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August 2022   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month  

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Blocked Care and Blocked Trust

Trauma and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have an impact on a child's attachment and relationship development. In response to ACEs, a child's brain develops coping mechanisms to protect themselves, block pain, and feel safe. This state of survival is called blocked trust (Hughes & Baylin, 2018). Children can become focused on the potentially harmful aspects of their environment or distance themselves to avoid being hurt again. It is important that adoptive parents receive training and education on how to understand these coping mechanisms to help their child see that they are safe and loved.

This blockage can go both ways. Parents are eager to love and make a connection with their child. When the child does not respond to or return these bids for connection, parents can feel rejected and, in turn, shut down to protect themselves. Spending quality time with the child may become difficult; and a parent's focus may shift to negative things about their child, or they may feel helpless and withdraw. Hughes and Baylin describe this inability to meet needs with love and empathy as blocked care. There are four kinds of blocked care: acute, chronic, child specific, and state specific. Because this parental blocked care often results from a focus on a child’s behavior, approaching a child’s journey toward healing from trauma through behavior change can sometimes be harmful, driving a child deeper into states of shame, rage, disengagement, or isolation.

Professionals need to know the signs of blocked care, so they can work with families to address it. Professionals can use the following tips as they heal the parent's needs before rebuilding the parent-child relationship:

  • Practice compassion and acceptance
  • Listen to and be curious about the parent’s experience and feelings
  • Validate their struggles
  • Be understanding and patient and help them regulate their emotions.

Once parents' needs have been addressed, parents can utilize PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy) to build a supportive relationship and help the child feel safe. The Adoption Connection offers parents free training to help them regain their compassion for their child. By being able to assess the underlying needs behind the behaviors, parents will be less defensive and more intentional in how they respond to their child.


3 Resources about blocked care and blocked trust and how to address both

Blocked Care: How to Help Discouraged Adoptive Parents Regain Compassion


Corkum & Qualls


Blocked Care and Blocked Trust [Video]

 Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York



Children’s Blocked Trust: How Compassionate Care Helps Reverse the Effects of Early Poor Care

                                                                                              Baylin & Hughes




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