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Violence, Aggression and Challenging Behaviour
Aggression is a feature of behaviour that may be an element of youngsters’ need to be looked after, and trying to understand some of the causes of this are important. It is helpful for Foster Carers to have strategies for dealing with violent or aggressive confrontations, should they arise. This can apply equally to younger children and older adolescents.
Youngsters may well have experienced aggression, humiliation, or helplessness at home or school during their childhood. Circumstances that are threatening create feelings of fear and insecurity, and may well provoke an aggressive response. Fear of humiliation or a sense of being ignored, undervalued or misunderstood, with feelings of low self esteem, may be countered by strong aggressive reactions. Other youngsters may respond by becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative.
Youngsters may have experienced adults who are not able to handle complex and difficult situations and have resorted to outbursts of temper, destructive behaviour or domineering means of control.
Aggression is one of the identified products of frustration and helplessness. Carers should be aware that when faced by challenging behaviour, their own feelings of anger may result from not knowing what to do that is, frustration and helplessness.
Sometimes, aggression is used to cover up feelings of depression. In some rare cases, aggressive behaviour may have an organic cause, or may be evidence of a psychopathic disorder.
Many youngsters who are looked after by Carers may be ill-equipped to recognise or express their feelings. A lack of success in achievement, being misunderstood or not valued by others can result in feelings of confusion and low self-esteem.
Many Foster Carers will not be experienced in either managing or bearing the brunt of verbal or physical violence, and it can lead to the same feelings of inadequacy and helplessness felt by the youngster. The power and significance of aggression should not be underestimated. It requires firm judgement, and often experience, to understand and respond appropriately.
A useful starting point is for Carers to assess and acknowledge levels of aggression within themselves. Recurrent problems and the feeling of running out of ideas, energy or motivation can result in feelings of helplessness. Carers should endeavour to know a youngster’s circumstances well enough to understand factors and situations that may lead to or trigger aggressive behaviour.
Carers need to be aware that they may be unconscious of personal mannerisms and phrases which may recall a youngster’s memories of past bad experiences.
A Carer’s own ability to deal with frustration or provocation is of great importance; a calm reasoned response is called for - easily said, but often not so easily done! The overall aim is to enable youngsters to find enough socially acceptable means of expression, and so to lessen their need to resort to aggressive or violent behaviour. Carers should try to be aware of patterns in a youngster’s behaviour. Particular places, activities or times of the day can be stressful trigger points - for example, meal-times and bed-times, the build-up to going to school, or family contact can be key events.
Carers need to acknowledge when they themselves are feeling stressed, and understand how they personally manage this - whether it be a quiet walk, physical activity, or having someone to talk to.
The value of Carers’ response to, and management of, their own stressful periods should not be underestimated. This hopefully provides an alternative model to the one the youngsters have previously experienced. Many youngsters will try to recreate the circumstances and responses they have been used to in the past. The trick is to try not to respond or get wound up - again, often easier said than done, but well worth the effort.
It is important to remember that help and support is available to Carers via the link Fostering Social Worker, the Peer Support, or Emergency Duty Service.
The prime aim should always be to diffuse and prevent the incidence of violence and aggression.
- Wherever possible avoid dealing with aggressive situations alone, always seek support.
- Be aware of the case history of each youngster in your care, and be sensitive to their needs.
- Understand the significance of your relationship with the youngster.
- Always make some response to attention seeking behaviour; failure to do so may make the situation worse.
- Youngsters should have the opportunity to communicate their concerns with Carers where necessary. Time must be made available to them.
- Do not issue threats of any sort, but do point out the possible consequences of their actions. Threats usually escalate situations, and if made in the heat of the moment can prove to be impossible to implement.
- Avoid cutting or unkind remarks; try to find the most positive way of saying what has to be said. This especially applies when talking about the youngster themselves, their family and friends.
- Show disapproval of inappropriate behaviour, not of the person as an individual.
- All parties involved in an incident should be given support and made aware of their rights.
- Be aware of potential flashpoints such as mealtimes and late evenings. If they prove to be problem times, try to plan ahead and let the Care Manager know.
- Carers should reflect on the circumstances in which incidents have happened, in order to prevent further occurrences.
- When disruptive influences threaten the stability and well-being of others, it is important that Carers have planned ahead carefully and are engaging youngsters, channelling their energies appropriately.
- A calm, reasoned approach is called for. Diversion is often a useful tactic.
- If all else fails, physical restraint may be used only to prevent a child from harming themselves or somebody else. Youngsters who have experienced violence or sexual abuse may find restraint threatening, and those using it should be aware that they may be making themselves vulnerable to future allegations. Carers should never use restraint without another adult being present, unless circumstances are exceptional. All such incidents should be recorded and discussed with the child’s Social Worker and your Fostering Social Worker as soon as possible.