Why Can’t I Connect With My Foster Child?


anxiety girlWhy Can’t I Connect With My Foster Child?

After pouring your heart and soul into your foster child, you are confused as to why they do not receive it with open arms, gobbling up all that you have to give.  You experience the pain of rejection as they toss everything you have offered them back into your face, seasoned with anger.  The experience of the disconnection resonates with both parties, and it is difficult not to take the child’s perceived rejection personally.

Attachment: What is it?

We’ve all seen them, cute, chubby cheeks that are attached to little bodies that we call newborns.  They are adorable.  In order for an infant to develop socially and emotionally, a secure relationship with a caregiver needs to take place.  Often times in the case of a child who has been placed in foster care, these secure relationships do not happen. From approximate ages six months to two years, the caregiver role is vital.  Caregivers who are sensitive and responsive to social interactions with the child, like when the child needs food, comfort or care, secure attachment is formed.  Engaging with the child through these events offers an opportunity for bonding.  Through these attachments children grow, individuate, and become functional adults.

Attachment: Why is it so important?

Attachment plays a vital role in an individual’s life.  Attachment produces a sense of belonging, especially within a family unit.  A child who is securely attached to parental figures will have a sense that they are valuable and worthwhile.   For a child who does not have a secure base, they will often take to wandering in their early teen years, looking for a place to belong.

In the life of a foster child, attachment is often lacking.  You, as a foster parent, can have an impact on that.  Kiddos in foster care report that just knowing that they were cared about assisted in feeling more comfortable.

A Caregiver’s Influence:

  1. Parents’ relationship with their child influences development.
  2. Infants use caregivers as a secure base to go from and return to when exploring the world.
  3. Caregivers response will shape a child’s perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations later in life.
  4. Social support minimizes stress – for all parties involved.

Role of Caregiver; What Happens if it’s Not There?

When a child does not experience these early boding relationships, it often shows up in late childhood, early teen years.  In the case of foster care or adoption, it can seem like a sudden shift in relationship.  The effort and energy the new caretaker has invested suddenly seems unnoticed.  Children in foster care are there because of a trauma.  The trauma could include sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, abandonment, and physical abuse.  When a child experiences a trauma, or repeated trauma, their EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, gets stunted at that age.  For example, a child who experiences neglect beginning at age three will present themselves emotionally as a three year old even though they are much older.  This is important to realize because it speaks to the need that the child has.

What is RAD?

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry define several of these symptoms as Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD.  They suggest that most children experiencing RAD have had a disruption in the early relationships which often include physical or emotional abuse and neglect.  Those who have had “multiple or traumatic losses in their primary care giver” are also subject to RAD, including those who are in foster care.

Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is a fairly new term within the field of psychology and is defined as serious problems in emotional attachments to others (AACAP).  This shows up with children not responding to developmentally appropriate social interactions – with individuals both inside and outside the family unit.  This can be confusing to the caregiver as it shows up as ‘mixed’, meaning that the child could be responsive to you and the ‘switch gears’ and be unresponsive to your care.  Perhaps the child is resistant to your comfort, avoiding you, or watchful of you.

This also shows up in being indiscriminate in regards as to who the child attaches to.  For example, a child may seem to bond quickly with a school teacher or Sunday school teacher, a coach, or a friend’s mom, regardless of the adults’ investment in the child.

Healing Attachment:

  1. Participate in activities: What activities does the child like to do?  Participate with them.  Get them involved.
  2. Safe touch: Touch can be a powerful tool, especially when done safely.
  3. Teaching: What are life skills that you could teach the child?
  4. Reinforce and remind the child of your love.  With both word and action, remind the child of your love for them.
  5. Set up expectations/family rules.  While it can seem contradictory, having guidelines and family rules offers boundaries in which the child can rely on.

Now What?

  1. Keep on keeping on: The child needs consistent love from a stable and secure source.
  2. Involve the child in therapy, but be a part.  Often times a child is sent to therapy and made to feel as though they were the problem.  As a caregiver, being a part of their therapy can be healing and momentum building in the bonding process.
  3. Learn to listen: Build the skill of hearing the child’s heart.  Refrain from reminding the child all that you have done for them.  This can be damaging to the relationship.

