Each year 440,000 kids enter foster care and have been exposed to some form of trauma. “The trauma suffered by these children is not benign. It can result in serious and chronic emotional and behavioral problems that are very difficult to treat. And each year, day after day thousands of teachers, caseworkers, police officers, judges, pediatricians, and child mental health professionals work with and try to help these children. And each year, parents, grandparents, foster parents care for these children” (Bruce). 

Bringing traumatized kids into the home allows the child to have a safe and loving home but can also have a toll on caregivers. The trauma can affect the caregiver to the point where they might suffer from Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), also known as Compassion Fatigue. STS can occur when someone experiences high stress for symptoms of trauma when working with people who have experienced trauma that mimic posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Foster parents are especially at risk for developing STS since they have empathy for foster children and not always having enough recovery time.  

Here are some signs of Secondary Trauma. Emotional indicators can be anger, sadness, and anxiety. Physical indicators of secondary trauma can be headaches, stomach aches, and constipation. Lastly, some personal indicators can by cynicism and irritability with family members.  

There are several ways to minimize the effects of Secondary Trauma. One of the best ways is to see a counselor. Talking about your experience with someone who is safe and knows how to help is a healthy way to understand the situation. Another way is to take time to evaluate your current situation is the second action point. Taking time to evaluate your current family situation, capacity and burn out levels are important ways to assess how you are doing and to feel where your limitations are.  

Additionally, practicing self-care, utilizing respite, and becoming part of a support group are all ways to minimize the effect of Secondary Trauma as well. Always feel free to reach out to your community and support system when you need it. That is why they are there.  

Finally, our agency does our best to minimize such effect as well by having 24/7 support for all foster and respite families, wrap around services for the child and for foster parents, exit interviews and space to grieve and heal after a placement.  


How Secondary Trauma Affects Your Other Children – Foster2Forever 

Perry, Bruce. “The Cost of Caring: Secondary Traumatic Stress and the Impact of Working with High-Risk Children and Families”, Child Trauma Academy, 2014.  

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