Monday, January 28, 2013

Dealing with Sexualized Behavior in Foster Kids: Part 3 Evaluating Incoming Foster Kids

by John and Diane.
Sexual issues with foster children are an important issue to be aware of when working in foster care.  That is one of the reasons we wanted to cover it here on our blog. 
I have had a lot of experience with kids with sexual trauma and abuse history in my years working with foster kids, but as I sat down to try to write this blog post, I knew I was in trouble.
I started to try to write down some of the red flags that I watch for when a child is being placed into my home.   

 I wanted to talk about all the questions I would ask the caseworker and the children to figure out where the child is in there “sexual age” and what the child’s sexual experiences were.  I wanted to give foster parents a way to know what they were getting into before they ran into trouble with a child predator in their home.   (Yes, I know that sounds harsh, as children are victims first, but they can and will become predators to other kids in your home if you are unaware of their behaviors.) 
As I reflected on it I realized I couldn’t do it. There is no way to know until the child is in your home. Sure, sometimes it's clear…but most often times, you simply can’t see the red flags or the signs that a child will display sexually inappropriate or aggressive behavior until after they are in your home.
I know some of you may hate what I am about to say, but for your safety and your family’s safety you must treat new children in your foster home as if they have a big red flag on their back. 
Caseworkers do have some information on the kids they bring to you. Just remember this one thing.  The caseworker never lived with that child and many times they just met the children themselves. The only thing the caseworker knows is what they have been told from either the child’s parents, friends of the family or the school.
She does not, I will repeat, she does not know if what she is telling you is true.  There is a lot of pressure on them to find the child a safe home. 
Let me share a story with you from my own experiences, early on. (gender of the child and specific details may be different to protect the privacy of the family.) 
I once had a boy, who was a good boy, I thought.  There were just discipline problems that I had to deal with. He just needed a strong family, rules and love.  I could do that. 
Well, I never thought I would be asking a child what the word “hump,” meant, but this boy, who was very young, would push a child down on the ground and “hump” him or her.  He would do this when he was fighting others kids or even sometimes in play.
Big red flag here.  I was told that there had been abuse in the home against his mother, but not the children. Although there may have been some hitting of the child by the Dad, but nothing sexual.  
Now this child had ADHD and had a lot of problems in school with listening to his teacher and he was mean to animals.  I do find this in a lot of children I work with in foster care.  This was all I knew about the child when he came to me. 
When I heard about this behavior,  I asked him why he did this, and how he knew the word “hump.” 
He told me he watched his dog do it and his parents told him what the dogs were doing along with the word, and it was ok. 
 He said they would laugh at the dogs “doing it.” This is another red flag.  “If it was good for the dog it should be good for him to do it,” at least that is what he was thinking.  It would make his Dad happy and laugh.  In the boy’s mind, this is a good thing.   So I told him “no, that is wrong and yes, animals do this to have babies.”
So I punished him for what he did at school and hoped this was the last I heard about it.
 Then he started the same humping behavior again at home.   Even towards my daughters, who were a lot older then he was. .  Wow that floored me!  He was doing this to my girls, at my home?  You could say I was mad! I am human! 
I started to ask questions of him. He said he had seen his parents doing this and his dad would tell him to do it to other kids. Wow. My eyes were opened.  Help! What do I do?
 Well I talk about dealing with problems like this in other blog stories.  But you can see I was trying to help a child and give him a safe/loving home but he gave me an unsafe home in return. 
Thank God My girls were older and know how to handle it but if not, who knows how far he could have pushed them.
 And yes, other foster children have pushed my girls farther then they would have gone if the child were not in my home. I was not told until later, after my girls had grown up and left home.
 All kids who come to your home have Red Flags.  So if you don’t see them at first, that does not mean they are not there. Wait and watch the children in your home.  You have to be the one who says, “this child is safe” because of who he or she is in your home through their actions.  
I will be going through some easy to spot red flags in part 4 of the series. 
image by :
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pictured children have nothing to do with topic discussed.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Safety Fort: An Art Therapy Intervention for RAD and Trust Disorder kids

By John and Diane

Diane and I were recently troubleshooting an issue another Foster parent was having with one of their RAD kids.