If you are currently a foster parent, or know someone who is, and is struggling to build the connection with your kiddos, we’re here to help.  Please know there is help available.  This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone.  Follow this link to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about working through the attachment process.


family-250x250Over 1,400 families in southwest Missouri trust the counselors of The Relationship Center to serve their counseling needs. With more than 14,000 hours of therapy in the last 5 years alone TRC counselors have the experience that can make the difference. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $75-$125 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here to Learn More About Family Counseling at The Relationship Center


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2011, March). Reactive attachment disorder. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Reactive_Attachment_Disorder_85.aspx

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2005, May). Foster care. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Foster_Care_64.aspx

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Diehl, D. C., Howse, R. B., & Trivette, C. M. (2010). Youth in foster care: developmental assets and attitudes towards adoption and mentoring. Child & Family Social Work , (16), 81-92. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2010.00716.x

Mitchell, M. B., Kuczynski, L., Tubbs, C. Y., & Ross, C. (2010). We care about care: advice by children in care for children in care, foster parents and child welfare workers about the transition into foster care.Child & Family Social Work , (15), 176-185. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2009.00657.x



Living Grief: A Life That Contains Chronic Diseases and Illness


Living Grief

Living Grief: A Life That Contains Chronic Diseases and Illness

More than a cold or the flu, living a life that contains chronic illness is one that proves to be very difficult.  There is a silent pain that you go through.  Your illness may be visible to those around  or invisible to the rest of society, but the pain is real and prevalent.  There is a loss of sense of self, purpose, goals, dreams, and hope.

Why Grieve?

Most often grief is associated with the death of someone, not something.  When you think of grief, usually a funeral is involved.  Grief, however, has many faces.  A living grief is one in which the item or situation being grieved is still alive or very much present.

In Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ book, On Death and Dying, she identifies the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial – a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
  2. Anger– anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
  3. Bargaining – negotiation to postpone or find some sort of compromise that will change or delay the outcome. “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…” “Can we still be friends?”
  4. Depression – sets in as you move towards acceptance. It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
  5. Acceptance – this stage is marked by a coming to peace with the loss. “It’s going to be okay.”

These are the stages that you can expect to move through.  They do not necessarily go in order, but you will move in and out of these stages. Grief is not an item to be contained, but a process to be experienced.


Many facing chronic illness say that they no longer feel in control of their life.  You can no longer do the activities that you once enjoyed doing; you no longer can eat the food you once enjoyed.  Now you have to take more acute care of yourself and micromanage your schedule even more.  There is no longer a sense of individuality and wholeness, but more of trying to rediscover who you are.


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2005, 133 million Americans had at least one chronic illness.  One quarter of those with chronic illness deal with daily activity limitations. Making adjustments to your daily life is often one of the most difficult things to do.  You are often comfortable with your pre-illness lifestyle or schedule, and that may not be attainable at this point. Whether you have just found out about your chronic illness or have been dealing with it for years, there are adjustments that may need to be made.  There may need to be more or less physical activity, dietary changes, social involvement, or making time to rest.


Some actions that are helpful during this time include;

  1. Staying connected – not only to a therapist, but to friends and family.  The journey you’re on is difficult, especially when trying to do it alone.
  2. Journaling – Writing has an incredible impact on our thinking process.  It forces us to verbalize the inner turmoil and tension that we’re not able to sort out in our head.
  3. Give yourself permission to grieve – So often we forget or don’t realize that this is an event that needs to be grieved.  Give yourself permission to do so, in your time.
  4. Ask for help – Because a chronic illness may not be visible to someone on the outside, there is often shame in asking for help.  Not only is it important to your physical wellbeing, but your emotional wellbeing as well.
  5. Attend support groups – check your local area for support groups that pertain to grief or chronic illness.

What Now?

Perhaps you just found out about a chronic condition that you now need to learn to care for, or maybe you’ve been fighting the reality of your illness for as long as you can remember.  Please know there is help available.  This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone.  Follow this link to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about working through the grief process.


About Rebecca:

Rebecca Barratt is a licensed professional counselor in the Springfield, MO area.  She ministers to individuals, couples, and families as a therapist at The Relationship Center.  She enjoys “Seeing in people what they do not see in themselves and helping them reach their potential”.  Her focus is helping those who struggle with anxiety and depression, grief, and trauma recovery.  Rebecca is dually trained in theology and professional counseling.  She obtained an undergraduate ministry degree with a focus on adolescents and a Master’s degree in professional counseling.  In addition to her clinical practice she is an ordained minister and serves on the Ministerial Education and Guidance Board (MEG) for the Midwest District of the Free Methodist denomination.  Teaching within the church since 1999, Rebecca has been in a pastoral role since 2004.  She integrates her love and knowledge of God and His Word with experience interacting with various age groups.

Rebecca and her husband, Robert, make their home in Springfield, MO with their three children.



Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster.