Once again, you the adoptive (or hopeful adoptive, or adoptive adjacent) family are thrown into this world full of code words and lingo that is almost exclusive to adoptive and foster families. It’s one of those IYKYK things that frankly I wish I didn’t know. Unfortunately, it is something I’ve experienced up close and personal. 

Blocked care is what happens when you, as a caregiver, have experienced an extended adversarial type relationship with your foster or adopted child. See, children can develop a blocked trust due to prenatal stress, early hospitalization, neglect, abuse, trauma, or a primary caregiver changing. In the brain chemistry in some children, even one of those adversities can make it difficult for that child to trust the adult caring for them. 

Much like how a child being exposed to trauma alters his or her brain chemistry, when a caregiver who was initially so excited to parent the child is constantly rejected, rebuffed, and yelled at by the child, that caregiver’s brain chemistry changes. They experience the rejection in their brain the same as if they were being physically hurt. The result is a caregiver who goes through the motions of caring for the child. They may distantly feel love for the child. They do what the child needs them to do. However, their heart is not in it. They may begin to feel resentful, hurt, and/or afraid of the child.

Personally, this felt like :

  • Waking up and having to give myself a major pep talk before leaving my room to care for my kids
  • Feeling as if I was preparing to enter a war zone
  • Anxiety while anticipating the next major behavioral issue
  • Resenting the time I spent caring for the child instead of doing something else
  • Wanting to lean away from the child if they were feeling affectionate
  • Major depression and feeling of failure
  • Heightened response to anger and fear

It was not a good time. I felt like I had ruined everyone’s lives by adopting these kids. I was so happy to be a home for them, I love them so much, and they rejected me outright. It’s been a difficult road to walk. Especially in the face of people using, “those kids are so lucky, you adopted them-” talk and sympathetic therapists who try to offer solutions, but you just feel like you’re a bad parent in the meantime. 

Secondhand trauma is what happens when your child is traumatized and you are traumatized by that trauma. For example, my kids had a horrific life before they came to us. Our son told me about an experience he had and I couldn’t sleep for a month. I mean, I slept, but for far too little time in far too short bursts. Every time I closed my eyes my brain replayed what he said to us like a broken record. My imagination illustrated what that must have looked like. My stomach roiled. It was a bad time. I wouldn’t take back our son feeling safe enough to tell us about his trauma. I would absolutely not let it go a whole month before I sought out a therapist 

So what do you do? If it is a foster care situation, it may be best for everyone if you request the child be moved. Sometimes no matter what we do, people don’t like us. There was a child who lived with me and hated me. He’d go out of his way to break things of mine, hurt the other kids, and threaten me. The final straw was an incident where the safety of everyone in the home was at risk. It was out of my hands by that point, he was a danger to everyone in the house.

Years later, I struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I worry that I wasn’t the most caring or loving I could have been. I worry that I hurt everyone by even trying to make it work. But I know that he’s in a loving home where his needs are met and my kids are safe from his choices. It’s a complicated feeling. But then, most of our lives can be complicated and looked at in the right light. 

The point is that you are not alone in all of this. You might feel like you’re going crazy—like no one believes you that a 7-year-old can plot out ways to hurt you and others. My kids are such amazing liars (a matter of survival for them for so long) that it is easy to believe that I am the one who is imagining things. We had to install cameras around the house so if it ever became a question of my word versus theirs, it could be settled with the video. 

You aren’t crazy. Kids from hard places, and kids with blocked trust—they face different challenges than other kids. Their brains may interpret input more often as a threat. A gentle reprimand can feel like a physical assault on them. And insomuch as it isn’t your fault things are the way they are, it isn’t their fault either. It is unhelpful to view this situation in an us-against-them way.

 Everyone is struggling. The child that is screaming and carrying on is miserable. He doesn’t want to act the way he is acting. He just has no way of adapting. This is his “normal” It’s unfortunate, and sad, but true. Kids used to living in chaos want to make the world around them chaotic so they can feel stable. What feels normal and safe to you feels oppressive and harmful to them. In the life they had before you, they may have had to use their maladaptive behavior to have their needs met. 

Seek out therapists that understand adoption trauma and foster care.

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.