Their foster son who had the usual safety and security issues that trust disorder kids have, had numerous set backs in his treatment. He had several traumatic home visits and issues with one of his caseworkers where he felt he was not being understood and thought he was being lied to.

These issues piled up and the child had a meltdown resulting in a suspension from school and emergency meetings with counselors.  During this time his foster parents were trying to reconnect and repair their foundation with their foster son, which had been damaged during all of these problems.

Although none of the problems the boy suffered connected to his foster home, the foster parents were concerned and wanted to make sure the boy felt secure in his placement in their home.  They  wanted a way to determine how he was feeling and wanted to make him feel more secure.

As Diane and I talked she, (being an art therapist) and I (being a guy with a lot of random stuff in my yard) began brainstorming on how these parents could work with their son to get him to feel secure at home.  This is what we came up with.

The Safety Fort

What you need:

An outdoor space
Wood palletes


Tell your son you are going to go out and build a fort.

The Therapeutic Concepts:

The use of wood and tools to build something helps burn off anxiety and builds confidence for the boy, which he needs, especially during a time of crisis.  Concentration on building a fort helps break the cycle of anxiety and diverts his attention.

 While building the fort, the foster parent will be working with the boy, talking about building a safe place, how to build a home, feeling safe and secure etc.  Discussion can also be held on how once the fort is built, how the child can play in it for months and months to come, which  will make the child feel more secure as well in his placement in the home.

Later, the foster parents or caseworker can use the structure as a device to evaluate or work with the child when he feels in crisis or insecure. Should he have another issue, they can approach him by inviting him to work on the fort to make it stronger, thereby offering him a chance to express his vunerability and make himself feel stronger or more secure again.


The foster parent worked with 2 children when doing this project.  He worked mainly with the RAD child in crisis, and another foster child in his care who also had trust disorders, built his own fort as well.

During the process the foster parent made some interesting observations.

The child in crisis built his fort under trees and among bushes in a very protected, covered space, reflecting his need for shelter and security.   Meanwhile, the other child, who is much more secure and trusting, built his fort in an open field where he could be seen, and could see everything.

The child in crisis talked about adding locks to his fort and putting a door on it so no one could get in and so he could be safe in it. Further expressing his extreme insecurity.

Using the construction material, being that it was very heavy and sound made the child feel very secure inside it.  So, using REAL materials is important in this process (as opposed to making a blanket fort.)

This project was seen as a success and a safe project for many reasons. 
1.     It is a safe project as the parent was working with the boys and the tools
2.     The Pallette forts can be played in, yet, since the palletes have large spaces between the slats, a parent can see what is happening within the fort, making it safe for monitoring behavior later on.
3.     The child in crisis got a chance to handle material and release anxiety as well as talk out his issues during the process with his foster parent and re-solidify his bond and security within his foster home.
4.     The fort is a reminder to the child of the process and that he has a safe place to go.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dealing with Sexualized Behavior in Foster Kids Part 2. Making Your Safety Plan.

by John and Diane

What is a Safety Plan for dealing with sexual incidents with foster kids? We talked about it briefly in the first part of this series.

Lorex 8-Channel Video Security

Basically, it is this: A plan of attack for when the inevitable situation arises with your child that places the parent and children of the opposite sex (for the heterosexually acting-out child) in jeopardy. Incidence such as if a teen girl would expose herself to the Father or son in the household, or a boy in the house becomes aggressive with a daughter or Mother in the house.

Any physical or verbal situation that could be interpreted as an inappropriate interaction must be addressed when dealing with foster children who act out sexually.  This is vitally important in foster homes to protect both the child and the foster home (and everyone included in it.)  It is NOT unusual for foster kids to get angry and accuse foster parents or other kids in the household of inappropriate acts…true or not, and you need to be prepared for such a time when you accept kids with this behavior.  Having a Safety Plan is part of that preparation. 

