William Eichler 16 December 2019

Foster carers experience high-levels of ‘burnout’, study reveals

Psychologists have called for more support to be provided to foster carers after a new study reveals the extent of ‘burnout’ in the sector.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have surveyed 180 foster carers to explore the impact of secondary traumatic stress (STS), which can be caused by the impact of supporting people who have experienced traumatic events.

The study also looked at burnout as a factor that can severely affect wellbeing.

Findings showed that foster carers experience higher than average STS, suggesting they are affected by exposure to the trauma stories of their foster children.

They also demonstrated high levels of burnout, which made a direct contribution to their STS.

In addition, more than 75% of respondents reported instances of primary trauma – harm or threat of harm to themselves or their family within the context of the role.

‘Foster carers are increasingly in demand to offer a caring home to children and young people who have experienced the breakdown of their own home or who have been maltreated,’ said Kay Bridger, lead author of the study and PhD researcher at NTU’s School of Social Sciences.

‘Our study showed that many foster carers remain motivated despite stress, but for this caring role to be maintained their wellbeing needs to be taken care of. It can be a stressful role for many reasons, including behavioural issues of the children, but there has been little consideration of STS as an additional factor.

‘The role of foster carers is very different to other helping professionals because it is home based, and so they have much less ability to set boundaries about when the role affects them, unlike nurses or social workers for instance who can draw a line under their work somewhat more easily.’

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