Foster parents are more than twice as likely to be the subject of a child maltreatment investigation. Though most allegations of abuse and neglect by foster parents are found to be untrue, or unsubstantiated, these allegations are made, nonetheless. Foster parents have a higher chance of false accusations made against them than birth parents. These false accusations may stem from a variety of ways. Let’s look examine these from my book The Foster Parenting Manual (Jessica Kinglsey Publishers, 2013).
First of all, those foster children who have come from environments of abuse and neglect may not recognize that the home and environment you are providing is a safe and stable one. The abuse and neglect they felt, themselves, may be all that they know, and simply make an allegation against you unknowingly, or unwillingly, due to past experiences. Other foster children, coming from the same type of environment, may make an allegation against a foster parent in the hope of leaving your home and being able to return to their own biological family. Other children may make an allegation as an attempt at distancing
themselves emotionally from you, and setting up an emotional barrier or wall between themselves and foster families. Finally, some foster children may make an accusation of abuse or neglect in an attempt at gaining revenge on either the foster family or the biological family.
As a foster parent, you may also be at risk from birth parents or biological family members. False accusations of abuse, neglect, or other forms of maltreatment may be reported against you out of the resentment by the family, as the child is living with you instead of a biological parent or family member. Along with this, false allegations might also be made against you out of jealousy, or simply in an attempt to justify the birth parent’s own present, or even past, behavior.
The foster care system is commonly one that is misunderstood by society. Many in the public are not aware of the roles and responsibilities of foster parents, nor truly appreciate and understand why a child might be placed into foster care. Along with this, many people do not recognize the challenges that both foster children and foster parents face, with behavioral, emotional, and learning issues. As a result, some in your area may mistakenly file a report to your child’s welfare agency, or to law enforcement, doing so with good intentions, but false information.
Information prior to Arrival
Prior to your foster child’s arrival, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and family from the risk of false accusations and allegations. Before the foster child is ever placed in your home, insist on getting all the information about the child that is available. This should include any history of emotional and behavior issues, learning disabilities, medical needs, as well as any physical or sexual abuse the child might have been subjected to. Ask about the visitation schedule; who he will be visiting with and how often will the visits occur. If the child has been placed in previous foster homes, try to obtain information regarding any possible false allegations or unsubstantiated reports made by child, birth parents, or other biological family members. Find out why the child was moved from the previous foster home and placed into yours. Ask to speak to the previous foster parents in an attempt to find out more about the child, along with his needs and concerns. Whenever possible, attempt to get all of this information in writing, whether from the caseworker, court system, or schools.
Throughout the placement of your foster child in your house, it will be necessary to keep written records, a journal, or some sort of documentation. This written account will help you keep an accurate account of the time your foster child lives in your home. It is important that your writing is done in a manner which is observational, descriptive, and that it is a non biased account of your foster child. Furthermore, you will want to make certain that your written account does not include your opinions. If you wish to include your opinions and feelings about him, you might wish to start a personal journal for yourself about his time with you.
Begin a journal about your foster child, beginning with his arrival. Explain the state of dress, behavior, and emotional well being when he arrived. Describe his progress and daily events in your home. If he becomes sick, include this in your written records; the time he was sick, as well as how it was treated, including doctor visits and any medicine that you gave him. Document any changes in behavior he might exhibit, when he began behaving in this way, as well as the length of time he spent in this behavior. Detail how you addressed this change in behavior, and how he reacted to any rules and consequences you put into place as a result of misbehavior. Keep a notebook specifically for his school work, including grades and report cards, any behavioral problems or discipline, and any conversations held with teachers, school counselors, administrators, and other school employees.
Visitations are an important factor in both the life of your foster child as well as his biological family members. Keep an account of every time he has a visitation, including the date, times, and locations of each visit. If he has significant emotional or behavioral changes after these visits, do your best to describe these in full. Any contact you have with the birth parents and biological family members should also be documented. You should also document each conversation you have with his caseworker. If he should display any serious conflicts or unusual behavior towards his biological family or caseworker, or even towards himself, document this in detail, as well as report it to the caseworker immediately. If you suspect any kind of abuse while visiting his family, take before and after pictures of him as another form of evidence.
As your foster child is under the custody of the state, you are liable for his safety and well being. It is important that your entire family knows this, including your own children. There will be times when he will not be able to join your own children in some activities, as some states have rules against trampolines, certain water activities, and other endeavors. Sit down with your family and discuss such safety issues such as medicines locked away in cabinets, seat belt fastening while in moving vehicles, electrical outlets, and other concerns. It will be important to not only your foster child, but for your entire family as well to routinely inspect your home for any problems that could bring harm or danger to those living in your home. Check fire alarms, electrical outlets, locks, windows, and other features on a consistent basis. Keep a fire extinguisher in your home for emergencies, and make sure your foster child knows what to do in case a fire should begin in your home.
