Therapeutic Foster Care

Connect B4 Correct teaches that amazingly it is in the first four years that the brain does 90% of its growth.  Children and young people’s developing brains have increased sensitivity during these years to being negatively organised in response to trauma. This has huge implications for children and young people exposed to early adverse childhood experiences before the age of four. The brain soaks up the world it experiences and builds its structures in a ‘use-dependent’ fashion. In the face of trauma, particularly in the first four years, the brain’s organisation and functioning will become impaired, which can impact negatively throughout the child’s life – if the foundations are wobbly the house inherently becomes unstable.  

Hope however is not lost! Connect B4 Correct work with the knowledge that the brain has the capacity to change, but this is not ‘an easy quick fix’, changing and reorganising disorganisation and impairment takes time and exceptional patience. If anyone has had to unravel a ball of wool, they will know that if you get inpatient and pull at a thread, the tangled wool just gets tougher and more knotted. As the brain develops the more the neuro systems become organised and less pliable to change.  The longer we wait the more arduous the task!

The brain’s ability to change depends on the age of the child or young person and the part of the brain requiring change – although the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) remains open to change throughout life. The brain is less likely to change through environmental experience after 3 years of age when most of the neuro ‘experience-dependent’ (Perry, 2006) pathways have been formed. The brainstem, (sensory, physiological) and the limbic (emotion, attachment) areas of the brain require many more numerous REPETITIVE experiences than the cortical brain (thinking) requires changing. 

In other words, ‘it is easier to change beliefs than feelings’ (Perry, 2006) and if you want to change feelings you have to REPEAT, REPEAT and REPEAT positive healing experiences many, many, times in the context of a safe and patient carer! 

Connect B4 Correct work with foster and adoptive parents helping them to remember that verbal language is not held in the brainstem or limbic areas of the brain - so we cannot talk these children and young people into better reactions and behaviour. If we consider the child or young person who, for example has had their head held under the water by an adult in their early life, when they later refuse to get into a bath, it does not matter how many times you try and reassure them and explain that the water is safe. The child and young person has to re-experience, step by step the feeling of having a ‘SAFE’ bath - experiencing the feeling of safety, over and over again – remember REPEAT, REPEAT and REPEAT, until the biological neuro pathways, which seek out the ‘Cluster’ of associations, that help the body know what to do when having a bath, do not head off to the  ‘Bath Cluster’ with the THREAT member, which is there to physically alert the body that they are unsafe.  Eventually if REPEATED enough times then the brain will develop new clusters of association related to having a bath, a new ‘Bath Cluster’ where THREAT is not a member! The child or young person’s body then can approach the bath in a calm and engaging way and begin to build the joy and comfort associated with having a bath.

The key to the beginnings of Connect B4 Correct therapeutic approach is to provide an environment that offers these repetitive experiences, such as having a bath, that are predictable, rhythmic, caring and positive, ensuring a sense of safety and connection. You cannot talk this safety and connection; it must be felt. Connect B4 Correct therapeutic approach is about creating opportunities, woven throughout the ‘day to day’ patterns of daily life - to emotionally connect and spend joyous moments together – through play, dance, music, cooking and any activity that awakens the senses.  

Nowadays, distanced from our extended family support, emotional networks, and neighbourhoods and with children spending hours engaged with television and social media, rather than being emotional and socially connected has led to a ‘relationally improvised world’ (Perry, 2006). Children and young people who have had adverse childhood experiences also have had fewer opportunities for positive social emotional experiences.  Denied of positive social relationships, these children, and young people, compared to their peers, can present as less ‘socially appropriate, having less empathy and are less able to manage their feelings – often being described as socially and emotionally immature. These children and young people can lack consideration of the other and become overly focused on the self; self-seeking and self-absorbed. Connect B4 Correct understand that the expectations of foster parents, social workers, teachers, and peers can be off-balance from the child or young person’s socioemotional development. The child or young person maybe left feeling misunderstood, not good enough and not fitting in - they sit on the periphery of their social group.  As we all know, any animal who is positioned on the periphery of a social group is in more danger! 

Connect B4 Correct understand and encourage positive social and emotional interact with children and young people, who have adverse childhood experiences, the more healing occurs – the more we fix the foundations of the house the more we make a more stable brain structure. Creating a network of healthy ‘developmentally mature brains’ and positive social and emotional connections around these children is an essential aspect of a the Connect B4 Correct therapeutic approach.  

Connect B4 Correct believe that as well as foster and adoptive parents and support staff, all relational elements of the child or young person’s life, such as teachers and other social activity providers can become part of the ‘healing’ network. It is well known that these children do better within the richness of an adult 1:1 relationship, like the kind we afford our infants, than having to compete for connection in large social groups supervised by a couple of adults. When a child is given enough 1:1 adult time, the time that was never given as an infant, they can re-set the child or young person on a more ‘usual’ socioemotional developmental path, and it is only then that the child or young person can more easily benefit from the larger social group. Spending real attentive time with these children and young people in positive and joyful interactions will mean that these children will not need to be ‘attention seeking’!

Reference: Boyd Webb, N. Ed. (2006). Chapter 3 Perry, B. Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment to Clinical Work with Traumatised Children – The Neuro Sequential Model of Therapeutics, In Working with Traumatised Youth in Child Welfare. Guildford Press.


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