Preserving Placements during a Pandemic

Very few people will get through this global pandemic without being affected in some way. Some will cope better than others. Our prior life experiences can be a help, or a hindrance. Those who have experienced adversity in the past, and overcome it, will likely fare better during these difficult times. Those who have experienced overwhelming adversity, from which they have not or are yet to recover, are likely to be particularly impacted.

Children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life are vulnerable to being particularly impacted by the current pandemic, and measures to control it. The pandemic has suddenly, and with little or no prior warning, made uncertainty, confinement, and restriction (including in relation to access to basic needs) salient aspects of our day-to-day experience. While this is stressful for most of us, it can be particularly stressful for children and young people in out-of-home care. It can put (additional) strain on their foster and kinship care placements at a time of reduced capacity to absorb additional pressures.

Uncertainty, including in relation to our health and the health of our loved ones, our access to basic needs, and what the future holds, is anxiety-evoking. It can leave us preoccupied with accessing basic needs and lead us to behave in ways that that increase our chances of being able to achieve needs provision, and feel safe. Uncertainty, coupled with the media coverage of the pandemic, can leave us experiencing ourselves as inadequate, others as threatening and dangerous, and the world as unsafe.

Our current uncertainty, and its psychological impacts on us, provides an insight into what life is like for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life. It affects the beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and our world that influence our approach to life and relationships. I refer to these as attachment representations. They are also commonly referred to as internal working models, or schema. It leaves our motor (that is, our nervous system) running too fast, or too highly activated, and vulnerable to blowing up. It is shaping our learning about our access to needs provision and what actions are required to assure access.  Our own response to the pandemic reflects the Triple-A Model (Pearce, 2010), which I developed to explain what I have observed across a long career about the impact of a tough start to life on the the psychological functioning of children and young people and their approach to life and relationships.

If we are vulnerable to becoming a little (or a lot) like children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life in these troubled times, imagine what it is like for them. In these difficult times there is a heightened vulnerability to regression to approaching life and relationships under the influence of negative beliefs about self, other, and world, heightened arousal and anxiety proneness, and a preoccupation with accessibility to needs provision.  

The current times, with its change and uncertainty, restriction, and increased physical closeness to stressed adults are likely to be trauma-triggering for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life. Foster and kinship carers, you are likely to see emotional displays and behaviours you have not seen in some time, or a heightening of those emotional displays and behaviours. Managing these trauma-related emotional displays and behaviours can leave you feeling below your best and negatively impact your performance of the caregiving role. A problematic cycle can emerge where stressed children and young people and stressed adults heighten each other, leaving placements under pressure and vulnerable, notwithstanding our best intentions in less troubled times.

What is needed now, more than ever, is a plan for how foster and kinship carers can reduce the impact of these troubled times on the children and young people they are caring for, and themselves. The CARE Curriculum offers such a plan.

Preserving Placements during a Pandemic offers a practical approach to looking after the children and young people in your care, and yourselves, during this difficult time. The package includes a series of short videos and a an accompanying handbook. The package is based on the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, a comprehensive training program for general and relative foster carers which is in its fifth year of implementation in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal Ireland, and the CARE Curriculum, which was delivered as part of the Kinship CARE Project to statutory kinship carers in South Australia over the past two years. 89% of local statutory kinship carers who completed the Kinship CARE Project training and a post-implementation training reported feeling more confident in performing the role, and 84% reported experiencing improved relationships with the child or children in their care.

Preserving Placements during a Pandemic is due for release on 17/4/20. If you are looking for guidance in the meantime, I refer you to my recently release resource Practical Parenting during a Pandemic. As with the Preserving Placements, the strategies in Practical Parenting are based on the CARE Curriculum and the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care.

A straightforward guide to keeping things on track in the home during tough times. Includes printable worksheets – see preview below. 18pp

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Pearce, C.M. (2010). An Integration of Theory, Science and Reflective Clinical Practice in the Care and Management of Attachment-Disordered Children – A Triple A Approach. Educational and Child Psychology (Special Issue on Attachment), 27 (3): 73-86

About colbypearce

I am a practising Clinical Psychologist with twenty-seven years’ experience working with children and young people recovering from abuse and neglect. I am also an author and educator in trauma-informed, therapeutic caregiving. My programs are implemented in Australia and Ireland, and I am well-known for my practical and accessible guidance for caregivers and professionals alike.
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