Secondary trauma causing stress among foster carers

Following a recent survey, psychologists at Nottingham Trent University have argued that foster carers need more support to combat stress and burnout.

The research explored secondary traumatic stress (STS), which can be caused by the impact of supporting people who have experienced traumatic events, and burnout as two factors that can severely affect well-being.

Findings showed that foster carers experience higher than average STS, suggesting they are affected by exposure to the trauma stories of their foster children. The 180 carers who took part in the survey also demonstrated high levels of burnout, which made a direct contribution to their STS. Additionally, more than 75 per cent of respondents reported instances of primary trauma - harm or threat of harm to themselves or their family within the context of the role.

Self-care was found to affect STS outcomes, with the main forms of self-care mentioned by those surveyed including spending time with others, exercise and support, suggesting that foster carers would benefit from more assistance in building up resources which help them to withstand the stress of the role.

Kay Bridger, lead author of the study, said: “Foster carers are increasingly in demand to offer a caring home to children and young people who have experienced the breakdown of their own home or who have been maltreated. Our study showed that many foster carers remain motivated despite stress, but for this caring role to be maintained their wellbeing needs to be taken care of. It can be a stressful role for many reasons, including behavioural issues of the children, but there has been little consideration of STS as an additional factor.

“The role of foster carers is very different to other helping professionals because it is home based, and so they have much less ability to set boundaries about when the role affects them, unlike nurses or social workers for instance who can draw a line under their work somewhat more easily.”