Support for Parents

Raising children takes a lot of time and energy - and where those children are adopted and have early life experience of trauma, neglect and abuse the demands on adoptive parents are even greater. There is no quick fix to heal the developmental gaps resulting from early years’ trauma. Parenting children always comes with highs and lows, but parenting traumatised children can be particularly emotionally draining and bring its own added challenges for parents. Trauma and neglect have a profound impact on the development of a child's brain, which can manifest into feelings of anxiety, dysregulated behaviour and difficulties developing attachments to their caregivers. This can be exhausting for parents, who may experience added stress, feelings of rejection, or secondary trauma from their children, making it difficult to experience the joys of parenting.

Blocked Care

Children who have experienced trauma are likely to project their bad feelings onto their parents through language or behaviour. Parenting traumatised children requires a level of empathetic parenting to allow carers to understand a child's traumatic history and to help them work through these feelings of shame and recover. Unfortunately, this kind of empathy can make a parent vulnerable to experiencing their child's trauma as their own and it may even trigger memories of trauma from their own pasts. As parenting children is essentially a 24/7 "job", parents may not have sufficient time to recover from this pain and process their own feelings.

The result of this is that parents may go into "survival mode" and may become unable to care empathetically for the child, possibly perceiving them as devious and unable to notice their vulnerability. This is known as blocked care.

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma happens when we accumulate and carry the stories of trauma. Adoptive parents caring for children who have suffered from abuse and neglect are especially vulnerable.

When abuse and neglect occurs, it’s as if a pebble has been tossed into a pond, the effects rippling far beyond the original point of impact.

The trauma that our adopted children have suffered touches all the people they are in direct contact with.

Stories of their suffering may start to fill you up and feelings of being overwhelmed, irritated, angry or withdrawn may develop, leading to low self-esteem, emotional numbing, cynicism and loss of confidence.

Breaking The Cycle

When caring for a child, it is important to remember to take some time out to care for yourself. Taking time to relax, have fun and reconnect with yourself and others will give you the chance to express your emotions in a safe way and to process your feelings and reactions to reduce the feelings of shame and rejection. It's important for adoptive parents to have a support network of their own. See our page on Resources for Family and Friends page for resources to share with family, friends, schools and churches.

Tips on reducing stress include:

  • Reconnect and socialise with friends and family.
  • Join a support group with other adopters and foster carers from providers such as the National Association of Therapeutic Parents
  • Regular exercise to help burn up stress hormones
  • Take some time to be reflective with yoga or meditation
  • Consider coming to one of our events for adopters to meet others and feel understood and supported.

Support from family and from friends is absolutely essential but can sometimes be unhelpful where family, friends and others don’t understand how adoptive parenting is different. Download and print this leaflet as a starting point for your family and friends to understand how adoptive parenting is different [Word].

If you are a member of a church community then you may find this leaflet helpful to give to your church leaders and congregation [PDF].

Self-care for adopters

Looking after yourself (as an adoptive parent) is important. As adoptive parent(s) you need to find time and ways to relax and have time to yourself or as a couple even if only for a short period of time. This nurture will build your resilience and help to prevent ‘blocked care’.

Support groups

Another very important factor in preventing blocked care is to network with other adopters.

The National Association of Therapeutic Parents (NATP), offers many resources, training and groups.

Adoption UK is a national organisation run for and by adopters providing support and understanding.

New Family Social is the UK network for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) adoptive and foster families.

Parents of Adopted Teens Organisation is a UK based group of parents who share expertise and encourage self care.

Brain based parenting [PDF] can help avoid blocked care. Read more in ‘Brain-Based Parenting’ [Amazon Link or Cairns Moir Connections] by Daniel Hughes, Jonathon Baylin & Daniel Siegel.