If we accept that (statistically speaking), children who are abused are more likely to become perpetrators (acting out the violence done to them), how do you protect or safeguard your own children from possible physical or sexual victimization?
I appreciate the honesty in this question. No one wants to think about their child being victimized by another child in their own home. Unfortunately, this is a real possibility when doing foster care. As the question points out, children who have experienced physical or sexual abuse will sometimes repeat that behavior towards others.Parents want to protect their children, so it's natural to question whether or not the risk of possible harm to our kids is worth doing foster care. But keep in mind that your child is at risk for being victimized every time they're out of your sight ... at daycare, at camp, at school, at sunday school, at playdates, at sleepovers. In those situations, you do the best you can to safeguard your child. You choose daycares, camps, schools, and churches that do background checks on their workers. You get to know the parents of your child's friends. You teach your child about stranger-danger. You may drop in unannounced occasionally. And you do all of this because you believe that the known benefits of these experiences outweigh the small possibility of risk.
We look at foster care in much the same way. There is indeed a small possibility of risk to our children, but there are also very many benefits of exposing our kids to this lifestyle. So after balancing the pros and cons, we decided to move forward with foster care, while also taking many steps to protect our kids. Here are some of the foster care safeguards that our family has put in place:Screen Placements
As the foster parent, you always have the right to ask any questions you want about a possible placement before accepting that placement. Of course, that doesn't mean that the placement worker who is calling you will have all the answers, but you can - and should - always ask! When children are coming into state custody for the first time, the workers will usually know very little about them. However, if a child is being moved from another foster home they should have a great deal of information, and you can even ask to speak with the previous foster parent. Decide ahead of time what kinds of behaviors will be absolute deal-breakers for your family, and then stick to that list! You'll obviously ask questions about why the child is in care and if they have any medical problems. You might also ask if there are any known behavioral or emotional concerns about the child, and if there are there any safety concerns. I also recommend asking a very open-ended "Is there anything else you think I should know?"Supervise, Supervise, Supervise
Don't leave any children unsupervised at any time the first couple months of the placement. Everyone should be within line-of-sight of a responsible adult at all times. This hopefully gives you time to get to know everyone's personalities and any potential problems before they should arise. We also put video baby monitors in the bedrooms so that we could keep an eye on things at night.
Stop It Before It Starts
Because we monitored our kids so closely for so long, we were able to pick-up on some of the behaviors they would express before they would do something inappropriate. Now, when we see those precursor behaviors arise, we immediately change the activity to something highly structured and supervised.
Teach Safe Boundaries
This goes for both your own children already in the home, as well as any children who come into your home through foster care. You want your own children to know what is and isn't appropriate touch, how to stop inappropriate touch, and who is a safe person to tell if someone does touch them in an unsafe way. Equally important is teaching the children who come to you through foster care about safe boundaries. It's easy to assume that all children know right from wrong when it comes to how they touch others, but many children in foster care haven't been taught this information, and in many cases they've actually experienced the opposite of safe touch as their normal everyday reality up until this point.
Some children act inappropriately out of uncontrollable urges, but many simply don't understand that it isn't acceptable behavior. We taught our kids about using gentle touch (no hitting, pushing, etc) as well as not touching private areas of the body (which we call the bathing suit areas, since it's whatever is covered by a bathing suit). We also make a big deal out of the word "privacy," repeating it often. For example, when someone knocks on the door while I'm going to the bathroom, I say "I need privacy, I'm going to the bathroom, please come back later." After modeling the importance of privacy and using that buzz-word over and over, we soon started hearing the kids using their words to request privacy as well. Not only will that help protect all the kids in our house, but it's also a life-long lesson that will serve them well!
Create Safety Rules
Some of the safety rules in our house include:
- Only one person at a time in the bathroom, even just if brushing teeth or hair.
- You must be in a room alone when changing clothes.
- Always close the door when using the bathroom or getting dressed. We had to work our way up to this one since some of the kids had fears about closed doors.
- Doors must be open when there are two or more children in a room.
- No sharing blankets.
- No tickling or wresting.
- Hugs, kisses and cuddles are only for people who we've known a long time. Kids who are hungry for attention may sometimes run up to kiss and hug and cuddle anyone who so much as smiles at them (that's not an exaggeration). This rule helps reinforce the idea that each person owns his or her own body, and we share our body with people differently depending on our relationship with them.
Know ahead of time that you may sometimes have to disrupt a placement (send the kids to another foster home) when you can no longer keep everyone safe.