The Brent Fostering Handbook is being updated. Please do not refer to this version of the handbook.

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Recognising and Dealing with Stress

When a child or young person comes into our care, they will probably be feeling confused and frightened. This is likely to be a very stressful period for them. It is therefore important that as a foster carer you try to understand how they might be feeling and attempt to put them at ease. Often many of the children and young people will have suffered from some form of abuse or neglect. As a result they may present with emotional, behavioural or developmental difficulties.

It is important for all those involved in fostering to recognise that fostering is only one part of carer’s lives, and that they do, and should have other aspects to their lives which are important to them.

In reality, fostering, particularly in the case of those caring for a number of children on a temporary basis, tends to take over carer’s lives with little space or energy available for other activities. Such situations can lead to stress and general tiredness, making it difficult for carer’s to do their best for their own or foster children. The following advice should help carers to recognise and deal with stress, before it gets too strong a hold on the placement situation.

At some point carers may feel that they have taken on too much as a foster carer and that they are overloaded with responsibilities and demands. This is the first stage of stress and if you recognise what is happening you can begin to deal with it effectively.

Stress is not always a bad thing. We probably need some stress every day to keep us going.  However, when demands on one’s resources get too much, particularly demands for the kind of things we don’t feel too confident about, one can begin to react badly to stress. Knowing what you and your partner are good at and not so good at is one way of avoiding stress and the initial assessment as a foster carer, and subsequent Carer Review, should help you to learn more about your capabilities.  Stress can reveal itself in many ways. There can be physical signs such as stomach pain and headaches or disrupted eating habits.

Emotional signs like irritability or mood swings, and sometimes, just an inability to sort out thoughts and feelings.  These signs should not be ignored in the hope that they will go away. They may not, and the result for you, your family and any child placed with you might end in a placement disruption and a sense of failure.  If you feel under stress, talk to your partner unless you are a single carer. It is very wise for carers to tackle any personal difficulties head on, to make time to be together, and to regain the sense of closeness, which may have been eroded by the stresses of fostering. The more carers can do to maintain a strong and secure relationship with each other, the more quickly the whole family is likely to recover from the stressful situation. Also talk with the Supervising Social Worker or the child’s social worker so they can provide support.


Brent has a group of Clinical Psychologists and a play therapist based within its service. The Psychologists work closely with Supervising Social Workers and children social workers. Foster carers can also access this service and support through CAMHS.


A decision to use respite as a means of assisting the carers, rather than benefiting the child, must always be carefully considered. Respite from a child who is making exceptional demands should only be considered in situations where other methods of supporting the carers have been tried, and where there is a clear need for the carers to have a break from the exceptional demands made by the particular child. The child must be helped to understand that it is not because he or she has been bad that he or she is spending some time away from the foster home, but that all parents, whether birth family or foster carers, occasionally need time for themselves to recuperate from the strains of caring.

Time out

You may feel you require some time out in order to continue with the fostering tasks in a more positive way. This may occur where you have been fostering a large number of children, or particularly difficult and demanding children – or for a continuous number of years, this should be discussed during your supervision or at your Review. You can ask for time out, when your own personal or family circumstances make it difficult for you to continue fostering. Many foster carers have children of their own, and it is often the children of foster families who take the greatest strain in fostering. New foster children who arrive at your home impinge on the existing children by sharing both the practical and emotional resources of the family. The children’s territories inevitably invaded, their toys and treasures may be broken and their time with their parents decreases. Children often find themselves embarrassed by the behaviour of the foster child outside their home and even feel responsible for him or her. In addition, children who are placed in families bring with them a great deal of confusion and pain, which spills over to other members of your family.

Support on how to deal with such situations is available to all foster carers through Brent CAMHS.

Brent is also in partnership with the West London consortium which provides specific training for sons and daughters of foster carers and encourages carers children to take advantage of this provision. See Support to Your Own Children.