Attachment disorders can affect every part of your life – physical health, emotional stability, social skills, eating habits, education, economic well being. But they’re invisible.
Sometimes people are quick to react to the behaviour of our foster children. I had a woman shout at me and one child in a car park. ‘Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?!’ she bellowed furiously at us before stomping off. I didn’t even try to explain that this child was hypervigilant, always watching and monitoring everyone and everything for her own safety. That’s what living with abusive parents does to you. For your own survival, you have to map everybody’s movements and body language at all times. It comes across as staring. I had other people in shops and restaurants getting right up into this child’s face and waving their hands up and down at her in an attempt to stop her staring at them.
While shoe shopping with another foster child, he was asked to walk up and down by the shop assistant, to try his new shoes out for comfort. He immediately dissociated, seeing this request as some kind of pressure. His head sank down, his eyes glazed over and he was gone, completely, for around twenty minutes. It’s not easy buying shoes for a child who won’t or can’t respond to you, in any way.
Then there’s been the bizarre sulks over nothing, the hiding under tables in restaurants, the over friendliness to strangers, the rudeness to friends, the destruction of toys and belongings, the lack of empathy, the cruelty to pets, the dangerously high pain thresholds, the inabilty to self regulate, the thrill seeking behaviours, the sudden coldness.
I could go on. The behaviours confound and occasionally embarrass me, and the children are often confused by their own reactions.
Children with attachment disorders are juggling a huge number of balls all at once, often without any outward signs of doing so. While they are in our care, we can try to carry some of the load for them, to smooth the way to some extent, and to shield them from the judgement of others.
Once they are out in the world on their own, it’s no wonder that young people who have such disorders really struggle. It’s yet another reason why Looked After Children should be able to choose to stay in supported care (of come sort or other) until they are…..well, ready to leave, to step out on their own.
What we need is some long term thinking. Someone needs to weigh the costs of keeping young people in such placements against the costs of them struggling, failing and ending up in the prison system, with mental health issues, with children of their own who they can’t care for.