Fostering children who display sexualised behaviour is one of the most difficult tasks faced by foster carers. Most adults find it uncomfortable to talk about sex but for foster carers it can be a significant part of caring for children. Abuse is something that causes actual, or is likely to cause significant harm to a child. It may be physical, emotional, sexual or neglect.
Categories of abuse
Physical: Includes children who are physically hurt or injured by being hit, shaken, squeezed, burnt, bitten, or by being given alcohol, inappropriate drugs or poison.
Emotional: Includes persistent lack of affection, where a child may be constantly shouted at, threatened or taunted which may make the child very nervous or withdrawn.
Sexual: Includes full sexual intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, anal intercourse and fondling. Also showing children pornographic material.
Neglect: Includes the health and development of a child being impaired. The majority of children exhibiting this behaviour have been abused themselves and they may have received affection or power and control over another child by behaving in a sexualised manner.
All ages of children can be affected; children under five don't always have the language to talk about their feelings and so act out their abuse. Children can direct sexualised behaviour at foster carers, children, strangers or family members. Foster carers receive specialised training to help to distinguish normal sexual exploration from behaviour that may put at risk other children in the household and outside the home. Other young children in the household may be vulnerable to a foster child behaving sexually with them.
Foster care children can be at risk both of false allegations and of sexual advances which they do not have the understanding to deal with. Foster carers constantly monitor what are usually normal family routines which for children who have been abused, might make them feel threatened. Foster children might see adults or children having a cuddle as the start of sexual abuse and because the abuse might have been their only experience of affection, they respond sexually. Foster carers look at their own behaviours and identify those that might be seen as risky. Reading an abused child a story in their bed might have been a scenario for the start of past abuse and therefore a trigger that causes a sexualised reaction.
Foster carers reduce the risks by finding out as much as possible about any child who might be placed with them. However, this information is particularly important regarding a child who is known to have suffered sexual abuse. Before the placement, foster carers assess the effects of having a child who has been sexually abused in the household, particularly someone who may test the family or seek comfort by displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour. All foster carers have a Family Safe Care Policy which can be adjusted to meet the needs of foster children and to reduce the risks for families who foster.
It is of paramount importance to choose the right fostering agency, there are over seven hundred in the UK. Simply Fostering, the UK national foster carer recruitment website provides help by answering questions and identifying the most suitable local fostering agencies with vacancies. Simply Fostering help people interested in becoming foster carers to act on the Government's advice to 'contact more than one Fostering Agency if you are interested in a fostering career'.
For comprehensive and easy to understand information, help and advice, contact Annette or Joe at Simply Fostering.