So, what do you need to do to have a Safety Plan?
1.     Know everything you can about the child, his background, his/her history of sexual abuse or activity.  Be open about it and follow all the rules we talked about in the first part of this series.
2.     When you first witness an incident, talk to the caseworker first before doing anything about it. They may have a plan and may need to “gather evidence” or have a specific approach they want to use and may want to handle it personally.
3.     Document to the counselor over the phone when something happens.  As soon as an incident occurs, call the caseworker or counselor and give him or her all the details about what happened.
4.     Leave it up to the counselor or caseworker if they want to come to the house and deal with it. If they give you an option and say, “Well, do you want me to come out there,” always say, “it’s up to you…” Never refuse or say no… be sure it is documented that you left it up to the caseworker to further review the incident.
5.      Tell spouse immediately and let them confront the child on camera about the behavior. I realize not every home has cameras, but they are now so reasonably priced that foster homes should have at least one cam in the home for documentation purposes. You want the spouse of the same sex to deal with the issue.  Have a witness if possible and talk bluntly about what happened.  As discussed previously, this is just like any other bad behavior, so consequences should be given out for breaking “house rules” for acting out.
6.     Know your limitations and stick to them.  Document where your limit is so that you don’t get caught up trying to help the child beyond your abilities. When you do this, mistakes happen and you may end up in trouble yourself or put the child at risk.
7.     Never let the parent of the opposite sex be alone with the child i.e.: drive home from school, babysitting etc. I realize this is difficult, but until the behavior is handled and dealt with, and there is a long history of non-behavior and acting out, I would not allow such risky one-on –one time.  You may have to explain yourself to the police at some points during your foster parenting –life, and when dealing with kids with sexual acting-out, having a witness is vital to your self-protection.
8.     Don’t use another child as your witness.  Even if there is another child in the room, chances are they aren’t paying attention and would not be a witness for you if a claim were made against you. Again, cameras in public areas of your house are a good investment if you are taking on troubled kids such as these. When faced with the police…you’ll appreciate the preparation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dealing with Sexualized Behavior in Foster Kids Part 1.

