Don’t “Nuke” the Nuclear Family – by Scott Chausse

The following is used with permission from Scott Chausse, Placement Support Services Coordinator for Ariel Clinical Services. Please do not reprint without permission.

Maintaining the emotional, mental, and physical health of the nuclear family is very important in providing quality care to foster children. A family system that becomes internally stressed will be less able to meet their own family needs of the needs of children placed in their home. Biological and foster children all need adequate attention, and the marriage relationship also requires daily attention to remain healthy. Families that sacrifice the health and well being of their bio family or marriage will be less effective in responding to the high demands of foster children.

It is very important to maintain a healthy family system which includes all members of the household. Regardless of the demands of foster children, the bio family has to maintain the integrity of the family unit. Personal time for each family member needs to be scheduled on a daily basis if possible. Each bio child should have quality time each day with their parents. This can be at bedtime, or simply taking a fifteen minute walk with the child at the same time each day to ask him how he is doing. The married couple needs to have a minimum of fifteen minutes a day of quality time together t6o discuss how they are feeling and how their day has gone. Daily quality time among all members of the bio family is essential to family unity and cohesiveness.

All children benefit from positive attention. Positive attention supports the child’s feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. Children that have received adequate positive attention are less likely to act out in a negative manner in order to get attention. Many foster children have histories of neglect (no attention), or have received negative attention prior to placement. Foster children in placement may frequently act out negatively to meet their need for attention. If there are other foster or bio children in the home, this can be very demanding on the family system.

I recall one foster family that had four foster children and four biological children. One foster child in the family was very defiant. The foster mother spent 80% of her time responding to the negative behavior of the one defiant child. The other seven children in the home, and her husband, had to divide the remaining 20% of the available time. The foster mother had very little time for herself, her husband, or her bio children. The other foster children in the home, who previously were behaving, began acting out to get attention. Some of the bio children began displaying symptoms indicating that they were experiencing high levels of stress.

The foster family successfully dealt with the deteriorating situation by finding methods to respond more effectively and less often to the demanding behaviors of the one defiant child, and adding more consistent quality time within their family. The extra time available for improved family relationships worked out positively for everyone involved, and the pressure on the family system was decreased. The bio children reduced their stress levels with the added attention from the parents, and the foster children in the home returned to acceptable behavior levels. The parents were then able to deal more effectively with the needs of all the members of the household.


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