Helping Children Overcome Trauma
Whether an adult or a child, coping with trauma can be difficult. However, as adults we have life experience to draw on and we have common sense that will persevere to tell us something is just not our fault. For a child, the foundation has not yet been laid and so Fostering First have a network of exceptional people throughout Ireland doing stellar work with displaced children.
Nuala one of our carers kindly shared her journey with us when a personal trauma of her own led her to investigate fostering. Nuala already had some knowledge of fostering as her own Mother passed away when she was very young and her brother was fostered by a family member. Nualas relationship with her brother was always kept alive and well and so whilst they both lost their Mam very young, the extended family made sure they did not suffer by not seeing each other and so developed a healthy sibling connection.
Whilst she loved her work, both Nuala and her husband went through an assessment of their entire life and what they wanted to gain from it. And so, they gathered their 3 grown up children and put fostering on the table as the next chapter of their lives.
Nuala thought she would help many children but as it happened her story brought her and her family into the lives of 2 young boys aged 11 and 12. The boys had suffered severe trauma throughout their short lives. Their Mam, due to an intellectual disability and years of her own trauma and abuse, was unable to relate to her boys. The system tried to keep the family together, but Mam was unable to cope with her family of two boys and two girls.
Nuala met the brothers in their own home, at the time she had approval to foster only one child. With Nualas own personal background, she felt strongly that the two boys needed to be kept together to minimise further trauma and so in March 2017 she extended her family to include them both.
Nuala admits that sometimes it is tough, as one of the boys is non-verbal and his brother struggles with diabetes and is under pressure to catch up with his peers in education and social skills.
Nuala offers the following tips which she uses to put the boys at ease, trying to refresh their memories so they remember good times, less of their traumatic beginnings and know that they are now safe, loved and heard.
- Giving them both the time to chat whenever they feel like it. For one brother this means the Lamh means of communicating which works really well for him https://www.lamh.org/. A combination of Lamh and sounds that the family are now well familiar with means the non-verbal child doesnt have to deal with the frustration of not being understood
- When the children disclose anything about the upset or hurt, they have endured. Nuala makes sure she acknowledges the effort it took with phrases like you are so brave to tell me what happened to you
- Availability of hugs, sometimes something small can escalate into a catastrophe for the child or even for the whole family. One occasion Nuala recalled was a family day out for a picnic. One of the children banged his shin and wanted to go home immediately. Nuala managed the situation calmly, suggested tea, took the time to pour the tea, offered hugs and diffused the upset so the day was able to continue. With children who have experienced many traumatic moments one single positive moment can mean so much.
- Consistent care and attention at key moments in the day; a simple routine of giving them breakfast and having that time to sit and be together.
- Making sure the children know they are good enough to live and belong with your family.
- Be proud and shout it from the rooftops when the children make strides in their development. Against the odds these children will flourish given the right care and attention. One of the boys received a School Award for being considerate, kind and thoughtful.
- Look for additional support where needed, the HSE cover a taxi ride with a special needs assistant for one of Nualas little boys so he can attend the right school for his ongoing development.
- Be aware of the triggers; Nuala’s two boys have supervised visits with their Mam once a month for 1 hour, they can sometimes return home concerned for her welfare or she may say something innocently that upsets them.
- Encourage the children to be resilient, think of the future and make plans
- Nuala found smaller schools worked better for the boys so they can integrate and keep up without the challenge of being swallowed up in a crowd.
- Where possible nurture the relationship with the birth family along with the foster family.
Nualas advice for anyone considering fostering is to remember that you foster as a family, so all members of that family need to be on board. She thinks the process of being approved as a foster carer whilst intense is correctly thorough. She highly recommends Fostering First for their commitment to support and training and the fact that they dont sugar coat what you might encounter on your fostering journey. There are no hidden surprises just ongoing support.
And her final pearl of wisdom; take time out, time with a cup of tea when you need it. Self-care is critical.
There is no doubt fostering is a real vocation, if you feel you could support a child to gain equilibrium in their lives, please get in touch with our team at FFI and we can walk through all aspects of the Fostering process, call us at any time on 01-4171944 or visit https://www.fosteringfirstireland.ie/contact-us/
Thank you for taking the time to read this piece and thank you to Nuala for sharing her personal story and the story of the two incredible boys she shares her home with.