need to protect themselves from secondary traumatic stress.
Adapted from NCTSN, 2011
To view references cited in this and other articles in this issue, click here.
~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~