Children who have been abused and neglected often have similar problems when they come into out of home care (commonly called foster care).
Here are three problems a foster parent might encounter and some possible solutions.
1. Hygiene: The child may not know how to take a bath and brush their teeth. If they are little you can help them. If they are older, I have a suggestion that worked for me. After I had an older child for several months I couldn’t understand why the she didn’t seem to get clean even though the she was in the bathroom a long time. One day I had an idea to get a plastic baby doll and she and I gave it a bath. She really didn’t have any idea how to give the baby a bath. Such things that we take for granted like lathering a washcloth, going from head to toe and drying off were not ever taught. She did so much better after learning to bathe the baby doll. In addition, I taught her how to give a baby a bath, something she will likely need to do one day.
2. Issues with Eating, particularly hoarding and bingeing. Keep in mind that foster children are frequently from homes in which food was not readily available, so hoarding and gorging might occur. You might find food hidden in their rooms, perhaps even food that doesn’t make any sense, such as 10 moldy bologna sandwiches under a mattress or food that you threw out in the trashcan.
Another issue is that foster children may not have ever learned the trust-bond cycle in infancy. The trust-bond cycle is the basic marker of learning to trust. The baby gets hungry and it cries. The caregiver comes to pick it up and feed it. It’s needs are met. Babies in abusive and neglectful homes get hungry. They cry. But maybe no one comes. Or someone comes and abuses them or props a bottle and leaves. This lack of basic trust leads to eating and personality disorders.
It is imperative that you make food available to foster children 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, but it is o.k. to set boundaries. You don’t want a child to become obese and you don’t want to spend $500 a week on groceries either. There are different thoughts on this. Some people say let them eat whatever they want but set some limits, such as all food must be eaten at the dining room table. Some people say make a drawer or cabinet for them. Some people say planned meals and snacks only.
After trial and error, this is what worked for me and what I suggest: Plan three meals and two healthy snacks. Tell the child they are expected to eat at the table. If they don’t like what you’re having, say they may always have (for example) a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese and crackers. Keep it simple. You don’t have to cook multiple meals. In addition to the offered menu, give the child a basket of his or her own in the kitchen and in it place snacks that are healthy and they like but not necessarily things the child will feel the need to gorge.
We once had a child who wanted to eat all the time and hoard food. We started out with a big basket of goodies in the refrigerator and on the counter. She would eat it all and come back for more. She came to us very thin but gained 25 pounds in the first month! Eventually we learned that if we put applesauce and Cheerios in the basket, she would eat it if she was truly hungry but wouldn’t if she wasn’t hungry. It was the knowledge that it was always there and no one else was going to eat it that began to make her trust there would always be food available. Only then did she stop bingeing.
3. Fear of the Dark: Night time in an abusive or neglectful home can be terrorizing for children. When they come to your home, provide a nightlight or let them sleep with the lights on. Keep the light on in the bedroom. Let them sleep with their clothes on if they want to. Girls may want to sleep with a bra. They might want extra covers or even sleep with their coat on. Let them. Put a CD player in the foster child’s room and depending on their age (up to 12 or so), put on soothing music and play the same C.D. every night. They will eventually associate the music with safety and sleep. It will take a long time to trust that night time is safe in your home.
Trust is learned so be trustworthy.