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Fostering Open Conversations in Your Foster Home

Talking about mental health with your foster children not only strengthens your connection with them but also lays a vital foundation for their positive mental well-being throughout life. Discover practical tips and strategies to effectively engage in these important conversations and foster a supportive environment that promotes mental health awareness and resilience.

May 6 2024 - 5 min read

Mental Health

At Fosterplus, we believe in nurturing the long-term outcomes for children and young people in care. Talking about mental health with your foster children won’t only increase a sense of connection with them, but it will also provide them with a foundation for positive mental well-being throughout life. A lot of stigma still exists around mental health, but by promoting open and supportive conversations, we can transform our opinions of mental health for a brighter future.

Let’s Talk Mental Health

Conversations about mental health start with a secure and supportive home. At Fosterplus, we work hard to make the correct matches, enhancing foster children's growth and development through stability and trust in their caregivers.

What is mental health?

Society often confuses the term 'mental health' with someone who has a mental health condition. Mental health, however, impacts us all and is just as important as our physical health. The two can influence each other, so it's crucial to understand what mental health means.

Mental health is our overall psychological and emotional well-being. Influenced by our experiences, it affects our response to everyday stresses, how we think about ourselves, the world around us and how we feel. You can have good mental health and have a diagnosed mental health condition and poor mental health without a diagnosed mental health condition. The best way to manage mental health is by understanding the influential factors and addressing the aspects we can control.

Poor mental health and diagnosable mental health conditions disproportionally impact looked-after children. One study suggests that 10% of children aged 5 - 15 will be diagnosed with a mental health condition; looked-after children in this age group have a 45% chance of being diagnosed with a mental health condition. These staggering figures highlight the importance of fostering open conversations about mental health in your foster home.

Factors that could impact your foster child's Mental Health:

  • Trauma - the child in your care may have trauma from difficult childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect. Trauma can cause dissociation and panic attacks and can lead to mental health conditions such as PTSD.
  • Bullying - looked after children in secondary school are four times more likely to be bullied than their peers. Bullying affects mental health by causing low self-esteem and isolation; it can also induce depression and anxiety.
  • Puberty - when your foster child is going through puberty, not only are their hormones changing, but they are also experiencing changes in brain development. Pressures to achieve academically and 'fit in' can sometimes lead young people to engage in risk-taking behaviours, such as alcohol and drug misuse. Struggles with body image can also lead to eating disorders.
  • Social Media can be excellent for children and young people to connect with like-minded people; however, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy if they compare their social media feed to others and loneliness. They could also access triggering content and become victims of cyberbullying.
  • Disabilities - If the child in your care has a disability, such as ADHD, Autism, or a physical disability, they may suffer poor mental health if they are isolated, misunderstood or excluded.
  • Discrimination - your foster child could experience prejudice for their sexuality, gender identity, race or religion, leading to low self-confidence, anger and mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

These factors are not exhaustive, and every foster child is unique, experiencing the world differently. There may be other factors that impact their mental health not listed here.

Talk About Mental Health

Why is it important to talk about mental health?

Despite an increase in mental health awareness, many people still worry about the stigma of being open about their struggles. In a poll conducted by Mind, they found that 51% of the UK population still believe there is a lot of stigma around mental health conditions, with 56% of people who have mental health conditions feeling ashamed.

Stigma can prevent a person suffering with poor mental health from seeking help or support.

How talking helps mental health

One of the best ways to reduce stigma around mental health conditions is to talk about mental health openly. When you have open conversations about mental health, it leaves the door open for future discussion if someone is struggling.

Other reasons to talk about mental health:

  • Confiding in someone you trust about your mental health can liberate you from feelings of shame.
  • Talking can further increase awareness of mental health.
  • It can broaden your knowledge of mental health conditions.
  • It can help you understand why someone is behaving in a particular way.
  • It can combat stigma in your community.
  • You can recommend strategies to help someone struggling with their mental health and find additional information and advice if required.
  • Mental health problems and conditions can leave a person feeling isolated, so it can be comforting to know there is someone you can talk to if your mental health takes a turn for the worse.

