Sarah Naish is a leading expert and bestselling author in therapeutic parenting and child trauma. She is the CEO of the Centre of Excellence in Child Trauma which incorporates Inspire Training Group and the National Association of Therapeutic Parents, (www.NAoTP.com and www.inspiretraininggroup.com) Sarah qualified as a social worker in 1991 and is also a Therapeutic Parent of five adopted children and former foster parent. It is this experience which formed her own successful therapeutic model within the ‘Ofsted Outstanding’ fostering agency she owned. She now delivers conferences and keynote speeches nationally and internationally on child trauma.
Compassion Fatigue – What every social worker must know
I am always amazed by the lack of knowledge about compassion fatigue, the impact on parents and carers of vulnerable children AND their social workers. After all, it is the one thing most likely to be causing significant issues within a family including withdrawal, rejection and emotional disconnection.
I first became aware of the negative power of compassion fatigue, (sometimes referred to as blocked care’) as a parent of five adopted siblings. When they were all teenagers, I had problems with my son. I felt disempowered and unable to find a way through the disconnection I felt from him. I felt like I had become the worst parent in the world.
As a former social worker, I knew the system, so I contacted my local authority for assistance. What I was met with was blame, a failure to understand the effects of child trauma and any kind of assistance to help us to resolve the problems we faced as a family.
The (Ofsted ‘Outstanding’) fostering agency I was running had no such problems with our families. As a staff team we instinctively understood compassion fatigue, the effects on foster parents and secondary effects on children. When we started noticing the signs, we drew in close, offered empathy and nurture with non-judgmental support. Children stayed in the families and foster parents did not resign.
Several years later, running training and workshops all over the country, I found that parents and carers widely reported symptoms of compassion fatigue. In the main, they had been told they were ‘depressed’. Children were moved as a solution to the ‘problem’. I recognised the stories as parallel to my own and went to look for research into compassion fatigue impacting on adopters and foster parents.
There wasn’t any.
I approached the Hadley Centre at Bristol University and together we formulated the first ever world- wide research into compassion fatigue in foster care. We found that over 45% of foster parents were showing some symptoms of compassion fatigue. When we bear in mind that our most vulnerable children are looked after by foster parents, we need to concern ourselves with the fact that the HIGHEST support goes to foster parents, and yet the levels of compassion fatigue also run at such high levels.
So, what about adopters? Special guardians and kinship carers? Well we have not done the research yet but anecdotally, through my work with the National Association of Therapeutic Parents, (www.naotp.com) I can see that if anything, the levels are higher within these groups.
When we add in the stresses and strains experienced by these parents from trying to access resources in an underfunded system, often battling with schools AND social workers who have not been adequately trained in the impact of long-term trauma, we see the full, bleak picture.
A lot of our training is around helping social workers to recognise and manage compassion fatigue. We help them to reconnect with parents and therefore help the parent to re connect to the child. It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t cost anything. Its just a simple shift from problem solving strategic interaction to an initial empathic response. This helps to change brain chemistry and to ‘unblock’ the brain.
We are currently engaged in part two of our compassion fatigue research, which demonstrates that the strategies we use keep families together, keep social workers and parents connected, and prevent family (‘placement’) breakdown.
After all, social workers need real solutions themselves too.
No one Told Us It Would Be Like This – Research Summary 2016