by John and Diane. 
As a foster dad, I have dealt with a lot of sexual behaviors with children.  It is a confusing and frightening development for some foster families…one they are often not totally prepared to deal with, so I often get questions about these behaviors.  Here is one scenario recently brought to my attention.
A foster parent had a 10-year-old child who began demonstrating sexualized behaviors such as drawing sexual acts, acting "like a teenager," saying verbally inappropriate things etc.  The foster family wasn’t aware of any sexual abuse in the child’s past, but did know that the child had older siblings. They were not sure how to handle the behavior and the child’s other manipulative and lying behavior had them frightened with later consequences.  They wondered what they should do with this unexpected new twist.
1.     My first bit of advice is for self-protection for the men and boys in the house (if it’s a girl for example.)  If it’s a male child, your wife or younger children in the house should be protected. I found sexualized boys and girls will also prey on younger children in the house of either sex, so they too should be protected.  How to do this?
a.     Cameras: You want to have cameras in the public areas in the house because undoubtedly at some point he or she may accuse someone of something and you want to be able to prove that it did or it didn’t happen. (Accusations may be of sexual abuse or of NOT stopping behaviors.)   
b.       Children should have separate rooms.  This is vital and comes from my own harsh experience.  I am sorry to say this but I never thought it could happen in my home, but it did. Abuse happened between the children in my home, and I thought I had a safe home. You don’t know what is going on behind closed doors (like in their bedrooms) so that is why each child must be separated.
2.  Get him /her counseling.  The fact that the child is acting out, verbalizing and drawing things that are sexual is a huge red flag and I would guess as you probably have already figured out, that he/ she had been sexually abused by someone earlier in his/her life.  This is not always true. They may have just witnessed sexual behavior, seen it on TV, heard about it, or something else. It does need to be investigated though with a therapist.
     Children who have been sexually abused can sometimes role play the sexual abuse with other kids in the home (this is how they try to cope with what happened to them) and the other kids will not understand what is happening, so they get caught up in it.   Counseling help is necessary for the whole family.
3.     Have Family Meeting. Don't hide the situation from the whole family. Have a family meeting about it and talk about it frankly. Talk about the acting out and other things they all should be aware of.
4.     Let them know that there are not going to be punished for the drawings, but they cannot act on their feelings, physically, on another child or person. Talking about these things is important to protect the child and the rest of the kids in the home.
5.     Don't over react or “lose it,” to the acting out of sexual behaviors such as masturbation, treat it like any other bad behavior if its done in public. Talk with your husband/wife and have a safety plan in regards to your wife/ husband and other children, so that you don't put them in situations where someone could be accused of anything inappropriate. Keeping your home safe for everyone is your job.(I will talk more about Safety Plans in a later post.)
6.     Document Everything. I have dealt with sexualized boys and girls in my home, and it can get scary fast. You really have to document everything and be sure to get counselors involved now so that it is documented that you are working on these things.
7.     Talk frankly with the child about it and do not let the counselor keep you out of it. The child needs to feel free to talk to you and so do the other children in the home.
     I was kept out of the issue with a foster child in my home and I thought that I was doing my part just by having the counselor talk to the child.   I didn’t want to deal with it myself. I was trying to “brown bag it” I call it, kind of like, “it did not happen here, if we don’t talk about it.”
That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. There was a child being abused in my home, in their bedroom, from a child they shared their room with, but they thought they could not talk to me about it, only the counselor, and they would not see them until next week, so they put up with the abuse. God help me, I would never, let that happen again under MY roof.  So, now we have “one room- one child” as a rule here.
I hope you never have to go through what I had to.
8.     Get comfortable talking about sex. If they are masturbating and things like that, they are already sexualized so, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. If just saying the word “masturbation” bothers you, get help and read the books I have at the bottom of the blog in the Recommended Reading area.  If you want to help this child you better get some thick skin and fast.  Don’t hide from reading up on this and learning all you can. 
9.     Use the House Rules we have on our blog with the Sexual Issues additions and the Bounty on Bad Behaviors info. with the sexual issues addressed as well so that everyone in the home, including the kids, know to tell you when something happens.  (links provided at end of post)
10.  Know you can’t control everything, such as the masturbation. Realize you can't stop things like that, but you want to control the location where it’s happening, Let the child know that it’s ok to do in a private area, be blunt, because it’s a natural behavior when kids are exposed to sexual abuse. Only bring it up if you do come across it.
11.  Pray for guidance from the Lord and strength for you and your family. It’s not the child’s fault it is how he or she was raised and what they were exposed to.   If you can’t handle it, let someone who can, and know when you’re out of your safety zone or you may hurt someone in your family who is close to you.  I will pray for you if you are dealing with these problems.
 I will post the red flags you should watch for and information on having a Safety Plan in upcoming blog posts
Putting a Bounty on Bad Behavior: Rules and “Reward” Techniques to Deal with Hitting and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors Amongst Foster Kids

Attribution Some rights reserved by Ivan McClellan

Friday, January 11, 2013

Rules and Habits to Guide Foster Care Parents and Care Centers (Guest Post)

Hi Friends, We received this request to guest post from Capstone Foster Care Agency in the UK and are happy to share their Rules and Habits to Guide Foster Care Parents and Care Centers.  Enjoy.

(Guest Post by Capstone Foster Carers- UK)

Devising some life rules and forming a habit of adhering to them can increase chances of taking better care to a child under foster care. Foster Care parents are usually busy with other duties: they have their own children to care for, work to attend to, and other chores. Under these circumstances, it is easy to assume some things and neglect children under foster care. Forming and adhering to those rules helps the child like the parent and the home care center. Here are some of the rules that a foster parent or a child care center might consider:

1. Ensure that you supply all needs to the child: Many foster parents assume that they already know what a child under foster care would need. Unfortunately, many end up supplying food, education, shelter, clothing and think that everything is under control. While these are paramount in the growth and development of the kid under care, parents must understand that these children need someone to supply for their emotional needs.  One of the major problems affecting children put under such care is lack of someone to supply for their emotional needs. Some of the foster care agencies like Capstone fostering which are rated “Outstanding” by OFSTED understand emotional needs of every child and they try to help children rebuild their lives.

