Q. I am thinking about becoming a foster parent but people keep telling me I will get in way over my head. I recently read something called reactive attachment disorder and worry that I won’t know what to do if a child has this problem. Can you tell me more about it?

A. Reactive Attachment Disorder can develop when children have received grossly negligent care and do not form healthy emotional attachments with their primary caregivers. This is usually with their mothers and develops before the age of 5.
When children form an attachment with loving and protective caregivers a young child learns to love and trust others. They develop empathy and form healthy relationships.
Some of the causes of reactive attachment disorder are the following: Repeated changes of primary caregivers that prevent formation of stable attachments, for example, frequent changes in foster care. Persistent disregard of a child’s physical and emotional needs.
These are some of the symptoms exhibited by the child: • detached • unresponsive or resistant to being comforted • excessively inhibited (holding back emotions) • withdrawn or a mixture of approach and avoidance (related to the belief that if I get close this person will leave me or hurt me)• depression • aggressive and/or disruptive behavior • learning difficulties/behavior problems in school • inability to form meaningful relationships • low self esteem • problems sleeping
Treatment involves two important goals:
1. Provide a safe, consistent environment
2. Help a child develop a healthy relationship with an appropriate caregiver.
The good news, it is possible for children with reactive attachment disorder to learn to trust others and to lead healthy productive lives.
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