After a child is placed in out-of-home care, the question is not whether he or she will react to placement, but how and when. Following are general comments on normal behavior and reactions of children. They are based on the experiences of resource parents.
Typical Patterns of Behavior at Placement
The child starts off with problematic behavior, and in most instances, after a fairly short period of time, the resource parents will see both the frequency and intensity of the problem behavior begin to decline.
At first the child is withdrawn, but then begins to act out after a few days, causing his or her behavior to become worse. Younger children may have emotional outbursts or be withdrawn or sit in a corner and cry. The older child may be more subtle or show more anger. They may focus on intentionally trying to destroy something or aggravate someone.
Not withstanding, the reasons a child had to be separated from their family, their feeling of loss, the loss of control in their lives, just being afraid and reacting angrily, can create either of these patterns or other problem behaviors. Many children will eventually respond to the resource family’s patient and consistent parenting and adjust to being in the resource home. It might just take a little longer.
Many children have a relatively mild reaction to their new placement. They may be shy and withdrawn and slow to warm to kindness and help. They may react by being overly friendly and compliant. They may have occasional verbal outbursts in response to frustration, and they may resist going to school or taking part in activities. But they will typically respond to consistent parenting, a caring attitude, support and understanding.
Other children, especially children who have experienced previous out-of-home placements, are more likely to show their reactions to being placed in an out-of-home placement through behaviors which will test the resource family’s patience and parenting abilities. Based on past experiences, these children may enter the resource home with the expectation that this placement may not work either, and they may cause it to fail. They may fear that sooner or later the resource family will reject them and request they be moved from the home. When the resource family responds to the child’s behavior with kindness and understanding, the child may be confused and test the resource parents by pushing limits and creating situations causing the resource parent to act in the way which they (the child) expect, based on their past experiences.
All children in out-of-home care will have some angry and sad feelings due to past experiences. They may have low self-esteem and will be in the process of grieving due to the separation from their families. These feelings may be revealed through actions and behavior directed at the resource parents. This behavior should not be taken personally. It is important to remember that any child placed in any resource home is:
- Dealing with feelings in regards to being a victim of abuse or neglect
- Working through the separation from family or previous resource family
- Coping with the separation from friends, relatives, neighbors and sometimes a neighborhood community
- Adjusting to a new resource family
- Having to attend a new school
- Trying to make new friends
Through a trauma informed approach, as a resource parent you will recognize the presence of trauma symptoms and want to ensure you provide support and make every effort to avoid re-traumatizing the child during this transitional period. If the resource parent will put themselves in the child’s shoes, it can be helpful in understanding when a little extra attention and support might be just what is needed to help the child adjust. The resource parent should think how they would react to suddenly being separated from all their natural supports – home, job, family, church, community and friends. The feelings of sadness, nervousness about a new living arrangement, uncertainty about new roommates, stress related to moving one’s belongings and apprehension about a new job are much like what a child in out-of-home care feels when placed in a resource family’s home.
Continue to Stages of Grief