Children in out-of-home care have often experienced trauma prior to, and in some cases after, entering care. The impacts of trauma can affect a child’s ability to learn, manage stress and self-regulate, and build relationships at the rate of their peers.

From as early as birth, children learn self-regulation through being supported by caring adults in a process called co-regulation. Co-regulation is how adults can use their calm state and undertake strategies to bring a child back into a state of regulation.

Understanding and responding to trauma expressions to support family time

Experiences that trigger memories of trauma can reactivate it, resulting in emotional dysregulation. Our body’s stress response system will activate and send us into a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response in response to trauma. It is commonly understood that children express their traumatic states via their behaviours when they do not have the words to express their stress. Professionals and caregivers can discount these expressions, overlooking children’s signals that they are in need of co-regulation.

Contact with birth family members can potentially reactivate children’s trauma. How safe adults respond can impact children’s ability to cope with stressful environments. Caseworkers can assist children’s carers and family members to reflect on and understand their own emotions so they can respond sensitively to children’s reactions and manage behaviour that arises before/after visits. 

Hear from Sue Buratti, Expert Reference Group member and Manager of therapeutic services at the Australian Childhood Foundation about why co-regulation is important for children in out-of-home care.

Understanding the importance of co-regulation for children in care with Sue Buratti, Australian Childhood Foundation


The Trauma Expression and Connection Assessment (TECA) developed by the Australian Childhood Foundation can help determine which domain a child may be expressing and recommend an activity to assist relational repair and regulation. Download the resource here.

Drawing on the TECA, these resource help adults to understand children’s trauma expressions and offers strategies that safe adults can use to bring them back into their calm and connected state. Download the resources here:

Words Matter highlights the negatively charged language adults, including professionals, often use to describe children experiencing trauma-related stress responses. It encourages adults to reflect on what might be happening for the child in that moment and suggests preferable words to use instead.

Download the resource:

Recommended reading

Collings, S., Conley Wright, A., McLean, L., Buratti, S. (2022). Trauma-informed family contact practice for children in out-of-home careBritish Journal of Social Work, Online first.