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Building trust in foster and adopted children . . .


Author and adoptee Jessie Hogsett writes in his autobiography Detached, “Trust must come before love can come.” This statement is packed with truth. I know of parents—good parents—who have admitted in retrospect that they really felt that “love would be enough” when they first adopted or fostered. They found out quickly that in many cases, love must be earned on the basis of trust.


For an infant, the trust process begins when that child comes out of the womb and attaches to the mother’s breast. This process continues as the mother (and father) respond to their baby’s cries with comfort and soothing sounds and touches. For the child who does not experience this nurturing at a very early age, the bonds of trust begin to slowly erode. Many children who join our families by way of adoption or fostering have experienced a continual series of trust-breaking events. Abuse, neglect, institutional living, and homelessness are among the most common among these events.


Yes, love is often not enough. The child who has endured relational and emotional hardship learns to say to him/herself “I can only trust myself.” But love, coupled with trust-building parenting can help this same child to blossom! It can often be a slow, labor-intensive process, but it is worth the effort. How to we help a child develop trust in someone else other than him/herself? Here is some helpful advice form Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross in their excellent book The Connected Child:

  • Show emotional warmth and affection consistently

  • Offer positive emotional responses and praise often

  • Respond attentively and kindly to your child’s words and behavior

  • Interact playfully with your child

  • Respect your child’s need for personal space

  • Use simple words or language that your child can understand

  • Give your child advance notice of upcoming schedule changes

The above are just a few of the strategies you can use to help nurture your child’s ability to trust. I’ll share more in the next blog. Thanks for reading!