What is Blocked Care?

Blocked care can happen when parents experience prolonged stress, which suppresses their capacity to sustain loving and empathic feelings towards their child. Blocked care can develop when parenting a child that has blocked

What is Blocked Trust?

A child that has experienced early life trauma can form a mistrust of the world and the people around them; this is described as the child developing blocked trust. If a child has not learnt that a parent/carer is reliable or trustworthy,
then they are unable to rely on them to meet their basic needs.

The developing brain of a child who lives in a world of mistrust and fear is significantly affected by this experience. The growing brain will organise itself to be alert to the need for self-defence, at the same time suppressing the
need for social engagement. This is their way of survival in the non-nurturing world. They will begin to rely on themselves and the capacity to trust in their primary caregiver becomes blocked. It is easier and safer for the child to
suppress their social emotional needs that are much needed and longed for by adoptive parents, by being self-sufficient or defensive.

Ways in which some children with blocked trust may behave:

• Learn to resist authority and to oppose parental influence
• Avoid parent as a potential source of comfort
• Find it challenging to relax and enjoy playful moments
• Have difficulties being open about their thoughts and feelings
• Remain vigilant to danger, with reduced curiosity and opportunities for learning
• Don’t trust in their parents good intentions (behaviours and limits)
• Don’t trust/ believe in the unconditional support and love offered to them
• Trust in themselves over others
• Develop controlling characteristics and behaviours as they try to take charge of their own safety – it is safer to do this than be influenced by others.

What does this mean for an adoptive parent?

Blocked trust in a child can trigger blocked care in a parent.  It can be intensely painful for parents of children
with blocked trust who withdraw from all/ parts of their relationships with their parents and this rejection can be taken personally.

Continually offering a relationship that is not reciprocated can have a very profound impact, and can at times lead to defensive responses from the parent. It can impair the parent’s ability to connect with the child, when the child does not respond in the way the parent expects or wishes. Parenting tends to become more reactive with the parent reacting to the behaviours of the child rather than responding to the child’s needs and emotional state. The
parents attention gets pulled towards the most negative parts of the child’s behaviour.

A parent, whose child responds with rejection, hostility or clinginess (this may suggest to the parent that they cannot soothe or comfort their child) can start to feel like a failure. They may feel shame, a sense of being unsafe with the
child and they may start to withdraw developing blocked care. This is the stage where parents need support to continue to make connections and behavioural advice/ support.

Prioritising working with parents over working directly with young people in this way can offer the best possible chance of strengthening the attachment between the young person and their parent and promote healing for the traumatised child.

The different types of blocked care

Dan Hughes and Jonathan Baylin describe four different types of blocked care:


This is most likely to be the case when parents themselves have experienced difficult childhoods. Growing up in an atmosphere of fear can result in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for detecting fear and preparing for
emergencies) being more sensitive than it might be in someone who received consistent, attuned parenting. This makes it far more difficult to respond to the child’s challenging behaviours in a way that fits with your values and beliefs.


This can happen after a traumatic event such as a bereavement or a health scare. These events can make it more difficult to feel close to our children, to experience pleasure in their company, and remain attuned to their inner
world. If we are struggling to manage our own feelings it is extremely difficult to tune into those of our children.

Child specific

This is particularly relevant for adoptive and foster parents who often find that despite their attempt to reach out to their child, they are frequently met with indifference or hostility.

Over time this takes its toll on parents and their own defences begin to click into place, leading to the development of resentful and angry feelings. It is extremely hard to be empathic when we are in this place.

Stage specific

This can happen at particular developmental stages e.g. adolescence. These stages can be even more frustrating where a child is developmentally delayed and their behaviours, emotions and independent skills are not matched to their chronological age.

What shall you do if you are experiencing blocked care

If a parent is experiencing blocked care it is important that they take the time to reflect on their situation. There are many ways to move forward, here are some starting points to consider:

• Realistic expectations of parent – aim to be a “good enough” parent, some parents strive to be “perfect” and to always get things right, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. A parent aiming for perfection will be setting themselves up for feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

• Realistic expectations of child – there is no such thing as a perfect child, they are all individual, and develop at their own pace. Children that have experienced early life trauma can be of a younger age developmentally, therefore. Try not to expect an 8 year old to act in the way other 8 year olds act when she has a developmental age is of 5 years.

Blaming – is the parent blaming the child and feeling as though they are behaving this way deliberately, and taking it personally. A child who has experienced early life trauma has an inbuilt sense of mis-trust “blocked trust”. Their mis-behaviours are mainly fear based behaviours, developed by children in order to survive and to protect themselves, it is not personal. Blaming children can cause anger or resentment within a parent, and this can lead to a parent over-reacting and this may stop them for looking at how their own actions may influence the child’s behaviours.

Don’t react – a parent should try not to react to the behaviour, but to read what the behaviour is telling them, and what the need behind the behaviour is, then to look at how this need can be supported. Normally once the need is identified and responded to, the behaviour should become less.

Taking care of yourself – understandably, when becoming a parent the last on the list of priorities is self-care. This is a must, if a parent’s individual needs go unmet, it is a lot less likely that they will be emotionally available to their child, so find some “me time” whenever possible.

Recognising your own triggers – some parents can look only at what their child’s triggers are, and may forget to be aware of their own. Being conscious of our own triggers can be helpful as the parent can then take responsibility for them, try to understand them and where they come from. This will help a parent manage their triggers
avoiding blaming the child.