The other day, I chatted with a brand new foster Momma.
They are about to take in a teen girl. First placement. Brave you say? I say trusting. They are trusting the strength of their family and community to make it work. They trust their skills as parents. They trust the tight bond they have as a unit to be able to be pulled without breaking. They trust the workers to be placing a child that will be a good fit in their home. Most of all they trust God will see them through all the challenges.
While I fully believe that God will see them through all the challenges, I suggested that the best thing you can do is prevent them.
Dad’s especially are at risk of allegations. We decided when we first began fostering 18 years ago, that my husband wouldn’t be left alone with a foster daughter or a foster son who had been sexually abused. When one of our girls needs a ride, he will always take another one of our kids with him. I am usually the one who does the drives. I am also the one who does most of the diaper changes. We leave the bathroom doors open when changing bums and while showering or bathing any littles. If for some reason we have to help an older child in the shower or bath, we have them wear a bathing suit and again, we keep the door open a crack.
These rules also apply to our older boys. We don’t leave them to babysit. We don’t leave them alone in the house with any girls especially new ones. Not only for the protection of our son but also for peace of mind for our new fosters. They don’t know him and in the past may have had bad or scary experiences with older boys. We want our fosters to feel as safe and comfortable as possible.
Asking a lot of questions about the history of the foster child will help you determine how far you need to go to safeguard your family. A child who has been sexually abused is going to need even greater precautions. They could be extra sensitive to things like tickle fights or a pat on the knee or even hugs. For all children it is a good idea to ask permission before giving a hug. May sound strange as a parent, but it’s great practice and teaching our girls that people should be asking if they want a hug instead of just taking one. My husband usually only gives side-hugs and only after asking if they would like one. He usually gives fist bumps or high fives when congratulating or connecting with one of our kids. I am the hugger and I try to ask each child every day if they need a hug.
Other rules we have for safety and preventing abuse:
- Children play in rooms with the doors left open.
- Be very clear about rules for privacy and changing.
- Document any sexual behaviours or inappropriate language by the child.
- Discuss all concerns with the worker and be sure they document as well.
- Think about everything that is happening through the lens of a scared child.
- Consider the media playing. Are the songs suggestive? Are the movies appropriate? Would they make an abused child nervous or uncomfortable?
It is a different world we live in. Churches, businesses, schools, foster parents, all have to think differently today about how their behavior can look or sound through the lens of an abused child/teen or adult who has experienced sexual abuse.
Foster friends of ours have had some issues with young foster girls who have been abused attempting to inappropriately touch the foster dad or other boys in the home. Whenever a foster child comes with a known history of abuse, extra precautions need to be taken to protect them and to monitor them. Strong enforcement of the rules like doors always open, change in the bathroom, etc. must happen. Protection of other children in the home, especially younger ones also must be a priority. Constant monitoring of where the children are is critical. Children will often convince other children to play sexualized games like doctor in the bathroom, fashion show in the basement, or even family in the tree fort. Vigilance = safety.
A lot of people ask how my husband feels about this. He has said he wouldn’t have it any other way. He would rather be safe than sorry. He would rather be slightly inconvenienced by having to have other kids in the car than have an accusation of abuse or have a foster child who felt uncomfortable. Thankfully we have so many kids it is very rare for any of them to be driving with just one parent! We’ve been living with precautions for so long it’s just a way of life. Like taking medications and eating healthy to prevent a heart attack.
If you have any questions about safeguarding, feel free to ask in the discussion. I would love to hear your ideas or experiences with safeguarding your family (foster or not).