Introducing the Healing Power Of Play to Foster Children In Residential Care

Introducing the Healing Power Of Play to Foster Children In Residential Care


The authors propose that offering play therapy to children in residential foster care provides a rare connection to self and peers.  Within this population, the normal progression of bonding and attachment in childhood is interrupted. Foster children in residential care have all experienced the trauma of removal from their biological family, home of origin, culture, pets, siblings, friends, and schools, in addition to neglect or abuse.  Due to the vulnerability of their young age and interrupted developmental cycle, they often present with lowered perception abilities and aggressive or isolating tendencies.  Therapists developed 4-week therapeutic groups utilizing a variety of age-appropriate play interventions that targeted resiliency building techniques.

Through the language of play, foster children were able to normalize their responses to past traumatic experiences.  For some children, this led to the resolution of grief, increased awareness of safety and boundaries, as well as mentoring/leadership behavior.  As the sense of belonging increased within the group, play therapy themes became more fluent allowing each child to find their own voice. This progression of therapeutic relationship allowed the children to advance in individual therapy and further heal from past traumas. Pre/post assessments from the children are provided to demonstrate findings of group efficacy.  Observations from caregivers and staff involved in the children’s lives demonstrate the healing impact of play therapy.

Learning Objectives

1. Identify the cycle of unmet needs represented by foster children.
2. Learn how play therapy can help children who have experienced trauma find acceptance.
3. See therapeutic results of play therapy through drawings and statements of foster children.