How Therapy Can Help Foster Children With Separation Anxiety

It’s natural for young children to feel anxious to say goodbye to their parents. They may cry or have tantrums, which can be healthy reactions and a stage of development for children. While the intensity of separation anxiety can vary, some children may not move on from this.

Many children end up in foster care for various reasons. However, a common problem that many of them face is dealing with separation anxiety from their homes and caregivers. These traumatic experiences can lead to mental health issues. It can also negatively impact how they develop socially and emotionally.


No child deserves to go to foster care, and every child deserves a safe and secure home. That is why proper access to mental health resources should be given priority. Thousands of vulnerable children in foster care would benefit from therapy. When they regularly meet with a licensed therapist, children are given a chance to lead healthier and happier lives. 

What Is Separation Anxiety?

Excessive fear of detachment from a loved one defines separation anxiety. This disorder is a common occurrence seen in younger children. Some common causes of SAD are changes in their environment, stress, and insecure attachment.

According to psychologists, having a parental figure or caregiver is vital for young children. Forming this relationship helps them develop socially and emotionally. So, it can be difficult for a foster child when they have never been attached or have been removed from their parental figure. 

Being taken away from their home and loved ones can perpetuate fear and trauma. Their stress and trauma can be further exacerbated when placed in a foster home. Changes in their environment and previous history of distrust can agitate them and cause tantrums. It’s best to find a foster parent who has the patience and experience to care for traumatized children.


While foster care can be seen as a solution for a child from an unstable household, many children will find it difficult to understand why they are separated from their homes. This confusion can give them trust issues and an intense fear of abandonment. This, in turn, can later manifest in their relationships. 

Some symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) are:

    • Experiencing sleep disorders
    • Feeling sad and withdrawn
    • Being easily agitated
    • Having trust issues with caregivers

SAD in foster children can be difficult to treat because of their circumstances. Most of them do not get access to the mental health services they need. Thus, they find it hard to bond with and trust their new caregivers. 

The fear usually subsides when they start feeling secure in their environment. But for many children in foster care, their separation anxiety can continue past their adolescence. In some cases, it can even stay with them until adulthood. 

Which Children Are Vulnerable To Separation Anxiety?

Studies show that more LGBTQ+ youth live in foster care and unstable households than their heterosexual peers. These queer adolescents are more likely to have poor academic functioning, develop an addiction, and struggle with mental health conditions. They are already marginalized because of their SOGIE and more vulnerable due to their material conditions. As such, there is a greater need to protect them.


Meanwhile, among different ethnicities in the US, African-American children are more vulnerable compared to white kids. This situation may be explained by the gap in wealth amongst these racial communities. As studies suggest, poverty is a direct link to children’s placement in foster care. 

These disparities are heartbreaking. However, we must face them squarely for us to address the underlying issues and give foster kids the care they deserve. Given more accessible mental health resources, we provide these vulnerable children with the chance to overcome their separation anxiety and other mental health problems. 

How Therapy Can Help

A mental health professional can treat SAD in children. Children in foster care require early treatment, or their disorder may continue until their adulthood. Since they have a different experience than other kids with SAD, it is best to find a therapist who has experience treating foster kids. 

Your therapist may recommend a foster child to undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an effective form of psychotherapy. During CBT, they will learn how to understand their fears and healthily manage their emotions. Then, they would eventually develop healthier coping skills.

Specialists can also use exposure therapy, another form of CBT. It works by carefully exposing children to separation in controlled amounts. This treatment option helps reduce their anxiety over time. 


A foster parent can also help make a secure environment by discussing the child’s issues. It helps to learn what triggers their foster child’s anxiety. Also, they can practice the strategies within the treatment plan that their therapist prepared for their kid.

Most importantly, a therapist may help by giving calm support. With their help, foster children can become open to new experiences and develop their independence. For any concerns regarding the child’s well-being, they are the ones to consult. They carry these children’s best interests at heart, so caregivers can be at ease leaving their charges to a therapist’s care.


No children choose to be put into foster care. It can be extremely challenging and traumatic to experience separation from their home and their loved ones. However, in many circumstances, foster care is in their best interest. They may be in grave danger in their original household, or their parents cannot provide them with the material and emotional support they need. 

Foster children with separation anxiety are vulnerable to many mental health issues. That is why it is crucial to provide access to mental health resources. Many kids will have to face the reality of their placement under foster care. Because of the trauma from separation, we should pay close attention to their care and development. One of the best ways we can secure their mental health is through therapy. If given early attention, they can overcome this disorder as they reach adulthood. 


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