In fact, neglected children have no one to show them love and many harbor bitterness for that reason. They have emotional development problems because of lack of someone to show them love. Many become aggressive and lack self control because they were never shown love. Showing them love, teaching them about love and training them to believe in God's supernatural love should be seen as a basic necessity for these children.

These children also suffer from inner insecurity, and foster parents and guides must ensure that they are closer to these children all the time, in order to allow for normal emotional and psychological development. Having suffered dishonesty and distrust at the arms of the people they loved most, these children must be trained on how to trust themselves and others. They must be shown by examples how to tell the truth and be honest. In fact, positive behavior can be reinforced on the children by supplying all their emotional needs. Children must also be trained on positive behavior and rational problem solving.

2. Parents should let the child know that they (parents) are in control: This should be done carefully and not by stamping authority on the child by such methods as thorough punishment which makes the child rebel, develop hatred or bitterness. It begins with letting them know the role of the parent in anything undertaken. Parents and guardians must work with children to show them by example that they are in control of everything.

Parents and care centers must also develop in-house rules that the children must be taught to obey, and being advised when they violate these rules. Parents and care centers must enforce these rules because rules are a crucial part in development of positive and acceptable behavior. 

3. Parents should understand their strengths and weaknesses: Parents and guardians must understand their emotional, physical and psychological or other weaknesses and limitations in order to determine how they can control themselves while handling the child. For instance, parents who are of high temper must understand when to tell their spouse to help them in handling the child to avoid overreacting, which could negatively influence child behavior. Foster parents must also forget bitter past experiences they had with the child and never to refer to these bitter experiences in a negative way in the future.

4. Develop good habits to show the child and lead by example: This is by adopting minor positive habits such as smiling while talking to the child. It also includes showing the children positive habits such as hard work and teaching them fruits of hard work. The parents must avoid using sarcasm, which is neither positive nor negative, but creates hard situations for the child to make friends in the later life.

5. Foster Parents should treat these children as their own and encourage group activities: Neglecting the child might begin with a notion that he/she does not belong to the family. Parents should treat these children as their own in any way, ranging from when providing for them to advising and reprimanding them. Joint family activities could include joint picnics and praying together.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Being Grateful: An important Lesson Every Day


Hi Friends,
I stumbled upon this blog "challenge" the other day and really liked the concept. I wanted to share it with all of you. It's called the "Joy Dare."

Basically, its a daily calender with a guided reminder for ways to be grateful for at least 3 things everyday.  Let's face it. With busy lives with foster kids (or any busy family life,) all those appointments, school functions, melt-downs and's easy to forget to be thankful for small blessings. This is an important habit to teach our kids, I think, and this is a beautiful way to remind us to do it.

Check out the article below and follow the link to get to the illustrated downloads. Post them on your fridge and go over them everyday with your kids. Read them before school to remind them to think about the three things, then review after school or around the dinner table. This could be a nice ritual to help focus on positive things even on dark and moody days.


The Joy Dare

Screen shot 2011-09-04 at 12.48.58 PM 

It’s habits that can imprison you and it’s habits that can free you.
But  when thanks to God becomes a habit –  so joy in God becomes your life.
And  with this habit of keeping a gratitude list?  You:
1. Have a relative absence of stress and depression. (Woods et al., 2008)
2. Make progress towards important personal goals (Emmons and McCullough, 2003)
3. Report higher levels of determination and energy (Emmons and McCullough, 2003)
4. Feel closer in their relationships and desire to build stronger relationships (Algoe and Haidt, 2009)
5. Increase your happiness by 25% — (Who wouldn’t want a quarter more happiness!) (McCullough et al., 2002)
Who doesn’t want all that?
So! Print out each month’s Joy Dare!
1. Each day of the month has a prompt to look for three gifts.
2. Print it out for the fridge, for the kids, for your family gratitude journal — and take the dare to live in fullness of joy — right where you are!
3. Joy is a function of gratitude — and gratitude is a function of perspective. So take these prompts to help you see and change perspective — give thanks — and live all His joy!
4. Use the daily joy dare prompts — to help you count your own One Thousand Gifts:
Read more and get the collection at

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Life Rules for Foster (and All) Parents

by John and Diane.