Tips for talking to your foster child about their Mental Health:

  • Take your time - it may take a few conversations before your foster child feels comfortable talking about how they are feeling.
  • Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is knowing how to start the conversation. YoungMinds has a range of conversation starters to help you begin.
  • Leave the door open - Don't pressure your foster child into talking if they aren't ready, but remind them that you are there for them when they are ready.
  • Engage in an activity with the child in your care while you talk; this will take the pressure off them to open up. Activities could include baking and playing their favourite game for younger children. If the child in your care is a teenager, you could cook with them or go for a walk. Bonding with the child in your care will help their confidence in talking to you. YoungMinds has further activities to support conversations with your foster child.

Is your foster child struggling with their mental health?

It isn't always possible to identify when someone is suffering from poor mental health or may have an undiagnosed mental health condition; however, here are some common signs:

  • They are tired all the time.
  • They find it difficult to concentrate.
  • They isolate themselves.
  • They show a disinterest in activities they usually enjoy.
  • They appear to be more anxious than usual.
  • They are hyper vigilant.
  • They complain of aches and pains with no noticeable cause.
  • Their mood seems unstable.
  • Their appetite has either increased or decreased.
  • They are struggling with day-to-day activities, such as going to school.

If you spot any of the above symptoms, or your foster child discloses their struggles to you, then it is vital to get further support for your foster child. We also offer support for foster parents, and your supervising social worker will be able to assist you with an action plan.

Sometimes, symptoms can be more severe, reaching a 'crisis' point and will require immediate intervention.

Signs that your foster child is in crisis:

  • Talk about self-harm or suicide.
  • Extreme anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Psychosis, which is paranoia or hearing things.
  • Unable to complete their daily routine.

If you are concerned that your foster child is at risk of harming themselves or others, call 999.

Mind has a more extensive list that you can refer to if you are concerned about the mental well-being of your foster child.

Download our Guide to Transferring

Discover everything you need to know about transferring fostering agency by downloading our Guide to Transferring for foster parents.

supporting your family’s mental health

Tips for supporting your family’s mental health

Children who've lived in turbulent homes are at higher risk of latent vulnerability. Latent vulnerability is the way a child's brain adapts to survive trauma, abuse and other threats and can impact relationships and reactions to non-threatening situations. Latent vulnerability makes looked-after children more vulnerable to mental health conditions in adulthood, so it's vital to support your foster child's mental health by helping them develop healthy coping strategies.

An accessible way to manage mental health is by putting time aside to employ strategies that encourage positive mental well-being. An unstable home life with conflict can put a strain on the whole family's mental health; this is why Fosterplus puts so much emphasis on stable and loving homes.

Strategies can be age-dependent, so we've provided age-dependant ideas to help your foster child's mental health:


  • Routine is a vital part of maintaining children's mental health, as they can find comfort in predictability.
  • Play with your foster child; play can give your child an outlet to express feelings they can't express verbally.
  • Encourage them to get active - exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, and if they are involved in a team sport like football, it can help them feel part of a community.
  • Rain or shine, nature is a natural stress reliever, so take them to the park and jump in puddles or pack a picnic and sit under a tree on a summer's day.

Young People

  • If the young person in your care spends much of their time 'doom' scrolling, encourage them to spend time away from technology.
  • Reading is a fantastic outlet - you can become so wrapped up in another world that you forget your stresses and worries.
  • Hobbies - is there a hobby they would enjoy? Learning new instruments or sewing can provoke a sense of achievement. Focussing on a task can also be used to practice mindfulness.
  • Nature walks - not only will they breathe in that fresh air, but they'll be moving their bodies and removing themselves from daily stresses for the duration.

As a foster parent, it is also vital that you take care of your mental well-being. You can do this by using similar strategies to the young people in your care and taking advantage of respite foster care if you need a break. If you have a mental health condition and need support, talk to your supervising social worker.

Download our Guide to Fostering

Discover everything you need to know about fostering by downloading our brochure.

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