Healing Trauma in Children: A practical guide for foster and kinship carers

Sonia Kennedy





"As adults we need to remember that you can never ‘get over’ trauma; we can never erase these events from our life, but we can learn to live with them. A very wise trauma worker once said, ‘People responding from trauma are having normal reactions to abnormal situations’. As the ‘grown-ups’ we have a responsibility to help children learn ways to understand and manage their reactions to trauma. We also need to support the development of each child’s self-esteem and self-worth, to help them believe they are a good person just the way they are. We can teach children the skills they need to be able to manage their reactions."


Foster and kinship carers play a vital role in our community. Their task is not an easy one.

Most children in care do not settle quickly and can become disruptive,
affecting the entire family. Many carers are unprepared for the level of support and intensive focus and effort that these children need. Research tells us that children with traumatic and chaotic backgrounds have difficulty regulating their emotions. They lack the cortical capacity to efficiently process their thoughts and feelings, making it hard for them to change their behaviour to fit into their new life. Typical parenting strategies may not work.

This book aims to help carers understand trauma and its impact on the vulnerable child they are caring for. A carer’s role is not just parenting; it is about having the ability to teach children the skills to manage their reactions. As opposed to a text heavy on theory, this book is designed so that you can access information quickly when you need it for specific situations that arise. Most importantly, it offers detailed solutions and strategies for day-to-day emergencies as well as more long-term solutions. It is not about medication; it’s not about behaviour management plans, punishment, judgement, or diagnosis. It is about developing a carer’s awareness, kindness, compassion, patience, strength, and education.

It is difficult to understand how much trauma some children have suffered. No-one can take away the traumatic experiences a child has lived through. What carers need to do is teach the child how to live with their memories and their symptoms — it is their story. Help them manage their future, so the past trauma doesn’t take over and control their life.

About the Author

Sonia Kennedy is an Australian clinical social worker with over 20 years of private and public clinical and training experience. She is an accredited mental health clinician and an approved counsellor with Victim Services NSW and has worked with adults, adolescents, children and adults. Sonia has experience in a range of settings, including child protection, corrections, education, and veterans and family counselling. Her professional work experience includes eight years at the Department of Family and Community Services and seventeen years in her own rural-based private practice contracting to a number of government and non-government organisations. She has provided clinical supervision to patient/client care staff and has extensive experience in cancer counselling and support, workplace and relationship issues, traumatic events, grief and loss, sexual assault, and family violence. She has significant experience in treating post-trauma stress reactions, complex PTSD, anxiety and depression. Sonia uses Trauma Informed Therapy, CBT, DBT, Systems Theory, Sensorimotor and Cross-Cultural Psychotherapy to help clients gain symptom relief and improve their general life quality. She also has specialised experience in child development, parent/child attachment and the interface of these experiences on adult health and functioning across the lifespan. Sonia’s clinical focus is on effective, evidence-based practice in psychotherapy and holistic wellbeing.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments    v
About the Author    vii
What this book is about    ix

SECTION 1    Background Briefing
Chapter 1 — An introduction to trauma    3
Types of trauma    5
How trauma impacts a child’s development    6
Chapter 2 — A bit about biology    9
The brain    9
The central nervous system    11
Chapter 3 — A bit about grief and loss    15
Grieving for the family    15
The stages of grief    16
Applying these stages to children    17
‘Tools of the trade’ for helping    19

SECTION 2    A Quick Go-to Guide
Chapter 4 — Sleep    27
Chapter 5 — Calm down strategies for emotions    35
Anger    35
Anxiety    38
Withdrawal and Sadness    40
Chapter 6 — Social skills    43
Chapter 7 — Attachment    51
Chapter 8 — Family contact    59
Chapter 9 — Toilet issues (yeek!)    67
Chapter 10 — Eating habits    75
Chapter 11 — Lying and stealing    79
Chapter 12 — Sexualised behaviour    85

SECTION 3    Diving in Deeper
Chapter 13 — Boundaries and routines — longer term strategies    95
Diet    95
Hygiene    100
Sexualised behaviour    105
Healthy relationships    105
Consequences and planning for healthy changes    109
Chapter 14 — Self-esteem    115
Self-esteem development    115
Identity and culture    122
Life story work    128

SECTION 4    Looking After Yourself
Chapter 15 — Care for carers    135
Keeping sane — strategies for self-care    135
Vicarious trauma    140
A bit about biological children    143

SECTION 5   Further Support
Chapter 16 — Tools of the trade    149
Chapter 17 — Further resources    157
A bit about eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)    157
A bit about neurofeedback and biofeedback    158

Books    158
Websites    159
Glossary of Terms    161