Kris’ Corner: Blocked Trust and Blocked Care

August 1, 2023

So let’s talk a bit about blocked trust and blocked care (which is also called compassion fatigue). Anyone out there ever heard of this? Do not worry if you have not…even if you’ve been in this foster care world for a while. I’ve been in the arena for over 10 years and I only heard of this concept about 2 years ago, so no worries at all if you’re not familiar with it. I’m here to help!

Basically blocked trust is when children and teens (and it can be adults as well, although we are talking about children in care specifically at the moment) have been dramatically hurt (emotionally or physically), neglected or betrayed by people who were responsible for caring for them; this could be birth family or adoptive family or anyone who has been responsible for the child. And the result for the child is that they emotionally switch off the ability to seek close relationships and transitions into a cold, emotionally cut-off place; the child’s brain develops coping mechanisms to protect themself moving forward and to stop feeling the pain. Their utmost goal is to not be hurt again…by anyone. Sometimes children or teens with blocked trust will victimize others in the same way they were treated, and other times, children respond by entering into a solitary-type of existence, preferring technology over people.

Often a child with blocked trust is disliked by others in general, due to people’s lack of understanding, fear of the child, frustration with the child, etc.…which are all the responses the child experienced previously and it becomes a vicious cycle.

And then a parent who is caring for a child with blocked trust (or simply a child with many needs in general) can end up with blocked care. And blocked care means that even though the parent is providing for the basic needs of the child, they do not (or no longer) enjoy being WITH the child. In a way, the paternal or maternal brain system “shuts down” and they don’t get the pleasant emotional rush of opioids and oxytocin that parents typically get when the relationship between parent and child is positive; they no longer seek points of connection with the child, and instead of being relationship-driven, the parents become behavior-focused when dealing with the child.

So if this is such a big deal, why it isn’t talked about? I personally think it is because, at least as a parent, it can feel shameful. Like extremely shameful. I mean…how can someone not like their child? How can they not want to do fun things with them? How can they shut off their emotions toward them?

Well, as someone who has struggled at times with blocked care toward children…I can vouch that it truly does happen. You can still love them and care for them, but you might not always like them and want to be with them. And as a parent…especially as one who has chosen for a child to come into her home, to protect and keep safe and help the child to thrive…it feels ugly and gross…and so people don’t want to admit it.

There…I said it. And if you’ve been fostering for a bit and think this doesn’t apply to you, let me point out that there are four kinds of blocked care: acute, chronic, child specific, and stage specific…so let me take a moment and explain each of those briefly.

Acute Blocked Care often happens when there has been a traumatic event such as a death, or health issues or scare. When a parent is struggling to regulate their own emotions about such an event, it can be a struggle to find connection with a child. Chronic Blocked Care usually happens when a parent had a traumatic childhood themselves and because of this their amygdala “lights up” more often and it can be more difficult to regulate…for themselves and their child.

Child Specific Blocked Care is just what is sounds like…when a parent has repeatedly reached out to connect with a specific child and is met with hostility or rejection. As a result, the parent shuts off their own emotional response toward the child and there is no attempt at connection from either parent or child.

Stage Specific Blocked Care happens at certain developmental stages…and it is just that: it happens around the same stage(s) for most, if not all, children they parent.

Now you might be reading all this and thinking, “OK…I understand what you’re saying, so how do I know if this is a struggle in my own home?” Well, here are a few clues that this might be exactly what you’ve been experiencing:

  • Feeling defensive when dealing with your child, in order to protect yourself from being rejected; sensitive to rejection
  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed, burned out or exhausted
  • Realizing that you’re meeting basic needs of a child but are not enjoying any bit of it
  • Focusing on the child’s behavior instead of what the behavior might be telling you
  • Being reactive instead of proactive
  • Finding it difficult to find compassion for your child…and then feeling guilty about your lack of compassion
  • Feeling stuck in the situation
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Irritability with close friends and family
  • Being emotionally shut down

So now that I’ve explained it, does it maybe ring true in your own home? I honestly don’t know a foster or adoptive parent who has not struggled at least on some level with blocked care…so if you’re thinking maybe this is what you’ve been suffering from, do not beat yourself up…there are ways to help!

First of all…admitting it’s a struggle is the first step to help; I know that sounds clique but it’s true! I find that for myself personally, I have to CHOOSE to realize that this whole situation is hinging on me and my child working together, fighting for the same thing…even if my child doesn’t see that. I have to continually remind myself that this is me and my child together against his pain and abuse and neglect, and for his healing and mind restoration; it is not me vs. my child (even though it can often feel that way!).

In the research I’ve done personally, I find that this technique works wonders…and even though it seems simple, it is not always easy! So here it is: use a PACE attitude to remain engaged (or re-engage) with your child – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy.

This allows you to connect with your child, before you attempt to correct their behavior. It helps bring the focus on developing shared values, interests and habits with the child, in a playful way which also brings you into their world. And then, once you’ve done that (and BOTH of you are regulated) and you’ve made a connection, you can address the behavior.

And as I said…it is simple but not always easy. In fact, it is rarely easy. And it requires intentionality. But I promise that the efforts of your hard work will pay dividends! Also, if you’re so far down in this pit of blocked care that you can’t find your way out…I encourage you to seek out professional help. This is something else that isn’t discussed much because we all seem to think, for some reason, that we can carry this load ourselves without issue. And often we can’t! And honestly, we don’t have to!

All that to say: if you are struggling with blocked trust and/or blocked care in your home, there is help, there is hope and there is a way back to being the parent you want to be and being the parent your child needs.