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Alternative and Traditional Therapeutic Methods and Interventions:
The Treatment of Children in Foster Care
Children who live in a foster care environment often have emotional difficulties that must be dealt with by their caregivers. It is true that some of these children also have physical disabilities and ailments, but most of these physical problems can be handled more easily than some of the emotional scars that these children carry. Many of these emotional scars run very deeply, and they deal with issues and topics that no child should have to face, especially from their families.
Because of the difficult times that many of these children experienced before they came to foster care, and because of the pain and scars that they now carry from their previous conflicts and experiences, many of these children are involved in different kinds of therapy and intervention strategies. These strategies are designed to help children overcome some of the bad experiences they have seen in their past, and learn how to adjust to a new life in their foster home.
Many of these interventions and therapy sessions also deal with how to prepare the child for being adopted out to another family, especially if there is little to no chance of the child returning to live with his biological parents. The idea of adoption can be particularly troubling for many foster children, and this is especially true of foster children who have been with their foster parents for quite some time. They become comfortable with their foster parents, and may feel somewhat secure in the belief that they will not be parted from them. This is especially true of children who have been faced with a particularly traumatic separation from their biological parents.
These children may feel like they belong to a "real" family, and therefore not wish to be separated from the individuals who have opened their home and their heart to raise a child that no one seemed to either want or be able to take care of. All foster children should have some intervention in order to hopefully repair some of the emotional, and sometimes physical, damage that the traumatic removal from their biological parents may have caused. Often, even when children are abused or neglected by their biological parents, they are still reluctant to leave the only parents that they have ever known and loved. Even if they do not understand their parents' behavior toward them, they become used to it and even believe that all children are treated this way.
These children will also sometimes blame their parents' actions on themselves, assuming that they have been bad children, or have done something wrong, or their parents would treat them better than they do. Some children obviously need more therapy and other intervention methods than other children will need, simply because of the degree of trauma they have faced in the past.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss both traditional and alternative therapeutic methods and intervention strategies as they pertain to children in foster care. The goal is not to determine whether traditional methods are better than alternative methods, or vice versa. Instead, a comprehensive review of recent literature will be used to compare and contrast these two different intervention strategies, in order to come to a better understanding of what they both involve.
This will aid not only in the understanding of traditional and alternative intervention strategies, but also in the realization that some children need a particular kind of strategy based on the hardships they have faced in their life. An understanding of the different types of therapeutic methods and intervention strategies can help caregivers and other individuals who work with foster children determine what course of action will best help the child. It is possible that, for many children, a mixture of traditional and alternative methods will be the most likely to help the child make progress.
In the course of the literature review, more emphasis will be placed on alternative intervention strategies for two reasons. Alternative intervention is showing more potential to help foster care children learn to handle their emotional and behavioral problems, and it is an up-and-coming field in which a great deal of research has been done. These two reasons make it worthy of more attention than the traditional methods of foster care intervention, but that is not to discount the impact that traditional intervention strategies have had on children who have grown up in foster care.
Traditional Therapeutic Methods & Interventions
One of the most traditional intervention approaches for foster care children is placing them in a special education class. This has been done largely because many children who come into foster care have behavioral, physical, and emotional problems that do not allow them to function normally in a standard classroom setting. These difficulties can come from many things, but abuse and neglect by biological parents are the two most common reasons behind the problems that foster children face in their lives. Because of these behavioral and emotional difficulties, many foster children are not able to function to the best of their abilities in a typical classroom environment (Smucker, et.al., 1996).
Many studies have shown that, when the population of foster care children is examined in this country and compared to the population of children who are still with their biological parents, the prevalence of special education classes in the foster care population is about 30%. This is approximately double the percentage when compared to children who come from "normal" households, and may be indicative of the traditional view of foster care children, which is that they all have problems that cannot be dealt with in a 'normal' classroom (Sawyer & Dubowitz, 1994).
Further studies show that approximately 10% of children nationwide receive special education services in the classroom, and 1% of these children have a severe behavioral or emotional disorder that causes them to require these services. This shows that children who are being raised in foster care homes end up in special education classes about three times as often as children in the country's population as a whole (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
While these studies are very important, it is difficult to say for certain whether they are an accurate representation of the actual percentage of foster care children receiving special education services. This is due to the fact that many things affect the amount of children in special education services at a given time, and a representative sample of foster care children might include a group who had suffered less, or possibly more, neglect than a group that might be studied the following year.
In other words, while these studies are certainly representative of the growing problem of foster care children entering into special education classrooms, there is no guarantee that the representation is completely valid. However, the chief concern is not how many children are entering special education classrooms, but what other interventions and therapeutic methods are being used to help these children adapt and learn to thrive (Keefe, 1996). It is to these issues that attention now turns.
Some states have begun programs for foster children that deal with specific traditional intervention strategies. Many of these programs look at the children and try to assess their comprehensive needs. By comprehensive, the program looks at both the emotional and physical needs of the children. This can be a significant intervention strategy, because many children who enter foster care are in need of physical care for routine issues such as dental hygiene. These children are also at risk for more serious diseases and other physical problems due to abuse and neglect in the past. The problem with many of the traditional intervention strategies such as this one is that the states often do not have the funds to treat all of the children who are in foster care (O'Hara, 1998).
Screening for physical disabilities and other health problems is another traditional intervention for many foster children. Because of the abuse and neglect that many of these children have suffered at the hands of their biological parents, they often have significant health problems that have gone untreated. Even those who do not have any health problems at the time they enter foster care are still in need of basic well-child checkups and other physical interventions that parents have often neglected to provide for their children, either from a lack of adequate income or insurance to do so, or from a lack of concern about their child's welfare (O'Hara, 1998).
Developmental and psychological assessments by licensed professionals are often performed on these children as well. In order to have effective therapeutic and intervention strategies, one must know where the child's development is at the time they enter the foster care environment. This will be used to judge their progress in foster care, and can be compared with assessments taken at a later date. Without this information, it becomes difficult for her caregivers, pediatricians, psychologists, and others who…[continue]
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