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Blocked care: ‘You’re not alone; it’s a brain thing.’

Aug 2022

Written by Glenys Bristow

“No one knows what it is like to care for a child in trauma until they have cared for a child in trauma,” said Noel MacNamara in one of his recent blocked care workshops for kinship and foster carers. As a kinship carer and social worker with 30+ years experience, Noel knows how rewarding and challenging caring for a child with trauma can be. He also knows how often carers can feel lost, hopeless, like a failure, or as if they’ve made a mistake in their relationship with the children in their care.

What is blocked care?

Blocked care happens when a carer or carers enter a state of prolonged stress, suppressing their capacity to sustain loving and empathic feelings towards their child. It stems from a need for self-protection and defensiveness. It is a reactive style of caring that is narrowly focused on the immediate behaviour and most negative aspects of the child.

In blocked care, we can experience a tendency to overreact to a child’s nonverbal communication; nonverbal communications are processed faster than verbal communications and therefore can block verbal communication.

Blocked care tends to be judgmental towards the child and to oneself. It makes rapid appraisals and judgements about what is going on between parent and child and produces simplistic black and white thoughts about the child and parent. There is a shift from a ‘we’ interaction to a ‘you’ and ‘me’ interaction.

What does it look like?

  • You are caught up in coping with the child’s behaviour and lose curiosity about its meaning.
  • You feel defensive and guard yourself against rejection.
  • You feel burned out, chronically overwhelmed, and tired.
  • You feel resentment toward one or more of the children in your care or your situation. You may even regret becoming a carer.
  • You feel irritable with other family, friends, support workers and therapeutic support.
  • You isolate yourself.
  • You become cynical about helpful ideas – “yeah, yeah, we’ve tried that before/it won’t work/they don’t understand”.
  • You feel you have lost compassion – which leads to shame.
  • You experience a crisis of faith or a personal belief system challenge.
  • You do not feel real pleasure in caring anymore.

What came up in the training discussions?

Carers need more support – or if [there is support] there, we need to know about them and how to access it.

Carer

We can feel like we can’t offer anything to the carer because we are no there in the moment.

Support worker

There is such a gap in education about the realities of the carer experience. Carers may step up to the plate with compassion and good intentions but with none of the tools, we need to be part of the solution. This gap so often causes heartbreak for carers, and sadness for the carers and fostered children and young people. “You can love them very much and the daily battles make you question yourself”.  You may understand the reasons behind the behaviour but struggle to cope.

We need planned ongoing training and support not just when something has happened.

Carer

We need much more information on how to initially identify and fix blocked care

Support worker

A clear theme across the discussions was the need for ongoing support and opportunities for reflection. We discussed how sometimes a child or young person could trigger a response from carers, and they need to be able to talk to someone they trust to understand and care for themselves.

Reflection

  • Do you identify with the experience of blocked care?
  • What do you think carers need most to feel supported and empowered?
  • How can support workers and supervisors best support foster and kinship carers?

We continue to offer online workshops and training for foster and kinship carers. See what is on at our training page. 

You may be interested in: Foster care Kinship care

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