27 Nov Bristol University study highlights compassion fatigue among foster carers
Some foster carers may be suffering from compassion fatigue, according to new research from Bristol University, caused by caring for some of the most vulnerable children in society. The findings will be submitted to the Government’s Fostering Inquiry, led by the Education Committee, which is expected to examine all evidence in January 2017.
The study investigated the presence and experience of compassion fatigue through measuring levels of burnout and secondary traumatic stress, as well as mental well-being in a survey of 546 foster carers. The survey also looked at what elements of the foster caring role give pleasure and reward, or compassion satisfaction, which is widely seen to reduce the effects of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is experienced as a physical and emotional response to the stress of caring for those who have experienced trauma. It involves a decrease in empathy and a decline in feelings of pleasure, alongside an increase in stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and negativity. Unlike other people working in helping professions who can go home to rest and escape from a stressful day, a foster carer’s home is also their place of work.
The study found that without appropriate support to regularly have some ‘time-out’, foster carers are likely to have increased symptoms of compassion fatigue. A safe and non-judgemental space to talk through concerns with fellow foster carers was cited as a vital aspect of support, because of their mutual understanding of the task, the lack of judgement present, and in reducing feelings of isolation.
The type of agency also influenced levels of foster carers’ compassion satisfaction. Those who worked for Independent Fostering Agencies had significantly higher levels of compassion satisfaction than those working for Local Authorities. This suggests that the agency has a key role in enabling carers to remain committed to fostering and enjoying their work.
Read more about the study here.