Understanding the impact of social distancing for foster and adoptive families

Social distancing will create additional challenges for all of us, and our families will find the changes and separation difficult in a number of ways.

There is no denying that social distancing will be hard for everyone. Schools closing will create additional challenges for every parent and carer. All families will find the changes and separation of the coming weeks and months difficult in all sorts of ways.

In the midst of this, foster and adoptive families may also be facing a few specific challenges, which Home for Good wants to help you understand. We love it when individuals and churches want to offer intentional support to vulnerable children and the families who care for them, so we hope this article equips you to be able to do this well.

Not every family will face all of these challenges, and some of these suggestions may also apply to families caring for birth children, particularly those with additional or complex needs. But as we look to support one another through this difficult season, recognising these five things will be helpful.

1. The chaos of change and uncertainty
We all wish we knew what was going to happen and how long this will last, but for children who have experienced significant upheaval in their early months and years, the anxiety of the unknown is even more over-bearing. Some children will have had to endure periods of waiting and wondering in their lives; some may even be in this situation currently and now everything has become even more unsettled for them. All care experienced children will have experienced trauma, and that will make the current situation even more troubling.

2. Exacerbating loss and separation
Every child who has been or is in care has suffered loss and separation in their life and when this happens at crucial points of development, this will forever affect how they process their response to future loss. The end of a school year is always difficult. Saying goodbye to grandparents at the end of a visit is usually a challenge. And now, all kinds of losses are happening all at once, with no warning and preparation, and separation is being enforced with no definite understanding of how long it might last.

3. Feelings of blame and shame
Care experienced children will often have an increased sense of shame (read this article to understand why). For the last few weeks all our children have heard about is the importance of hand-washing, schools have changed their entire routine and given over lessons to helping children understand how we can fight the germs. But despite all this, schools are now closing and people are still getting sick. Some children will internalise this and process it as their own fault, believing that they didn’t do enough and blaming themselves for what’s going on.

4. Reliance on external services
Commonly, foster and adopted children are more likely to be engaging with additional support – therapists, health professionals, social workers, contact workers. These may or may not be able to continue, but it’s unlikely things will be able to carry on without some level of disruption. These people and services can be life-changing for a child, they can be what keeps them going, or what enables a placement to continue. Many children in care continue to have contact with their birth family, and it may be unknown as to whether this will happen.

5. Being different
Some looked after or adopted children may still be able to go to school because they fall into certain categories, which may be good thing – but school is unlikely to be ‘normal’ with the same routines and staff that the child or young person is used to. Plus, their friends probably won’t be there and the feeling of being different will be ever-present. Some families may also have multiple children with different circumstances, so some children are in school and others are not, which
will be even more of a challenge.

    This is just a glimpse at some of the challenges that children and young people who have experienced trauma are facing, alongside all the other things that every family and the UK is currently having to deal with.

    Foster and adoptive families tend to rely on routines and structure more than most, so the disruption of social distancing will be exceptionally hard-hitting for many of them. There are still a lot of unknowns and things will continue to change. Social services will be doing all they can to ensure children are safe in this time, but the likelihood is that their focus will understandably be more on children who are at risk.

    As individuals, churches and communities are doing all they can to ensure people are supported at this time, do make a special effort to check in regularly with any foster or adoptive families, kinship carers and special guardians that you know. Even just a text might make all the difference, but practical support and prayer, where possible, may also be appreciated.

    Thank you for all that you do to better understand and support vulnerable children and the families who care for them.

    Home for Good

    Date published:
    Friday 20 March 2020



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