Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Do I Do When My Foster Child Hits Me?

By John and Diane.

Foster kids often have behavioral issues and hitting or striking-out at a foster parent or sibling is not uncommon. The first time it happens to you can be confusing.

There are steps that must be taken to protect yourself and the child in the foster care system. A discussion with your caseworker and pre-planning for such an incident would be the best way to approach this likely event, However, I wanted to offer some advice for those of you who might be caught off guard or otherwise confused or unprepared for this type of behavior.

The first thing you want to do is make sure yourself and the other children in the home are safe from the child doing the hitting.  Send the other kids out of the area and make sure that you have an open route of escape should the situation escalate.  I know that sounds dramatic, but safety first.

After the incident, write down everything you can remember about what happened. Write down what you were saying and what the child was saying. Was the child mad at you or at another person or child in the home? 

If you are not sure, you can write down your thoughts or guesses as to what happened, but be sure to note that these are only your impressions of the events and not facts. You want to think about the cause of the incident so that you can trace back the trigger for further counseling work later.

Report the incident as soon as you can to the caseworker or counselor.  I have 24 to 72 hours to report something to a caseworker with the organization I work with, but yours may be different. Check with your caseworker to be sure you know your requirements.

You may be thinking: “Why do I have to report small hitting incidents if they aren’t really big deals. No one was hurt and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

The answer to that is this: The hitting behavior is a red flag and undoubtedly only the beginning of what could be escalating aggression. Not doing anything about it implies that there are no consequences and the child will think it is okay to continue the behavior.  It also must be addressed for the child’s own benefit to give him or her help for their behavior.

The other reason it is important to document these smaller incidents is so that you have evidence of previous behavior should it happen again.

 You can’t report an escalated incident later on and say, “Well, he has hit me in the past and this time he really hurt me so, I just grabbed him so he would stop hitting me and the other children in the home ” without being able to prove it.  Now it’s your word against the child’s.   You or the child will be calling the police for an escalated incident and you will have to answer questions like, “have you ever hit any other children?”  When you try to tell them that the child has a history of hitting, you had better be able to back that up with documentation and the child should be working on that issue in counseling.

Now, how to handle the child that has hit, you when it happens...

You may hold them in a safe manner to protect yourself or to protect the child from hurting himself. Get training on how this is done or talk to the caseworker and ask them how they would want you to do this.

Try to calm the child down. You will not be able to get a caseworker or the police to help you immediately so you have to take control of the situation yourself.   Get the child to a safe part of the house. Sometimes I had to just put them outside and wait until the police showed up to talk to them or even take them away.  Sometimes you can’t help the kids and that was the hardest thing for me to learn.

If you can get them to talk about what happened to make them want to hit, don’t forget what they are saying. Write it down. This may be the only time they will open up and share.  If they can identify what started the incident they are helping you identify their “triggers.” Learning and remembering the child’s triggers are an important part of later therapy and future growth.

Hitting behavior and anger is a symptom of a bigger problem or of changes happening in the child, good or bad. So, even if you can stop the hitting at home, trust me, it will happen somewhere else, like at school, if the root cause of their anger isn’t addressed.

 Get help for hitting or fighting from caseworkers and counselors and keep a record of all the times that it happens. This will help. You will see a pattern develop and will be on the path to discovering the underlying issues.

Most importantly, protect your family and educate yourself. Learn the history of the kids coming into your home before you take them on, determine whether you and your family are mentally, physically and emotionally able to handle kids with behavioral and anger issues and then take all available training on dealing with tough kids. Although challenging and heartbreaking at times, these are the kids that need you the most. 

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  1. I read your article with interest, we are foster carers and are regularly spat at, hit, kicked, punched, verbally abused etc. by a teenager that we have had for 6 years. We keep records of all incidences, but what I have found is that we are not allowed to call the police or indeed mention them, and although counselling has been tried it failed because the child would not speak. We are now in the situation where we don't want to give up because the teenager as no other support and am deeply concerned about what will happen to him in the future when he can leave care as, his vision is to contact family members and everything will be rosy. He is so confused and angry but apart from medication the root cause is not explored. We feel although we regularly talk to social workers etc, as long as he is being homed the problems are not important, but for this young man his problems are his whole life and extend to all areas of his life. We feel so sad, if isn't getting the help he so desperately needs. He is getting bigger and his violence is growing and I don't want it to get to a stage where he loses everything. Everybody talks about the lack of resources, but these are real lives with very messed up children

    1. Who is telling you that you can't call the police? That is unrealistic! That is giving the child an unrealistic view of what consequences are for bad behavior. There is nothing in the courts or foster care manuals that says you cannot call the police. Whoever told you that has given you very bad advice. The police are your friends and can talk to the child and work with you during violent episodes. The violence in your household should never have gone on this long and has only reinforced his power in the household.
      As long as he thinks he is going back to his bio. family he will never feel attached to your family. Somehow someone is allowing him to believe that fantasy. Why are people coddling this child? It's understandable to feel sorry for the child in the beginning, but you have to get tough with his behavior. Do you have the house rules (for teens) posted.
      I dont know how old he is, or what his problems are, but you need to start disciplining and NOT putting up with this abusive behavior. Tell us more about him and maybe we can help you with a plan.

