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.