By Sarah Anderson, FosterWiki founder
Talking about and maintaining a foster carer’s mental health should be standard, it should be normal, and it should certainly be a priority and not a taboo subject. However, many foster carers are reluctant to discuss or report any mental health issues due to fear of losing their registration and children. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that issues go away, it means they are ignored and can lead to more emotional and physical problems, secondary traumatic stress disorder, burnout, compassion fatigue and impact placement stability and retention.
Did you know that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues each year according to the NHS? Foster carers are no diﬀerent, and are, by nature of what they do, exposed to more risk factors that contribute to mental health issues than many.
Recognition, acknowledgement, and prevention are paramount, and we hope through this introduction to a foster carer’s mental health we can raise awareness and understanding of carers’ mental health issues and needs.
Mental health issues refer to a very wide range of mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. Poor mental health can cause problems in all aspects of daily life. Some of the factors that can affect foster carer’s mental health include being exposed repeatedly to another’s subconscious trauma, disturbing stories and disclosures of traumatic events, including cruelty, abandonment, abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence, traﬃcking and more.
Foster carers cannot separate their life from their work so there can be little work/life balance. The expectations may feel huge and the pressure to present the ‘happy families’ narrative may be great. This is because it is what society expects and the narrative perpetuated around foster care. It is the narrative that is presented as ‘acceptable’ by people who do not and have not fostered themselves. There are a variety of symptoms that can alert a foster carer to mental health issues, some warning signs may be excessive fear, worry or anxiety, tired all the time, high and low moods, socially withdrawing, tearful, panic attacks and many more.
Good fostering providers will welcome discussions on mental health as standard. They will recognise, just as they do with their wider social care staﬀ, that a foster carer can be subjected to higher-than-normal mental health risk factors. They should inform their carers that this is acceptable and normal and provide good support.
It is important for fostering providers to recognise that the work undertaken by every foster carer exposes them to a higher number than average mental health risk factors on a daily basis. Foster carers should be provided with mental health support as part of the providers’ foster carer support package. Denying foster carers’ mental health can impact the carer, their families, and the children they care for, ignoring it does not mean it’s not there or goes away.
If local authorities or agencies provide counselling for foster carers it must be on the proviso that it is independent and completely confidential. If neither of these is in place foster carers will not feel confident enough to engage in the process. Specifically, if these professionals write reports or report back to the fostering team.
What can foster carers do to look after their mental health?
Be knowledgeable about mental health – Knowledge is power. Symptoms of compromised emotional and mental health can leave you feeling isolated, powerless, and feeling like it’s “just you”. Even worse, we can berate ourselves for “not being stronger” or concentrate on the children whose problems are “far worse than ours”. Understanding what you are going through will empower you to reach out for help and feel less isolated and more normal.
Talk about it – One of the most powerful and helpful, yet sometimes most diﬃcult things to do, is to reach out for help and talk to someone. Finding the right place to do that as a foster carer can also be challenging. This can be one person or a group. You can’t fully heal from things, whatever form it takes if you don’t let yourself express how you are feeling. That’s why it’s healthy to talk to someone about it.
For more mental health guidance and support visit my page here – guidance for foster carers, by foster carers – https://fosterwiki.com/wiki/help-and-support-for-foster-carers/