PTSD in Foster Kids…
Sadly too many kids in fostercare have some sort of PTSD. My little one has lived with us going on 3 years. She lived with me when she was just over a year old for an entire year. She spent 2 years with her bio parents. Long enough to cause trauma. Let me say this….kids are resilient….up to a point. Trauma will affect children in different ways. Most kids coming into foster care have some sort of trauma. After all, they were removed for a reason! Our little one came out of the whole drug crisis.
Thankfully her bio parents protected her from a great deal. They made those 2 years with them as magical as possible. They would do lots of free things around town. Her bio mom was very artistic. She could draw the most amazing pictures. She would make chalk pictures and sketches that could be sold in any art studio. Unfortunately, as much as they tried they could not hide their drug use nor properly care for her. I have mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning again…she weighed 22 pounds just shy of 5 years old when she came into care. She was removed for several reasons…I have only touched on a few.
Having a child with PTSD is not easy. This is not a label that will define her. It is not a label that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Right now it is a label that allows us to see Beth our therapist for Parent/Child Psychotherapy once a week. This PTSD label allows me to share with others so I don’t get the judgemental stares from the perfect moms. It is like a tool in a tool belt and helps us understand one piece of who she is.
Our therapist explained PTSD like this…Imagine a child carrying a suitcase. It is roughed up and well worn. In this suitcase is all sorts of emotions and memories. The child will have this suitcase for life. There are times when she will carry it and be able to run and function and play like any normal child. Sometimes we will need to help her carry the suitcase. There are also times when we will need to carry her as she carries the suitcase.
So you get the whole image of the suitcase. There will be times when the suitcase will come flying open. From my experience, this is always at the worst times. We will be in a hurry, or in a public place or right before bed! You can not just shove the items back in. When the suitcase comes open you need to take the time to help the child process what fell out.
It could be a memory or could be emotions she can not label. Or it could be just a good case of the “can’t help its!” Whatever it is, it requires your help in examining, labeling and packing. Sometimes one or two things will pop out like “do you think bio mom and dad are in jail?” “Do you think bio mom or dad will try to come and take me away?” What she needs from me as the adult is to reassure her she is safe, loved and with us forever! Sometimes the spill is much bigger. This usually involves tears, questioning of being loved, total and irrational meltdown. What makes this different from a normal kid fit? Not a lot except the fit is coming from a place of fear and trauma.
Point of no return
When our little one gets to this point of no return it has to run its course. She had gotten to the point now that she will ask me to snuggle her. This is where I will sit on our bottom step and scoop her up and just love on her. I will wipe the hair out of her face and kiss her forehead. Sometimes I will hum to her. Anything that lets her know she is not alone. I will tell her she is loved and safe. I don’t use this time to teach her how to handle life or answer her wild questions. She is not in a place to hear it. She physically can not access the reasoning part of her brain.
The spilling of the suitcase is becoming less and less the more she is with us. This is something she may always have. The suitcase may someday turn into a backpack so it is not as cumbersome. It may turn into a steamer trunk too. My guess is when she hits puberty with all sorts of hormones and physical changes we may get the steamer trunk. Regardless we have techniques to help her handle it. As she gets older she will be able to advocate for herself more. As I said it does not define her. It does not excuse normal expectations of obedience and following the rules. It just means on certain days and times she needs a little grace as she copes with her baggage. But then again…don’t we all? Here is a time when she just had to tap out for the day! Check the story out here.