Supervision of your foster child is a must at all times. You will be held responsible for his whereabouts and safety, and may be held accountable if he should come to harm. As indicated in Chapter 6, it is not only important that you know where your foster child is at all times, it is essential. If your foster child should wish to visit a friend’s house or another home, do a thorough check of who lives there, the environment he will be in, and the level of safety and supervision he will be under. Be sure to call the parents of the home he wishes to visit; not only to ensure that the environment is a safe one, but to express any concerns about your foster child you might have with them. If you feel that the friend’s home environment is not a safe one, do not be afraid to say no to the foster child. After all, you will also need to be certain that all after school functions he participates in are closely supervised, as well, before giving him permission before he takes part.
The supervision of your foster child is also necessary in your own home, as well. Like many children, it might be unwise to allow him to play unattended at any one time. If he is in his room playing or even napping, make sure that his door is open, if just a little bit. From time to time, check in on him, and make certain that he is okay and not doing anything that you would disapprove of. If he is in the back yard, make sure that he will come to no harm out there by stray animals, sharp objects, unwelcome visitors, or by simply wandering off by himself. Again, you will wish to periodically check in on him from time to time, while he is outside. If he is rather young, you will want an adult out there with him, at all times. Whether he is inside your home or outside, make certain that there are not too many places where he might hide himself. Some children might escape into a world of imagination and fun by hiding, while others might hide in an attempt to escape the harsh realities they have faced, or do so out of anger and resentment towards an adult. Make sure you know the locations of all the places your foster child might hide, and try to eliminate as many of these as possible.
Sexually active children
You may foster a child that has been sexually active in the past, due either to his own choices, or one that has been sexually abused by others. Perhaps the child is currently sexually active, or is one who has been exposed to sexual behavior prior to his placement within your own home. Whatever the scenario, you must take extra diligence in protecting yourself from false allegations and possible accusations from the child. Whenever you are in the same room with a foster child who has sexually related problems, it is imperative that you have another adult in the room with you, at all times, or at the very least, nearby and within listening distance. This will not only protect you as a foster parent, but it will protect your child from making any false accusations.
Disturbingly, those children who have been previously abused sexually are more likely to become a victim of sexual abuse again. If your foster child should make a new allegation that he was sexually abused, take these seriously, and report them to your caseworker immediately, and without hesitation. Even if he has a history of making false accusations, it is your duty and responsibility as a foster parent to protect him from harm. By reporting all accusations from him, you are also protecting yourself, as well.
As a parent, you have your own approach for disciplining your own biological children. These methods may have to be different, though, for your foster child. When disciplining your foster child, you may have to come up with different methods of discipline, in order to protect yourself. Quite simply, you are never allowed to use any form of corporal punishment on a foster child. You are not permitted to spank your child at any time. Do not threaten it as a form of discipline, either. Even the suggestion of it could place you at risk. Instead, find other alternatives for punishing your foster child. Discuss these with him, and explain to him what is and is not permissible, and all consequences he will face if your rules are broken. If possible, also discuss these with your caseworker, and even the birth parents, if they are receptive to you. If you find that your foster child is so out of control that he must be restrained in order to not only protect those around him, but to protect himself, as well, do so only if you have had proper training in restraint techniques, as you do not want to accidently harm him, or give him cause to falsely accuse you of doing so.
Abuse, Threats, and Injuries
Abuse can take different forms; physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal. If you suspect that your foster child has been abused in any way, contact your caseworker immediately, and file a report. An investigator will be assigned to investigate claim before taking any further action. If your home should fall under investigation, answer the questions as openly and honestly as you can, sharing as much information as you know with the investigators. If you should withhold any information, it will only make it more difficult for all involved.
Any time a child talks about suicide, it should be taken with the upmost seriousness by you, and reported to the caseworker immediately. Sometimes, foster children may threaten suicide as an attention seeking device, hoping to bring attention to themselves. Even if you should suspect that this is the case, you still must report it to the caseworker as soon as you are able to do so. As the child’s emotional state may be unstable, an attention seeking threat can quickly result in serious injury or death to the child. All letters and notes that indicate a suicide threat should be collected and given to the caseworker. Close and constant adult supervision needs to be provided to your foster child if he should threaten bodily harm or suicide.
If your foster child should sustain a serious injury or suffer from a severe illness in your house, at school, or anywhere else outside your home, report this to the caseworker, as well. As the child is not legally yours, but is instead in the custody of the state, your caseworker will be required to report any and all injuries and serious illnesses in their reports. You will need to report any injury or serious illness immediately to your caseworker.
By noting incidents such as injuries, illness, and abuse in written documentation, it will benefit not only your memory when recounting information to caseworkers and possible investigators, it will help to protect you and your family, as well. Regular reports to your caseworker will also help to protect your family. The foster parent that does not take the threat of possible harm to a family is only setting himself up for serious legal implications and possible endangerment to the entire family. (The Foster Parenting Manual, Jessica Kinglsey Publishers, 2013).