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How to recognise signs of depression in foster children

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Being able to recognise the signs of depression, or any mental health condition is an important trait if you are a foster parent.

In some cases, the children who are in your care may have come from traumatic or damaging pasts – which can cause mental health challenges, especially in teenagers who are in the foster care system. Recognise the signs of depression in foster children with the help of our detailed guide, while also learning how to support a foster child with depression.

Signs of depression in foster children

Having been removed or separated from their birth family into the foster care system, foster children are may develop certain mental health challenges that can be triggered by their past. There are many reasons why children may be taken into care, but some of the common reasons include neglect, abandonment or abuse – which can often cause depression or other mental health problems.

However, depression isn’t always easy to identify. The most common warning signs and symptoms of depression in foster children include:

  • Low mood – their mood may seem continually low and mellow, with repetitive feelings of sadness. Excessive crying is also a tell-tale sign of depression in children.
  • Heightened sensitivity – this could be predominantly around rejection or criticism, and could show them either becoming defensive or upset.
  • Anger – if they are demonstrating a shorter fuse than usual, or irritability around small, trivial things, this could also be a sign of depression.
  • Social withdrawal – removing themselves from group environments, and if they are preferring to spend time on their own away from friends and family.
  • Weight loss/gain – considerable weight loss or weight gain is often a sign of depression to watch out for. This can probably be more accurately monitored through appetite changes.
  • Fatigue – if they are demonstrating low energy or extreme fatigue.
  • Concentration – poor concentration and not being able to focus on one thing at a time is often a sign of depression in children. Sometimes, this symptom can be wrongly diagnosed as ADHD. You may be able to identify low concentration if this is reflected in schoolwork – as it can often lead to poor school performance.
  • Change in sleeping pattern – if they are finding it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or they are sleeping more than usual.
  • Guilt – if a child feels guilty or becomes upset about trivial things, leading to unexplained guilt, this can be identified as a symptom of depression.
  • Physical pain – in some cases, children may complain frequently of physical pain, which is also a sign of depression.

How to support a foster child with depression

Now you’ve learnt how to recognise the signs of depression, it’s equally as important that you understand how to support a child with depression. As your role as a foster carer, there are many things you can do to support a foster child suffering with mental health – this can include:

  • Speak to their social worker – you should speak to both your and their social worker straight away if you believe there is a recently developed mental health challenge with your foster child. When speaking to their social worker, this may be something they are already aware of – meaning they will be able to provide you with history about their past experiences, and give indication of what could’ve caused this.
  • Communication – speak to the child about how they’ve been feeling and ensure you are passing no judgement when you listen to their replies. Encourage open and honest communication – and, by voicing their concerns, some of these may be able to be alleviated simply with your help. Of course, they may not be as open to communicating as you are – so ensure they know you’re available any time when they are ready to speak to you.
  • Keep them connected – try and keep their spirits high by making them avoid isolation – organise plans and arrange things to do with members of the family. Encouraging them to do these things will benefit their mental well-being in the long run.
  • Inform family members – ensure that all members of the family are aware of the circumstances, and that they treat the situation with caution. That way, this will more likely create a healthy home environment – making it easier for them to cope with the stress they are experiencing.

How fostering with Capstone can help support children with depression

As a fostering agency, our primary goal is focussing on creating better outcomes for young people. Finding solutions to achieve better outcomes includes identifying ways to best combat the risk of mental health problems. That’s why we’ve developed our Multidisciplinary Assessment & Treatment service (MATs).

MATs is a way for a foster child who needs help in resolving mental health problems to access the help by being placed in a home that is supported by a clinical therapeutic team. The fostering parents are trained in therapeutic fostering, have extensive support and training to enhance their skills. This allows for direct therapeutic input for children on their foster placement – making MATs a highly successful programme. Learn more about how our Multidisciplinary Assessment & Treatment service (MATs) can help foster children with depression.

As a foster carer with Capstone Foster Care, you will be provided with 24 hour support from a member of our expert team. This means that you’re never on your own – and supporting a child with depression is made easier with help from our supportive staff. For more information on mental health in foster children, contact us today for expert advice and support.

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