Lessons & Support Ideas in the Midst of COVID-19
The COVID–19 pandemic has rapidly transformed the world we live in. All around us, we are faced with uncertainty, worry, sadness, and fear. Never in a million years did I ever anticipate living in this kind of situation, and as each day goes by, I am feeling the impacts of this crisis and seeing how it is affecting my clients. One trend I am witnessing associated with this pandemic is intense reactions from my clients touched by adoption and/or foster care. This tragedy has triggered powerful emotions and reactions that appear to “come out of nowhere,” but are clearly linked to residual trauma and lack of felt safety, security and support. For many, the connection between a pandemic and any kind of separation, whether it be a foster care placement or an adoption, would go unnoticed, but upon further reflection and research, I now understand why this crisis hits this population so hard. It has suddenly changed their sense of safety and security, leaving them in need of support now more than ever.
First things first, this pandemic is impacting our brains at an unprecedented level. There has been a plethora of transitions over the last several weeks and these changes have brought decreased feelings of safety and security. This has caused our brains to function much of the time at an animalistic level—in survival mode. At every turn, on top of our day-to-day obligations and responsibilities, we are trying to ensure our safety and the safety of others by washing our hands, staying 6 feet apart, wearing masks, and the list goes on and on. For those not impacted directly by adoption or foster care, this is a lot to handle. It’s new and it’s exhausting. Operating on survival mode, however, is nothing new to adoptees and those who have histories involving foster care. And although this is not new territory for us, the addition of the pandemic had caused this part of the brain to go into overdrive. Not only is this population managing the typical degree of survival mode and trying to regulate fight/flight/freeze responses—these reactions are now triggered more easily and the alarm bells are louder than ever. Increased support is needed to quiet that alarm and increase felt safety and security.
To find out more about how trauma affects the brain check out: Understanding Trauma: Learning Brain vs Survival Brain
For more info on how the pandemic and social isolation impacts us check out:
You’re Not Lazy — Self-Isolation is Utterly Exhausting
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
Adoption and foster care are riddled with challenges, as is this pandemic. Deborah Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan are known for their identification of seven core issues (Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy, and Control) that are lifelong in adoption. I would argue that these same seven issues also impact those who have been in the foster care system. I have come to realize that some of these core issues are being exacerbated by the COVID – 19 pandemic.
To find out more visit: https://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/grief_silverstein_article.php
In light of this health crisis, we have been forced to adjust our daily lives in order to guarantee our safety and support those around us. We have lost our routines, we have lost outings and social engagements, we have lost support, we have lost jobs, we have lost loved ones. We are all experiencing LOSS. We are being told we can only go to grocery stores during certain hours, that we must wear face coverings when we go outside, that we must work from home, that we must stay 6 feet away from others. We are all experiencing a loss of CONTROL. We are missing a sense of normalcy as our loved ones are getting sick or passing away, people are having to cancel weddings, baby showers, and graduations. We are all experiencing GRIEF.
Adoptees and those who have experienced foster care are also faced with additional loss, lack of control, and grief. They have already endured loss of biological families, culture, language, schools, and homes. They have dealt with a complete lack of control with court systems, multiple placements, and sibling separations. They have been faced with grieving their history, the circumstances of their placement, and what could have been. Now, the loss, lack of control, and grief are even more at the forefront. They are losing out on visits with biological family members, courts have been closed leaving pending adoptions in limbo, individuals have no idea if biological family members are safe and healthy, they are being ripped from their regular schedules, they are fearing being sent to different placements due to escalations of behaviors during this time, they are grieving the loss of what could have been. This heightened experience of loss, lack of control, and grief can be crippling for this population and sheds light on the fact that trauma can infiltrate every aspect of our lives and trigger us in the most unexpected ways.
What We Are Seeing?
Over the last few weeks, I have worked with clients experiencing some of following symptoms:
• Increased behavioral outburst/tantrums
• Feelings of helplessness
• Intense concern for biological family members
• Emotional sensitivity
What do all of these symptoms have in common, you may ask? They can all stem from lack of felt safety. And a pandemic is just this, a complete lack of safety. It is imperative to work to create and/or strengthen feelings of felt safety, security and support especially during this time, for adoptees and those impacted by foster care.
How You Can Help Increase Safety & Security
Pandemic or not, these are some ways to help support adoptees and those in foster care
- Talk about what is happening
Open communication is essential when it comes to adoption and foster care, as well as in the time of COVID – 19. We need to be honest and we need to talk often to maintain connection. We need to be brave enough to handle the hard questions that may come our way, validate feelings, and work to find solutions. Talk to your child about how the pandemic has been affecting them and how some of the emotions they have may be linked to adoption/foster care trauma. Even if they are not ready to talk about it at the moment, bringing it up and helping them make those connections sends the sign that those big feelings and thoughts are important and you are there to listen.
Check out some links about ways to communicate with children about the pandemic and reduce stress.
- Maintain as much consistency as possible
Transitions can be challenging for many with adoption or foster care as part of their story. Keeping things predictable is extremely helpful. So much of the normal routine has been lost and we have had to face so many transitions that we need structure now more than ever. Maintaining schedules in terms of eating, sleeping, doing homework, planning fun activities, and appropriately preparing for when aspects of that schedule will be different can go a long way in keeping anxiety and worry at bay. Focus on what has stayed the same throughout the pandemic—the love of your family, the focus on safety and security, the fun you can all have together.
- Make the effort to maintain contact
Thousands of children are now faced with not getting routine face-to-face visits with their biological family members due to this crisis. This can be a particularly difficult transition to face and the lack of contact can spark more fear or helplessness. Reach out to social workers, case planners, foster care/adoption agencies or biological family individually (if you are able) in order to find ways to keep regular visits whether it’s over the phone or a video chat. The more support the better!
- Always come back to safety
Remind adoptees/foster care children that they are safe with you. Discuss the ways they can keep themselves safe as well as what adults in their lives are doing to ensure safety and security. Now, more than ever we are incorporating safety measures into our daily lives (hand washing, social distancing, etc.), but don’t forget to call attention to the other ways we promote felt safety. These can include, keeping promises, providing for basic needs, giving comfort, showing acceptance. We always want to relay the message that “we can face hard things together and we will get through them.”
The world as we know it has changed, that is a fact, but with that I am reminded of another fact; the fact that just as we will get through the challenges of this pandemic, we can get through the challenges of adoption/foster care …together.