How Foster Care Affects Children in Your Home

Man sitting with his daughter at home
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Children in the foster care system are usually in the state's custody for reasons beyond their control—usually abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect have an impact on a child's behavior as well as on their mental state as studies are now confirming.

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:

Cons of Foster Care on 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, this includes very young children. My daughter learned several new curse words from foster placements.
    • Action to Be Taken: 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: While difficult to parent, lying and stealing are often survival skills. While in the birth home, some children had to engage in such behaviors in order to survive their environments. This is very confusing to foster children and makes them very difficult behaviors to extinguish. Children will need to learn new skills to replace the dysfunction of lying and stealing, but along the way, your children are being exposed to these behaviors. Your children may even have their possessions disappear. Your children may begin to question their faith and trust in others.
    • Action to Be Taken: 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.
  • Safety: There may be times when your child's safety may be put at risk. Some foster children may have violent outbursts or rage when angry. This may include hitting, biting, kicking, and throwing objects. Your child's things may get broken.
    • Action to Be Taken: Establish a plan with your children on what to do when this occurs. Let your child know that he needs to tell you immediately when this occurs. Also, let your child know if he needs to go to his room or your room while you are handling the behavior.
  • Sexualized Behavior: Some children who have been sexually abused sexually act out. This acting out may range in behavior from the minor, very knowledgeable about sex; to the major, sexualized play or sexual activity.
    • Action to Be Taken: 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.
    • Think of actions you can take to protect your children from being sexually abused. Keep lines of communication open with your children and discuss good touch and bad touch. Roleplay ways of saying "no". Make sure your child knows to tell you immediately if anything happens that makes her feel uncomfortable with a foster child.
  • Insecurity in the Home: Some children may become confused about what "permanency" means. My daughter at the age of four asked when it was her turn to go to her new family. She thought children coming and going from home was normal.
    • Action to Be Taken: Tell your child the story of how she 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.
    • Action to Be Taken: Talk to your children about the transition process on their age level. 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.

Pros of Foster Children and Your Children Sharing a Home

After reading the above, 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.

  • Your child may learn how to serve others and the community by welcoming those in need into their homes.
  • Your children may learn how to share – not only their toys but their space and important people.
  • Your children may learn that there can be an extension of 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.
  • Your children will also hopefully gain a broader world view as they learn about different cultures, races, and family values. They may not always be positive, but there will be numerous opportunities for discussion and learning.
  • Your children will also become very familiar with a broad range of emotions as foster children express themselves. If the expressions are not appropriately expressed, you will be there to help your child understand that there are better and healthier ways to share feelings.
  • Your children will also learn a lot about grief and loss. As foster children experience their 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 and foster children come and go from their lives. This does not have to be negative.
  • Your children will also 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, a decision that will impact not only you as parents, but your children, home, extended family, friends, and neighborhood. 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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