What To Do When Your Foster Child Talks About Suicide

Suicide is a strong word, and depression is an awful disease. ANY child battling depression and thoughts of suicide needs a strong support system behind them. Unfortunately- not all foster children have that kind of support system. It's important that, as a foster parent, you are always there for your child- not to judge, not to preach, but to help. If your child EVER mentions suicide or death to you take it seriously. Depression is not a joke. It's not a 'phase'. It's a heartbreaking illness- and it should be treated that way.

    Talk to your social worker immediately: Once your child has confided these thoughts with you- let them know that you want to make sure that they have a strong support system around them as they struggle through this time. Tell them you are going to tell their social worker- and then DO tell their social worker. Making other people aware, opens up opportunities for you AND your child to get the help you need.

    Do not get mad: For some reason many parents basic instinct is to become upset when their child speaks of killing themselves. This is by far not the correct reaction. Obviously you're not going to celebrate. And chances are you are going to feel angry and upset. But remember that your child is going through so much right now. They need a strong adult figure who can set a good example for dealing with hard issues in a healthy way. Be that example, and keep a level-head.

    Let them know you're worried because you CARE: A lot of teens in foster care feel pushed to the way-side. They are often the 'forgotten children'. Too old to be babied. Too old to be hugged and cuddled to sleep. Too old to have band-aids placed on their boo-boos. In a lot of ways it can be hard to show a teen you care. But one of the easiest ways to do it- is to tell them. Be open with them and let them know you love them so much, you want the best for them, and you're obviously very nervous and worried- but that's not THEIR fault, it's only your way of reacting because you care so so much.
Ask them why, what's causing it: A lot of people struggling with depression don't know "why". And a simple "I don't know" can be an honest answer. But don't doubt the power of words. Ask your child why they feel the need to end their life- what's bothering them. This simple action gives the child a way to open up to you, because you are asking them to open up to you.

    Listen: This is always a tough one. It's so hard not to immediately dive in and give advice or try to cure all of their problems. But the best way to truly discover the core of your child's problems is to listen to them. Ears open, lips closed- is often my policy. Listen to everything they say. Truly listen- and truly care.

    Offer up ways to fix issues that may be causing the pain: When your child has finished opening up to you, work together to think of solutions. If your child is struggling with bullies in school- offer to talk to counselors, teachers, and parents. If your child is feeling abandon by their birth family, let them know that family can often go beyond genetic ties (and you consider them just as much a part of your family as your blood relatives). Also always be open to finding new therapeutic outlets for them, especially (in this case) suicide support groups and phone services for teens.

    Help create alternative ways for them to deal with sadness: Dealing with hurt is hard. Dealing with hurt as a teenager is harder. So many things are still uncertain. And at a time when most kids are still care-free, a child in foster care could be facing SO much more than we can possibly imagine. So continually be thinking of ways for your child to deal with sadness. Put the energy into a new sport (sign them up for karate or tennis, etc). Volunteer at an animal shelter and put your love and devotion into good things. Make art to express yourself. Punch a punching bag to let out steam. There are so many ways to rid yourself of sadness. Let your child know those ways, and help them fight depression.

    Attend therapy and support groups. I find that there are so many amazing support groups out there- especially for individuals facing depression. Attend a few meetings, or special therapy sessions WITH your child. Be a part of their healing as much as possible, and get them the professional and group help that could make the difference.

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