by Jesus Vasquez, MSW
Having been a therapist in a program which focused on building a healthy attachment and bond between new mothers (recently aged out of the foster care system) and their new baby, the challenges were many. These new mothers did not have the adequate parenting skills, and for some, did not exhibit those caring and nurturing qualities that many mothers display toward their newborns. These new mothers who went through the Foster Care System lacked insight into attachment and how it is the basis of all healthy functioning between mother and child. We must take into consideration that the majority of the new mothers in the program have experienced some form of abuse and neglect from their own parents. These new parents did not have the ability to nurture or show attachment toward their child. These new mothers were not taught how to be mothers themselves as their relationships were dysfunctional and/or non existent with their own mothers. These helpful strategies in therapy really helped the young mothers gain some insight into their new roles as mothers and helped develop insight regarding their bond with their new babies.
Many of the new mothers I worked with had never had a discussion of what their parenting goals were, let alone a discussion about the importance of bonding and attachment. Helping the client visualize what a positive future with their baby can look like may help them realize that they are capable of having long and healthy relationships with their child.
I have found it very helpful to have them tell their story (melding narrative therapy). When the new mothers can write down and tell how they want their "story" to end up it gives them some control and empowerment over their life. By addressing what they want for their babies and themselves, with guidance and support, it gives them hope that they can accomplish something they never thought they could. This also starts the processes of connecting their thought and feelings toward their child and how they respond, how they connect with their baby can have positive long term affects in their relationship with their babies.
Through therapy we must help the new mother address their previous losses. What I mean is that with their experiences in the foster care system many losses have occurred in their lives. Children in the foster care system have lost their bio parents. Many have lost their siblings (separated when sheltered). They have lost friends and family members. Many have lost clothes, favorite blankets and stuffed toys and most importantly they may have lost connections to former foster parents, they have grown close too, as they have moved from home to home.
Depending on their history regarding when they were put into the foster care system, work can begin with what developmental stage the new mother had arrested development. If there was trauma in early childhood a discussion would start with topics such as trust and attachment. If the disruption in placement happened in the elementary school years the therapy will focus on developing relationships, thoughts and feelings revolving their birth parents, peer acceptance. If they had been placed into foster care in their pre teen years then the focus would be working toward ambivalent feelings about their birth families. If their placement happened while they were teens then work will be focused on helping them establish their individual identities along with their identity as new mothers. Work will also be done to establish appropriate coping strategies related to maintaining and obtaining healthy relationships with other people but also focused on how important it is for them to have a bond and attachment with their babies.
Having the psychodynamic component to the intervention can help as you are working to rewire processes that have never been nurtured or learned which are done in healthy attachments. It is very important to validate the client’s connection to the birth family along with having discussions about client’s connection with their own child. The therapy process used to work toward greater insight and understanding of attachment toward their child can be enhanced with outside supports that will only reinforce a mother’s work toward attachment.
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