* Trigger warning to readers who are sensitive to reading about sexual abuse.*
So, this may be a rough post to read through for some people, but I think it's necessary if you're a prospective (or new) foster parent. This is real, and I think it's important to have the skills as a parent to work through this.
Chances are, probably sooner than later, there will be a child on your door step who has been molested or raped.
I teach in my foster parenting trainings that the majority of kids who enter care are not entering because of sexual abuse allegations, but instead neglect or physical abuse. The children who have been sexually abused tend to disclose it to their foster parents/social workers/ teachers at a later date. Knowing what to do and how to react is crucial.
I treat every child who comes into our home as if they may have been a victim of sexual abuse. I feel like it’s better to be safe than sorry. I now know that the location of most sexual abuse happens in either the bathtub, or their bed, so I try to keep that in mind as I move through our day-to-day routine.
The first few weeks a child (ages 2-8) is with us, I ask if they want to have "bubble swim time" instead of saying, "It's time for a bath." I offer a swim suit and let them pick the bath bomb or bubble bath. Sometimes I'll play fun music. I don't try to wash their body, but depending on the situation, I'll see if they're open to washing themselves. I do their hair in the kitchen sink at a different time.
When it comes to bedtimes, I have a pretty solid drill down for new placements. I ask if they want to listen to an audiobook and color. 9 times out of 10 they'll say yes. Stuart and I make it a point to bring a chair in and sit next to their bed (never on it) the first couple nights until we have a better read on them.
We don't tickle, or wrestle kids in care. Consent is so, so important (always!) but especially throughout the first few weeks and months.
If a child discloses sexual abuse, take a deep breath and really try to think before you speak. When a child has disclosed sexual abuse to me in the past, I tell them something along the lines of:
"I am so, so sorry that you have been through that. But I want you to know that in this house, your room is your own and your body is your own and I can promise that no-one will EVER touch you or hurt you here. You haven't done anything wrong and you're a really great kid. You did the right thing by telling me. It's my job to keep you safe and as long as you're here you can tell me anything and I will believe you and I will support you."
Try to stay as emotionless as possible throughout this (which is easier said than done). Make sure you don't ask any leading questions. Do not promise that, "it will never happen again." Once you're by yourself, call CPS and report it, as well as sending an email to the Child’s social worker and their supervisor.
Thinking creatively and modifying the environment is important for kids who have experienced sexual abuse. We had a placement who had a relative come into their room at night, and once they came to stay with us, they had so much anxiety sleeping - knowing that anyone could come in their room at any point. I tried to think of a way to meet their need and give them the security they needed so they could sleep at night. I talked to their social worker about door alarms that they could switch on and off, and got the go-ahead. Every night, they turned their (very loud) bedroom door alarm on as part of their bedtime routine, and they slept so much better knowing that no one would be coming into their room unexpectedly at night.
We also make little modifications into our family routines. During family movie nights, we offer all our kids their individual sleeping bag to cozy up with instead of a shared blanket. We also let friends/family members know not to go in for a hug right away, but instead offer a high-five or fist bump for the first couple weeks.
These little things can make a huge difference in the comfort level of a new placement. Although it may be instinctual for you as a parent to hug and kiss all the kiddos under your roof and treat them as your own, it's really important to understand the importance of body autonomy and consent. By laying the groundwork of teaching these kids that they have a voice in terms of their body, you're playing a huge role in their healing process.