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


  1. Thank you for these tips. This one of the "ickier" (for lack of a better term) sides of foster parenting. No one wants to think about it too much until they're forced to.

    1. Thank you for commenting. You are right, and that is one of the reasons we thought it was so important to write about. You definitely have to face these things without fear or the child can get hurt even more. Which is something no one wants. Knowledge is power, for sure, and when you bring the situation out into the light you can deal with it as a family. Foster parents cannot be afraid of this, OR have to be willing to say that they cannot handle these types of kids. We all want to help kids heal, sometimes that means saying we aren't the ones to do it.