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Placement and trauma

When an urgent placement is required, it may be due to a variety of reasons, including removal from parents, an immediate need for a change in care arrangement, removal from carers due to a harm report, or a young person who is homeless.

At any stage of a placement journey for a child, they may experience trauma and disruption to their attachment to others significant to them. This is particularly important for children aged 5 and below, as this is an important developmental stage for attachment. Early secure attachment to a primary care provider helps a child to develop emotional coping mechanisms. Attachment-related difficulties may disrupt relationships, communication, stress regulation, and a child's awareness of their 'inner world' as well as coping with the outside world.

When a child or young person’s life is significantly disrupted, their responses (feelings and emotions) are likely to be confusing for them, the people that care for them and the people who work with them. 

Change can be a struggle and challenge for most adults. It can be even harder for disempowered children who undergo significant and abrupt change (such as being moved from the home and family they know). It is important to empathise and keep their feelings, thoughts and responses about change at the centre of your decision making and responses.

A child may not know or understand why Child Safety are making decisions about them.  They may not see things the same way practitioners do therefore do not assume they know and understand your purpose.  Your ability to include children, young people and their families in the process, hear them, partner with them, see them and care for them during that change and transition is critical.

In the worse-case scenarios, the trauma continues if they are removed from their home in a highly emotional and unplanned way. Trauma may continue if they are separated from siblings, placed in unfamiliar care arrangements, moved repeatedly and if they lose connections with safe, familiar people.

Sometimes children beginning new care arrangements exhibit externalising behaviours such as throwing things, kicking, punching and running away. They may internalise their emotions in ways that are not visible or they may appear anxious, withdrawn or sad or may hurt themselves. These are consistent with trauma-related responses. Support the child in their transition to the placement, and help the carer respond effectively to the behaviours, so the child can develop a sense of safety and security.

Work together with the carer to reassure the child by providing comfort such as items from their home (for example, their favourite teddy). Reassure them about things that you know will stay the same, such as going to the same school. Make sure the child has an age appropriate understanding of what you will do next and when they will speak to you again. Tell the child when they may expect to speak with and see their parents and siblings next. Consider other factors that will help provide continuity for them during this time of change.

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