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What is Therapeutic Fostering?

close up of a child showing two dirty hands

If you’ve started considering fostering, or just want to know a little more about it, you’ve no doubt come across the phrase ‘Therapeutic Fostering’. Many fostering agencies know that foster children’s needs differ from those of their peers, and therapeutic fostering recognises trauma and attachment issues, and provides foster carers with the tools to help them.

But what do these terms all mean; how do they impact the everyday life of a foster carer and are all agencies providing the same level of support and training?

John Anderson, Tree House Care’s Trauma and Attachment therapist, has provided some insight into Therapeutic Fostering and what it means for foster carers. Much of the information can be found in John’s book, “The go-to Therapeutic Parenting Handbook for Foster Carers”, available for all Tree House carers.

Attachment and Trauma

If you want to know anything about therapeutic fostering, you first need to understand these two themes.


Attachment is a bond between two people. It is learnt as a baby, from your primary caregivers, usually your parents. It continues to grow from everyday relationships between children and adults and impacts profound beliefs we have about ourselves.

When we have healthy attachment, we learn that:

  • we are good and lovable, 
  • other people are good and can be trusted,
  • the world is a good place, full of opportunity.

When a baby’s needs are not met, they form an unhealthy attachment style and believe that:

  • they are bad,
  • others are not good and cannot be trusted, 
  • the world is a dangerous, unpredictable and cold place. 

These beliefs can lead children to develop coping strategies such as being numb rather than feeling pain, rejecting others before they can be rejected themselves and creating dramatic situations just to be noticed.


Trauma is an overwhelming and unbearable experience, or an observation of violence, or threat. It can also be emotional wounds relating to not having safe and consistent relationships, such as being removed from a birth parent or being neglected or harmed.

Trauma can happen as early as in the womb (for example if there is drug or alcohol abuse, or domestic violence) and even if it is not remembered in the normal way, the body stores the memory. This can mean that children recall scary or overwhelming traumatic feelings whilst not being able to understand or remember where the feelings come from. Such feelings can be triggered by many things, from sights, sounds and smells, to feelings of shame, confrontation or loneliness.

People who have experienced trauma experience many things, which can include some of the following:

  • A constant feeling of numbness
  • An urge to repeat past traumas
  • Difficulties in forming relationships

Trauma and attachment overlap in many ways. If you feel safe and loved when you are young, your brain becomes wired to explore, play, imagine and cooperate healthily with others. If you feel frightened and unwanted, your brain becomes wired to expect feelings of fear and abandonment.

Caring for a child with a poor attachment and who has experienced trauma can be a real challenge, but the brain always has the ability to heal and thrive, so the potential for positive change is always there. At any age, a child can slowly but surely learn that they no longer need the old strategies and beliefs they have developed. Therapeutic parenting can help this process happen.

Therapeutic Fostering

Therapeutic parenting or fostering, is mostly about doing ‘normal parenting’, in a slightly different way, to help children thrive and heal. It’s not some fancy way of parenting that you need a degree for and you may even be doing some great therapeutic parenting already without realising it! 

It focuses on increasing the sense of safety your child feels, and the odds of them having meaningful connections. It can lessen the sense they have of being a bad kid, offering hope and creating a way for your child to experience trust through healthy relationships.

Therapeutic Fostering isn’t an exact science and part of being a great foster carer is knowing that it’s ok to go back to the drawing board, reflect and try again if needs be. At Tree House, our carers benefit from specific therapeutic fostering training and support to learn, not only the theory and the techniques but also how to practically use them in their everyday parenting.

“Tree House carers are given the opportunity to learn about therapeutic fostering in the dedicated training courses. These courses are designed to be accessible and very relevant to the real life experiences of fostering. I offer monthly consultations to foster carers. These are a chance to reflect on therapeutic fostering ideas and to discuss how to handle difficult dynamics or stuck patterns of behaviour. It’s also a time I like to use to support foster carers – the trauma experiences of the children in their care can rub off on the carers and it’s vital that we also provide them with care and support. The principles of a therapeutic approach aren’t just focused on how foster carers care for the children. The ideas are also encouraged throughout the whole organisation so that there is consistency and so that everybody can benefit from the therapeutic approach.”

John Anderson, Trauma and Attachment Therapist