  2. I'm in a similar situation. My partner and I have been raising our 11 year old nephew for the past year. He has had behavior issues all along (tantrums, rages at school and at home) but as of these past few weeks it has escalated to violence toward me. Two weeks ago he was taken by his mother while she was in a meth induced rage and he saw her assault his father. His mother is now in jail and my nephew is back with us. However, a few days after we got him back, he refused to brush his teeth or get dressed and when I took his phone away from him as a consequence, he went into a rage and started slapping me and later came up behind me and choked me. Last night, he refused to brush his teeth or shower, so we told him that as a consequence he could not take his camera to camp. This morning he refused to get out of bed to brush his teeth so I took his phone away. I then pulled him out of bed in his clothing from the night before and told him he had to go to camp like that and when we got into the front yard he started punching me. He screamed at me the entire way to camp that he does not want to live with my partner and and said that he was going to tell people that I hit him (which I did NOT). I dropped him off at camp and told him that he could not stay at the house with me because I was working from home. I'm not sure what to do about this behavior. I've told his counselor about the first incident but he doesn't talk to his counselor so they haven't worked on these issues. It sounds like taking his stuff away from him triggers the violence, but I'm not sure consequences we need to have in place for bad behavior. Any suggestions for behavioral help?

    1. Because of the safety issues we would suggest you consider putting him into the foster care system where they are better equipped to handle kids with these type of issues. Your nephew needs more counseling to address the violence he has seen in the past and the structure and discipline of a foster home. His outward violence is an expression of his inner pain which needs to be addressed continually in all aspects of daily living.
      The state is more willing to get involved with counselors and psychiatrists when a child is in foster care.
      If you want to continue to care for him, you are going to need to do your own counseling and training on how to diffuse his anger (you can start by reading some of our articles on Attachment disorder kids) and be on the lookout for self harming behavior. Good luck to you we wish you the best.

  3. I have a foster girl age 12 yrs and a foster son age 12. The Foster girl has been in and out of Foster care Boys town and very verbally aggressive towards the other bio kids. We have had her for 40 days longer than other foster families. She destroyed her room Monday went to caps they refused her then I took her back. Went to school Tues wed morning she pulls glasses off Foster son. When he reaches for them she hits him then starts kicking him he hit her back trying to get away from her. I called or emailed all of the people that needed reported to. I suggested anger management and requested she gets a asault ticket. They came back to me..... do I really feel this is a assault
    OMG. The part I haven't shared is she did the same thing to my foster son on Monday that's why we we requested she goes to caps. So twice this week he has endured her assaults and they keep saying it is because she has had trauma in her life. That is crap because she knows exactly what and why she is doing it. She will let u know she is miss bad ass. Please help me with ur advice. I know if my bio child had do everything this to her we would be in alot of trouble. When is she going to be held responsible for her actions s

    1. Hey Chris, thanks for writing. We are writing up a response right now...

    2. You need to fit your home with video cameras. I have them in my house (the public areas) and they aren’t that expensive to set up – and they are great teaching tools. They will also help you to protect yourself from false accusations (when fitted with a vcr to tape the recordings)

      First you can use the tape of the child action to teach the child by sight. It is hard for then to deny it when they watch it over and over what ever they have one.

      2. It keeps you safe you will find when you are on camera you can hold it together better because you know other will be seeing the tape trust Me it help because when it comes to your own Kids and a foster child does some thing to them you may want to hit them or slap them or who knows but you wont if you are on camera you may yell but some how you will hold it together. I have use My cameras more then once just for that I had boys hit me call me all kinds of names and others in the house or even do bad things to others but I was able to hold back Thank God for them ..

      3 it helps the case works to under stand when they see it they know you’re not over reacting to a problem.

      4 it helps counselors to figure out how she or he may want to deal with it and if your home is the right place to even have the child in it because of how she is acting. This is important they can help you or hurt you so always make sure you get along with the counselor...

      5 keep you safe from being investigated or if you are it makes it easy for them to find the truth. Most problem children are good liars so trust me it save a lot of time .

      6 Even if your not around you can find out what they have been doing when your not there trust me I learn more from watching my tapes late at night to see what I miss out on and it is a good thing I do so if you do this I can start to help you ..

      Until then pray and talk to the school maybe she is doing the same things there and they can help you get help. When there are more people saying the same things people listen. Keep notes of how the days go and what she is doing or acting and what you are doing to deal with the problems and as her counter if they have any other Ideas or are you doing some thing wrong see were it goes. Good luck.

  4. Thanks for writing this article. We have had a foster child in our home since August and he has been very oppositional, but became physically violent tonight. We followed our training to a "t", we made a few mistakes in the moment (battle of will instead of walking away). My husband and I feel so disheartened and hit google for some support. The Sheriff Department was helpful and did respond, but we will not get any support from our social workers until the morning. We both feel sad, because this event will alter some of his original plans. This is so hard, because we can see into his future a little bit and we understand the consequences of his actions, but he cannot put those things together. He is 14, all of the social workers want him in a boys facility or juvenile detention. This was/is his opportunity to live with a family, go to school, play sports, be a kid. sigh...

    I don't feel like a failure tonight, but I do feel that all is not well with the world tonight.

    1. We hear ya. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other. You did the best you could and protected yourself and your family. Your Foster kid made his choices too. The best scenario is if you can de-escalate the situation, but you can't back down or let the child "win." Hang in there. I'm glad you found us when you needed a place to vent.

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