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Common Challenges

Every child in foster care has experienced some form of trauma. Many of them face unique challenges that will require committed parents to support them in overcoming these challenges throughout their life. Although children and youth in foster care may struggle more than those who have not experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma, with the proper support, unwavering commitment, and guidance, many will thrive in a permanent adoptive family.

The information outlined below is meant only to provide definition around some of the more common challenges that children in foster care may face. Each child has a unique story, of which these challenges are only a part – but none of the waiting children in Indiana should be defined solely by their life experiences to this point. 

Abuse and Neglect

Many of the children, regardless of their age, have experienced abuse. This can mean physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or any combination of these types of trauma. Abuse generally leaves its mark with behavioral problems, physical impairments and therapeutic needs that require the attention of parents and professionals working together to benefit the child’s future development.

Neglect is the absence of essential and healthy nurturing of a child for their physical, intellectual and emotional development. Neglect includes physical neglect, child abandonment and expulsion, medical neglect, inadequate supervision, emotional neglect and educational neglect by parents, parent substitutes, and other adult caretakers of children. Children who have experienced neglect may be challenged with emotional problems.

Attachment and Attachment Disorders

Attachment describes a child’s ability to form relationships. Children who have been abused, neglected or have experienced disruptions in significant relationships may face challenges in creating new relationships. It is critical for caregivers to understand these youth have been removed not only from their families of origin, but may have also had multiple caregivers. For many children, this may result in difficulty or an inability to form healthy attachments and relationships with adults and peers.  

An attachment disorder is a condition in which children have difficulty forming loving, lasting close relationships. Attachment disorders vary in severity, but the term is usually reserved for those who show a nearly complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They may seem distant, insincere or uncaring and have difficulty trusting others. Informed therapeutic intervention is often necessary to help children process and overcome their attachment issues.

Caring for youth with attachment issues can be challenging for parents and families.  It is important for families to educate themselves and understand why their child thinks, feels, and acts the way they do.  Effective intervention will not only educate the family, but will also teach families how to do bonding and attaching activities, understand the importance of control, structure and consistency, and emotional regulation.  The Children’s Bureau, in collaboration with the Department of Child Services, offers a roster of clinicians who have completed a training and certification process to enhance their skills to work with families of youth with attachment issues. 

Other Challenges

Developmental Disabilities

This term describes many conditions that may be mild or severe and generally includes any physical, mental or emotional condition, which will continue to inhibit the normal developmental progress of a child. Many children have educational requirements that must be met through the Special Education process of their school.

Emotional Disabilities

Abuse, trauma and sometimes genetics can result in various degrees of multiple emotional challenges. This term is also used as eligibility criteria for services at school through Special Education under state and federal law.

Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence but have difficulties remembering or understanding information. This term is also used as eligibility criteria for services at school through Special Education under state and federal law.

Mental Disabilities

Mental disabilities is a term that is used to describe a wide variety of different challenges and can affect children in ways that are unique to each child, especially in regards to levels of severity. This is also a term used as eligibility criteria for Special Education services.

ADD / ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD / ADHD) is a diagnosable, treatable, biologically based disorder. The primary symptoms include some combination of being inattentive and being distracted, being impulsive, and in some children, physical restlessness or hyperactive behavior.

Drug Exposure

A child born to a mother who used drugs such as cocaine or certain pharmaceuticals while she was pregnant may have damage to their nervous system. A newborn will appear stiff and rigid and have prolonged crying episodes and be at an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Some children will develop behavior and learning difficulties.

FAS / FAE / ARND

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome / Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAS / FAE) is a set of physical, mental and neurobehavioral birth defects associated with alcohol consumption by a child’s birth mother during pregnancy.

Prenatal alcohol exposure does not always result in FAS – although there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Some children affected by alcohol exposure before birth do not have the characteristic facial abnormalities and growth retardation identified with FAS, yet they may have brain and other impairments that are just as significant.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) describes the functional or mental impairments linked to prenatal alcohol exposure.

Every child in foster care has experienced some form of trauma. Many of them face unique challenges that will require committed parents to support the child in overcoming these throughout their life. Although children and youth in foster care may struggle more than those who have not experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma, with the proper support, unwavering commitment, and guidance, many will thrive in a permanent adoptive family.

The information outlined below is meant only to provide definition around some of the more common challenges that children in foster care may face. Each child has a unique story, of which these challenges are a part – but none of the waiting children in Indiana should be defined solely by their life experiences to this point. 

Abuse

Many of the children, regardless of their age, in the Indiana Adoption Program have experienced abuse. This can mean physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or any combination of these types of trauma. Abuse generally leaves its mark with behavioral problems, physical impairments and therapeutic needs that require the attention of parents and professionals working together to benefit the child’s future development.

Attachment & Attachment Disorders

Attachment describes a child’s ability to form relationships. Children who have been abused, neglected or have experienced disruptions in significant relationships may face challenges in creating new relationships.

An attachment disorder is a condition in which children have difficulty forming loving, lasting close relationships. Attachment disorders vary in severity, but the term is usually reserved for those who show a nearly complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They may seem distant, insincere or uncaring and have difficulty trusting others.

Attention Deficit Disorder / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADD/ADHD is a diagnosable, treatable, biologically based disorder. The primary symptoms include some combination of being inattentive and being distracted, being impulsive, and in some children, physical restlessness or hyperactive behavior.

Developmental Disabilities

This term describes many conditions that may be mild or severe and generally includes any physical, mental or emotional condition, which will continue to inhibit the normal developmental progress of a child. Many children have educational requirements that must be met through the Special Education process of their school.

Drug Exposed

A child born to a mother who used drugs such as cocaine or certain pharmaceuticals while she was pregnant may have damage to their nervous system. A newborn will appear stiff and rigid and have prolonged crying episodes and be at an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Some children will develop behavior and learning difficulties.

Emotional Disability

Abuse, trauma and sometimes genetics can result in various degrees of multiple emotional challenges. This term is also used as eligibility criteria for services at school through Special Education under state and federal law.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects & Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder

FAS/FAE is a set of physical, mental and neurobehavioral birth defects associated with alcohol consumption by a child’s birth mother during pregnancy. Prenatal alcohol exposure does not always result in FAS – although there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Some children affected by alcohol exposure before birth do not have the characteristic facial abnormalities and growth retardation identified with FAS, yet they may have brain and other impairments that are just as significant. Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) describes the functional or mental impairments linked to prenatal alcohol exposure.

Learning Disabilities

Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence but have difficulties remembering or understanding information. This term is also used as eligibility criteria for services at school through Special Education under state and federal law.

Mental Disabilities

Mental disabilities is a term that is used to describe a wide variety of different challenges and can affect children in ways that are unique to each child, especially in regards to levels of severity. This is also a term used as eligibility criteria for Special Education services.

Neglect

Neglect is the absence of essential and healthy nurturing of a child for their physical, intellectual and emotional development. Neglect includes physical neglect, child abandonment and expulsion, medical neglect, inadequate supervision, emotional neglect and educational neglect by parents, parent substitutes, and other adult caretakers of children. Children who have experienced neglect may be challenged with emotional problems.

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