Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Addressing the Needs of Foster Children within a School Counseling Program

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Addressing the Needs of Foster Children within a School Counseling Program

Article excerpt

Helping professionals working with a child who is a victim of neglect and abuse typically expect that foster care placement will signify the end of the child's prolonged experience of trauma. For foster children themselves, however, foster care placement itself may represent a new experience of trauma. Beyond the promise of a new beginning, the journey through foster care is not always what it seems. For many children, foster care placement is scary. It entails hard work, periods of ambiguity, and sometimes brings about unwelcome lessons. Unquestionably, foster home placement is a journey that no child should have to endure alone. It takes a concerted effort on the part of many to help a foster child realize the hope that we have for him or her. School counselors can play a critical role in orchestrating a circle of support around foster children.

As of 1997, approximately 500,000 children and youth were in foster care (Noble, 1997). Foster children are typically removed from their homes and placed in a care setting because their biological parents are unable to adequately care for them. The most common offenses that precipitate the child's removal from the home are physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect (Marcus, 1991; Noble 1997; Simms, 1991a). The hospitalization of the primary care giving parent, as the result of mental illness, for example, may also be a precursor to foster placement. On rare occasions, a child's own behavioral problems and/or disabilities may result in foster care placement (Marcus, 1991; Simms, 1991a).

The Challenges

Children in foster care often experience serious psychological, social, and physiological difficulties resulting from their traumatic and turbulent histories of abuse and neglect (Ayasse, 1995; Fantuzzo et al., 1996; Hochstadt, jaudes, Zimo, & Schachter, 1987; Prino & Peyrot, 1994; Zimmerman, 1988). Simms (1991b) used a contextual conceptualization to frame the discussion of the emotional and/or behavioral challenges presented by foster children. In his view, many of the behaviors displayed by foster children are reactions to traumatic events rather than manifestations of child psychopathology. He identified the following three categories of challenges facing foster children:

1. Problems related to pre-placement conditions

2. Problems related to normal adaptation to foster care placement

3. Problems resulting from inappropriate management on the part of the foster care system

This categorization alludes to the complexity of issues involved in foster care placement, and it offers a useful framework for understanding the multiple needs of foster children.

After reviewing the challenges facing children in foster care, the authors use case examples to illustrate counseling interventions that are appropriate to the role of the school counselor. These case studies are composites of unidentifiable foster children with whom the authors have worked.

Pre-placement Trauma

Foster children may display a wide range of behavioral problems depending upon the type of abuse or neglect experienced prior to foster care placement. Physically abused children are often described as more aggressive, noncompliant (Cicchetti & Toth, 1995; Fantuzzo et al., 1996; Prino & Peyrot, 1994), and impulsive (Parker & Herrera, 1996) than their nonabused peers. In addition, low self-esteem (Cicchetti & Toth, 1995; Prino & Peyrot, 1994) and difficulties with peer relations are reported among physically abused children (Fantuzzo et al., 1996; Parker & Herrera, 1996). One explanation for these behaviors is that children who have experienced physical abuse may have become accustomed to receiving harsh or erratic punishment and carry mistaken beliefs regarding "normal" parent-child relationships. As a result, they may have learned to use negative behaviors as a means for initiating contact, getting attention, or asserting power over the adults in their lives. …

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