How Foster Care Affects Children in Your Home

Man sitting with his daughter at home
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In This Article

Children in the foster care system are usually in the state's custody for reasons beyond their control—often, abuse and neglect. Experiencing abuse or neglect has an impact on a child's behavior as well as on their mental state.

Challenging Behaviors

Foster children in your care may display behaviors that are difficult to manage. Know that the following can be brought into your foster home and be prepared to address these behaviors and issues in your home and around your children.

Cursing

Some foster families do not allow cursing in their homes. These same families may be very surprised at the level of swearing some foster children use on a daily basis, including very young children.

How to respond: Communication with your children will be very important as you provide foster care. Talk about what words are appropriate and not appropriate. Some older children in the home may find little ones cursing amusing. Remind older children not to encourage the swearing by laughing. This can be another behavior that you choose to not allow in your foster home.

Dishonesty

Lying and stealing are often survival skills for children in the foster care system. While in the birth home, some children had to engage in such behaviors in order to survive their environment. This makes these behaviors very difficult to extinguish.

These children will need to learn new skills to replace the dysfunction of lying and stealing, but in the meantime, other children in your home are being exposed to these behaviors.They may even have their possessions disappear. They may begin to question their faith and trust in others.

How to respond: Speak with your children about the behavior and about your expectations for their behavior. This can be another behavior that you choose to not allow in your foster home.

Aggression

There may be times when your child's safety may be put at risk by another child in your care. Some foster children may have violent outbursts when angry. This may include hitting, biting, kicking, and throwing objects.

How to respond: Establish a plan on what to do when this occurs. Let your children know that they need to tell you immediately when this occurs. Also, let your child know if where they should go (for example, their bedroom or your bedroom) while you are handling the behavior.

Sexualized Behavior

Some children who have been sexually abused act out. This may range from the minor (being knowledgeable about sex) to the major (sexualized play or sexual activity).

How to respond: Tell your foster care social worker what behaviors you are willing to parent and not parent in your home. Keep in mind that sometimes a child's history is not fully known before placement in a foster home.

Take action to protect your children from being sexually abused. Keep lines of communication open with your children and discuss good touch and bad touch. Role-play ways of saying "no." Make sure your child knows to tell you immediately if anything happens that makes them feel uncomfortable with a foster child (or anyone else).

Difficulties for Siblings

Sharing a home with foster siblings may challenge your children in other ways. In addition to witnessing a foster child's difficult or inappropriate behavior, your children may experience other issues.

Insecurity

Some children may become confused about what "permanency" means. They may ask when it will be their turn to go to a new family. They may believe children coming and going from home is normal.

How to respond: Tell your child the story of how they joined your family. Talk about the role of foster parents and how your family is temporary for foster children, but your child is permanent and forever.

Loss

Your children may become attached to the different foster children that enter your home. It may be painful for them to say goodbye.

How to respond: Talk to your children about the transition process in an age-appropriate way. Keep pictures of past foster children in the home. Ask for continued contact with past children, if appropriate and all involved agree that it would be positive. Many children have been a part of a fostering family and have extended their definition of family and sibling.

How Your Children Benefit From Sharing a Home

You may wonder why you should continue to consider fostering while your children are in the home. Know that there are also several positive aspects of exposing your children to foster children.

  • Service: Your child learns how to serve others and the community by welcoming those in need into their homes.
  • Sharing: Your children learn how to share not only their toys, but their space and important people.
  • Growing family: Your children may learn that there can be many caring adults in one's world, as foster children gain more caring adults through foster parents and others in the foster parent's extended family and new siblings.
  • World view: Your children will also gain a broader world view as they learn about different cultures, races, and family values. There will be many opportunities for discussion and learning.
  • Emotional intelligence: Your children will become familiar with a broad range of emotions as foster children express themselves. If they do so inappropriately, you will be there to help your child understand better and healthier ways to share feelings.
  • Maturity: Your children will learn about grief and loss. As foster children experience losses, your child will learn how the losses of others impact them. They will also have the opportunity to experience their own grief and loss as foster children come and go from their lives. This does not have to be negative.
  • Values: Your children will learn about choices and consequences and the impact they have on those around them.

Whether or not you decide to become a foster parent is a huge decision, one that will impact not only you as parents, but your children, extended family, friends, and neighbors. You are asking a stranger to join your family on a temporary basis. Yes, it is a child, but a child that you may not know much about prior to placement.

Know what you are willing to bring into your home and ask the questions you need to ask before saying yes. Foster parenting has its rewards, but it also has its negative points, especially when you consider the impact it may have on your children.

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