On any given day, there are more than 428,000 children in the foster care system, according to the advocacy group Children's Rights. On average, each child stays in state custody for nearly two years.
Whether you are a teacher, director, a case manager or involved in some other social work role, you likely already know that stability can be difficult to come by for these kids. Consequently, developing a secure relationship can be a challenge. It's not surprising, then, that it can be hard to gain the trust of a child in the foster care system. Our early childhood online education courses, such as Trauma-Informed Practice for Professionals Working with Foster Children, help you strategize to meet the potential challenges of building a trusting relationship with some foster children.
If you're a professional who works with foster kids, use these four tips to help you build trust in those relationships:
1. Create open communication
In a blog post for the Foster Children's Rights Coalition, Jenna Thornburg, a former foster care child and current foster parent, wrote that creating an open line of communication is critical.
"This can be as simple as saying, 'If you want to talk about anything, I want to listen.' or 'How are you feeling?' or "Do you need anything?'" Thornburg wrote. "Even if you don't get an answer, the intent is there. You never know when they will take you up on your offer."
No one wants to be forced to talk. But letting the child know that you're there whenever he or she is ready to share communicates that you truly care.
Even younger children may have trouble trusting adults if they've been moved around frequently in the foster care system.
2. Do your homework
There's a reason that foster children have case files. No matter in what capacity you are working with the child, it's important to know his or her backstory to truly understand the behavior you encounter. Each foster child is unique and making assumptions about what they have or have not been through may create tension in the relationship. If you're a teacher, contact the student's previous educators. If you're involved in social work, speak with previous case workers. Understanding past challenges can help you to build a relationship with the child.
3. Differentiate between empathy and sympathy
While sympathy is feeling bad for another person's hardships, empathy involves putting yourself in that person's shoes.
"Sympathy implies pity and a lack of control over one's environment. Sympathy encourages dependence. We want our children to develop self-confidence and an appropriate sense of control over their lives," wrote Jenifer Montsinger in Fostering Perspectives. "Empathetic responses recognize and acknowledge problems, but they challenge one to find solutions."
4. Always follow through
Finally, to build trust with a foster child, be sure to always follow through. Even if it's something like promising to bring a particular book the next time you meet, make sure that you're consistent and reliable. To build trust, you first need to prove that you are trustworthy.
Working with foster children takes a special kind of person with empathy and focus. At ProSolutions Training, we work to provide the best resources to help you to connect with all children. An individual annual subscription plan gives you access to more than 100 online courses for a full year like these for only $99. Focus on Early Childhood Education (ECE) or Human Services.
If you if want to pursue or renew your CDA, contact ProSolution Training today. Our staff is available to provide technical assistance and answer questions about your online courses 8:30 AM-5:30 PM (EDT) Monday-Friday. You can reach us by phone at 770.642.6939 or 800.939.9694, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.