Social worker on foster parents dealing with stress: ‘Taking a break is important’


SWEDEN, N.Y. (WROC) — A recent child abuse case in Sweden is raising questions about the process of becoming a foster parent and what parents and kids go through.

Jamie Nicosia was charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child earlier this month. Police said the three-year-old girl she had been fostering for the past year was abused. Nicosia and her husband were in the process of adopting her.

There are several steps people have to take before becoming a foster parent in Monroe County. Some of these include an informational meeting, 30 hours of training, and several visits from caseworkers.

Two people who went through all that and passed are Heather Horn and her husband. They have been fostering children for six years. They also have two biological children and one adopted child. She said the process to become a foster parent isn’t easy.

“I think that they do make it hard intentionally to make sure that people don’t become foster parents if they’re not ready to do the hard things for the kids,” Horn said.

Horn said caring for kids who have been through trauma can trigger a lot of your own trauma.

“They ask about family background, they ask about mental health background, they ask about your support system, what you do when you’re stressed and things are hard. who you bring in when you need a break, because that becomes really important,” she said.

Needing a break but not taking one is something clinical social worker Traci Terrance said can lead to incidents like the one police said happened in Sweden. She said sometimes parents’ mental health issues can fly under the radar

“We don’t wear those things on our sleeves and we may not even necessarily be aware of what our triggers are,” said Terrance. “When we feel stressed, when we’re overwhelmed we’re not able to think in a logical way and so to react in this emotion, to become abusive can be a function of severe stress and being overwhelmed.”

Horn said talking to other foster parents who are dealing with similar situations is helpful for her.

“You just have to be able to figure out how to cope with your struggles and then you can use that in a really beautiful way to help kids cope with their struggles.”

Terrance said some of the warning signs of becoming overly stressed are increased irritability, a shorter fuse, and changes in sleeping and eating habits. She said if you are experiencing any of those you should seek out help.

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