Children who have been abused and neglected often have similar problems when they come 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 bathe and brush their teeth. If they are small you can help them. If they are older, I have a suggestion that worked for me. After having an older baby for several months, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to clean himself even though he had been in the bathroom for a long time. One day I came up with the idea of getting a plastic doll and she and I gave it a bath. She really had no idea how to bathe the baby. Things we take for granted like lathering a towel, going from head to toe, and drying were never taught. She did a lot better after learning how to bathe the baby doll. Also, I taught her to bathe a baby, which she will probably have to do someday.
2. Problems with eating, especially hoarding and binging. Keep in mind that foster children often come from homes where food was not readily available, so hoarding and gorging may occur. You may find food hidden in their rooms, maybe even food that doesn’t make any sense, like 10 moldy bologna sandwiches under a mattress or food you’ve thrown in the bin.
Another problem is that foster children may never have learned the cycle of bonding of trust in childhood. The trust-bond cycle is the basic indicator for learning to trust. The baby is hungry and crying. The caregiver comes to pick him up and feed him. His needs are met. Children in abusive and negligent families are hungry. They cry. But maybe nobody comes. Or someone comes and mistreats them or props up a bottle and leaves. This basic lack of confidence leads to eating and personality disorders.
It is imperative to provide food for foster children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but it’s okay to set limits. 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 they let them eat whatever they want, but they 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 just say scheduled meals and snacks.
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 should eat at the table. If they don’t like what you’re eating, say they could 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 menu on offer, give the child a basket of his own in the kitchen and put in it healthy snacks that he likes, but not necessarily things that the child will feel the need to gorge on.
We once had a little boy who wanted to eat all the time and hoard food. We started with a large basket of goodies in the fridge and on the counter. She would eat it all and come back for more. She came to us very skinny but she gained 25lbs in the first month! Eventually we learned that if we put applesauce and cheerios in the basket, she would eat it if she was really hungry, but she wouldn’t if she wasn’t hungry. It was the knowledge that she was always there and that no one else would eat her that she began to make her believe that there would always be food available. Only then did she stop binging.
3. Fear of the dark: The night in an abusive or negligent home can be frightening for children. When they come to your house, provide a night light 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. Girls may want to sleep in a bra. They may want extra blankets or even sleep with their coat on. Leave. Put a CD player in the adoptive child’s room and, depending on their age (up to about 12 years old), play some relaxing music and listen to the same CD every night. Eventually they will associate music with safety and sleep. It will take a long time to believe that the night is safe in your home.
Trust is learned so be trustworthy.