Anxious Disorders in Foster Children


Tips for coping with anxious attachment disorders in Foster Children

Note: In this guide, we will refer to behaviours caused by developmental trauma as ‘anxious attachments’ to avoid negative connotations associated with the term ‘attachment disorders’.  

As a foster parent, taking care of a child with an anxious attachment pattern is fairly common, as a result of the trauma they have experienced as a child. It can be complex and challenging to deal with if you’re new to fostering. However, it’s important to remember you’re not alone, as well as the wealth of support and guidance available to you at Capstone Foster Care, we’ll also provide help, support and advice for foster carers who are taking care of young children exhibiting signs, or who are already diagnosed with developmental trauma.

What is an anxious attachment?

 Anxious attachment patterns deriving from developmental trauma can develop in young children, toddlers or teenagers who struggle to trust others and develop emotional attachments. Many children with anxious attachment patterns have had severe problems in their early relationships and have likely experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment.

There are many reasons why children develop anxious attachment patterns including the failure of adults to provide sufficient caregiving. Resulting in a negative impact on their ability to trust that adults can be providers of safety and love. The effect of these attachment issues on child development, if not treated  can affect future perspectives of relationships, and their social and emotional development well into adulthood and sometimes be lifelong

As a foster parent, you may be taking care of a child who, due to not having had the best start in life, sometimes exhibits anxious attachment patterns and rejects your efforts to care for them.

What are the symptoms of anxious attachment in children?

Complex developmental trauma can lead to children having anxious attachment patterns. However, the symptoms aren’t always easy to identify or diagnose – and each child may exhibit a range of different complexities. However, the most common indicators of children with attachment difficulties  can include:

  • Physical affection – children might show an aversion to physical affection and be watchful and withdrawn. –Conversely, they may also demonstrate a constant need for physical and emotional attention. They may also be dis-inhibited or inappropriately friendly around strangers or people they do not know well.
  • Control – the need to be in control is a common sign of attachment difficulties in children who are anxious and insecure, which can be challenging for foster parents.  Children may also be prone to exhibiting defiant behaviours when they are fearful of feeling out of control.
  • Emotions – children may find it difficult to display or manage their emotions, such as anger or empathy. They may also find it difficult to be comforted and have hesitancy in social interactions.
  • Eye contact – struggling to maintain eye contact during interactions is also a common symptom of children who have anxious and insecure attachment patterns.

It is important to note that there may be other indicators which suggest a  child may have an anxious attachment style, and some of these symptoms can be indicators of other conditions or levels of developmental trauma. How your foster child behaves will also be unique to their own personality traits and the characteristics, or defence mechanisms they’ve developed through individual circumstances.

What do I do if I think my foster child has an anxious attachment?

If you suspect your foster child has an anxious attachment pattern, it’s a good idea to take the following steps to address their needs and provide them with the support and care they need.

  1. Speak to your child’s social worker: At Capstone, you have regular access to your social worker. Inform your social worker about your concerns and work with them to address the child’s needs and connect you with the appropriate services and resources.
  2. Consult with a professional: Talk to your child’s GP for a consultation with a mental health professional to evaluate your foster child’s behaviour and attachment pattern for a formal diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
  3. Take a therapeutic approach: If your foster child requires extra support, we offer a Therapeutic Foster service, MATTs. MATTs is a Multi-disciplinary Assessment Treatment and Therapy service which offers mental health services at the point of need.

Tips on coping with children who present with an anxious attachment

If you’re looking after a foster child with a pre-existing development trauma or anxious attachment, information and guidance will be given to you when you are matched with the child. This should provide you with information about the way the child individually reacts to situations, and how best to deal with this as their carer. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Establishing boundaries with empathy– setting realistic boundaries and limits may come with some challenges, but can be beneficial in the long run, as the child will begin to feel safe when boundaries are consistently reinforced.
  • Routines – setting schedules and routines is a great way to create a sense of safety in the child’s life and allows them to feel more settled in a predictable environment.
  • Establishing trust – it’s important that the child in your care feels safe and trusts you. Letting the child know they are loved and taken care of is vital to helping them – so, continue to listen, talk and play with your child, dedicating quality time with them and continuing to build on your relationship. Learn more about tips on connecting with your foster child
  • Health – keep them on track with a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Exercise, good sleeping patterns and healthy eating habits are likely to improve a child’s mood – so it’s important these are adhered to when caring for children with attachment difficulties.

And remember, it’s not always easy. Overcoming attachment difficulties related to developmental trauma in foster children is a challenge, and at times you may feel that your care is rejected and your efforts are not appreciated. But maintaining patience, empathy, understanding and consistency will allow you to manage children with anxious attachment patterns more effectively.

If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, or you’re already looking after a young child, there’s more information on how to understand and care for a child with attachment difficulties through the extensive foster care training and support we provide. However, if you’d like to know more, feel free to get in touch with a member of our expert foster care team here at Capstone Foster Care today.

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