Questions and Decisions

All children who are fostered or have been adopted have experienced trauma, whatever the details of their story, and trauma has a profound impact on brain development.

I have some embarrassing photos from my adolescence where I’m sporting some bold fashion choices; from floor length velvet skirts and black nails to oversized multi-coloured headbands! All of it was part of my exploration of identity, a vital, exciting and sometimes overwhelming part of adolescence as I wrestled with questions of ‘who am I', and ‘where do I fit’?

For care-experienced young people these questions come with added layers of complexity and pain. Some will know much of their life story, but its relevance and significance, and any associated pain, may be magnified during this time. Sometimes they will be able to articulate this to trusted adults who will help them navigate their story, but sadly, often these feelings will be communicated through challenging behaviour, increasing distances or aggression, leaving everyone unsure how to bring about change. While we all ask big questions during this time, and in fact, getting answers is vital for us to journey into our adult lives, for care experienced children these questions may come with more confusion, anger and shame.

All children who are fostered or have been adopted have experienced trauma, whatever the details of their story, and trauma has a profound impact on brain development. This manifests differently in every child, but some have likened it to having faulty wiring in the brain and this impacts, to a greater or lesser extent, every part of life.

For example, many teenagers experience FOMO (fear of missing out) heightened by the pressure of being constantly connected to social media and seeing others living their ‘best’ lives. If we’re honest, this is something that many of us are learning to navigate too. When you add to this ‘normal’ adolescent experience the pervasive feeling of rejection that many care-experienced children live with, it can become crippling.

Adolescence is characterised by children pushing boundaries as they pursue independence, including risk-taking behaviour. When this is done from a secure base with trusted adults, even when there is conflict, the relationship can usually be relatively quickly repaired without too much damage to either adult or child.

When a child has experienced trauma, they can grow up with a pervasive sense of shame, which says not just, ‘what I did was wrong’, but ‘I am wrong’. Every teenager will make some poor decisions during adolescence (and beyond!), but shame can trigger challenging behaviours and unhealthy coping mechanisms which can be difficult to get past for both adults and children alike.

Do you remember being a teenager and what it felt like? The brilliant bits, but also ALL the overwhelming parts too? Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, drives connection. When we practice empathetic responses, particularly when everything in us feels the opposite, we prioritise relational connection that repairs and rebuilds trust. Over time, this can change and strengthen brain architecture.

Author:
Claire for Home for Good


Date published:
June 2021


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