We recently re-posted our House Rules for kids and teens, and got a question…”Where are the rules for parents?”  Thanks for the reminder! We have been meaning to talk about this for a while now.
Although most of this is probably already part of the heart and soul of your home, it’s a good reminder at those moments of frustration, that as parents of foster kids, or any child, we have a higher calling to be better people than we can sometimes be. But… we must always try. There are life rules we must live by, things we must do so that we can provide the basic and more complex needs of the children in our care.
With that being said…here are the Life Rules for Foster (and All) Parents:
You Must:
1.     Supply all his or her needs. This may seem obvious to most of you, but I found through the years in foster care it’s not. So let’s go through some of the easier things that I would think all parents would already be doing.
a.     Food
b.     Bed
c.     Clean clothes 
d.    Warm home
e.     And a chance to go to school and to join in other actives with children their own age. This could be in church or school and many other ways.
f.       LOVE. The one thing all of us need but a child needs more. How do you show love?
                                              i.     Make your child feel safe and secure in your home. Feeling safe and secure equals love to a child. 
                                            ii.     You need to forgive them (if you’re not kicking them out because it is SO bad,) for what they did, and let it go! Let them feel like they belong to the family.
                                          iii.     Use positive reinforcement when the child is good and just use the consequences for breaking house rules when they “mess up.”  He or she already knows will happen if they break the rules so you don’t need to berate them with negativity. State the broken rule and enforce the consequences.
                                            iv.      Please do not use sarcasm. This is not positive or negative, it’s just dumb and it will mess your child up and make it hard for them to make friends later on.    Most of the time the child has no Idea what you are saying anyway.
                                              v.      Just be honest with them and truthful.  Always tell them how they could have done something differently when they do something wrong.  Make it a learning moment for both of you and go through it all calmly and without anger (try your best.)
2.     Be trustworthy.  Even if you can’t trust the child, he or she has to see what it looks like to be trustworthy. The only way they will learn this is by watching you. This means if you tell them you are going to do something… Do it. Following through on promises you make with the child.   
3.     Make sure the child knows you are in control. This will help teach them to trust you.
This is easy to do. Make sure when the child gets something, you point out the role you had in it. Let them know how they would not have it if it weren’t for you.

 For example, show them how through your efforts in working with them, they were able to achieve something…that because they trusted you to teach them, they accomplished something.

You also will show you are in control when you enforce the house rules. By enforcing the house rules you gain the child’s trust because ultimately, your child knows the rules protect him and keep him safe.

4.     Be emotionally strong. Know your strengths, weaknesses and your hot buttons. You need to be able to control your emotions and know when you have reached your limits. Get your partner or spouse to help you if you feel you are being pushed beyond your limits, so the child doesn’t see that.   The child will not trust you if they feel you are weak.  If they feel you’re stronger than them, they will feel safe.

5.     Don’t allow things that happened in the past to cloud your judgment with your child. Always allow your child to try again at things he tried at the past. Kids are always growing in intelligence and in skills. Don’t let your own limitations and fears limit the growth of your child.

6.     Smile a lot when you are with your children.   Always be nice to your wife or husband in front of the kids unless you at trying to teach them a “life lesson,” then let the children see but remember they will treat their better half the same way, so do it in a Godly way please.
7.     Always try to treat your foster children as your own.  If people can’t tell which child is yours and which ones are foster, you’re doing a good job.    
8.     For my family we pray together and in the prayer I can ask God to help me and them sometimes the child asks for help too, this is always a good start.  A family that plays and prays together stays together…

Of course, all rules need to fit you home. Feel free to make changes and additions as need be. 


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