Foster Parent Resource Center

Foster Parent Burnout

Mother hugging child Foster parenting can be a tough job. In order to work with our kids it is important that you remember to take care of yourself first. One aspect of foster parenting you should continually be aware of is foster parent burnout.

Burnout is a common psychological problem that affects people of all ages and walks of life, but is most common in the helping professions (i.e. nurses, social workers, teachers, parents and foster parents). Burnout is a slow-growing condition that derives from stress and poor stress management. It occurs over a long period of time, usually months, and the chief complaint would be mental and physical exhaustion. Burnout can strike anyone but mostly affects those in the helping professions because these people have demands placed on them that are either self-imposed or external in nature.

The risk of burnout in the helping professions and care giving roles increases when people:

  • Are nurturing by nature and anticipate the needs of others
  • Have less support than they need
  • Feel powerless
  • Are workaholics
  • Are perfectionists

The symptoms of burnout occur in stages. A foster parent's tiredness gives way to exhaustion when their coping skills fail. Behavior is affected, as well as attitude and motivation. Sadness and apathy follow the anger and resentment. Some foster parents will become estranged from their own feelings and deny that anything is wrong and will double their work efforts in an attempt to "shake off the blues."

Some symptoms of burnout include:

  • Tiredness
  • Small health complaints (headaches, stomach aches, back pain)
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Feeling sad, angry, irritable and depressed
  • Appetite changes
  • Lack of motivation and loss of interests in everyday activities which you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
  • Feeling like running away

Awareness is the key to preventing burnout. Knowing your risk factors and gauging the level of activity in our lives is the first step. Even if you do not belong to any of the high risk groups, a busy lifestyle with little support is enough to trigger burnout. You must take steps to make changes by making the decision to take control of your life. You can make changes that will keep burnout at bay:

  • Learn how to relax.
  • Improve/gain new coping skills
  • Keep a journal
  • Research ways to reduce stress

All foster parents should be proactive and put in to place a stress management plan to deal with the challenges of foster parenting and everyday life. Your plan should consist of three things:

  • Make lifestyle choices better to include diet, exercise and relaxation methods (i.e. eat more fruit and veggies, yoga, walking, stretching, napping, mediation and prayer)
  • Reduce or eliminate harmful habits and addictions (12-step programs, online support groups, individual therapy)
  • Develop and maintain a social support system (i.e. friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers)

If burnout is left untreated or ignored, it can lead to serious psychological and physical problems. First Home Care offers respite care for treatment parents that are available on both a planned and emergency basis. Respite is a valuable tool for maintaining and strengthening placements. Crisis intervention services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are another essential support for foster homes. Remember, you don't have to do this on your are part of the First Home Care team and we are here to help!


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