Signs of Sexual Abuse in Foster Children by Brian Kent
As a foster parent, you are aware of the great responsibility in front of you to care and advocate for your children. Most foster children have come from troubled homes, and they may have experienced problems that both children and adults would struggle to deal with. This could unfortunately, include emotional, physical and at times sexual abuse. Children who have experienced such trauma require extra care and understanding.
Physical maltreatment comes with visible signs, but when it comes to emotional and sexual abuse, the indications are a bit unclear. Each child is different and there is no clear cut sign that an individual has been abused. There are some types of behaviors that may indicate there is a problem and those signs should be taken seriously. Any signs sexual abuse should prompt you to inform a pediatrician, therapist, social worker, or possibly law enforcers. Some of the possible symptoms that a child has suffered sexual abuse include:
- Discomfort When Touched – Most foster children will already have trust issues, especially with adults, but for anyone who has been abused any form of touch may make them feel extremely unsafe. You may witness a child shy away from you or become extremely nervous with what you may assume to be “normal”. They may even change their behavior to avoid your touch. Be sure to understand boundaries in your house. Know what each child is comfortable with and what they are not. You will want to avoid any type of wrestling, tickling, or rough housing.
- Sexual Knowledge And/Or Behavior – This type of warning sign may vary based on the age of your child. In young children who have been abused you may notice a broad range of sexual curiosity and behaviors. Some children may draw very explicit pictures and/or seem to have knowledge of sexual activity beyond what most children their age have. Some children may masturbate excessively or engage in sexual behavior. They may act out sexual acts with other children or use very sexualized language. Teenagers could be very promiscuous.
- For obvious reasons, it is extremely important to maintain close supervision on all children in your home. Be aware of what your children are watching on television and viewing online.
- If you discover your child exhibiting some of these behaviors it is also extremely important that you respond in a calm manner. Seek out help from a professional to understand the correct way to respond and assist in a manner that will not add to the trauma for your foster child.
- Regression Of Behavior – Some children will display behaviors that you would expect to see in a much younger child. Some of these behaviors may include:
- Wetting bed
- Sucking their fingers
- Crying for no reason
- Acting with fear
- Nightmares/Sleep Disturbances
Some of these behaviors could be signs of sexual abuse and it is best to approach with caution. Do not scold for these behaviors as it could make matters worse. You may need to allow for some privacy in certain situations, such as nighttime accidents, and allow a professional to assist you in coming up with a course of action.
- Depression Or Suicidal Thoughts – Depression can be tricky to assess in children or teens especially when they have already been through so much. Be aware of signs such as isolation, speaking of death, low self-esteem. If you suspect your foster child may harm themselves or is depressed, seek professional help immediately.
As a foster parent you have taken on an awesome responsibility that is very rewarding. This can be extremely trying for you, your family, and your foster children. Remember to be open and prepared to listen without judgement. You may hear some disclosures from your foster child as you build a trusting relationship. Problem-solving is not always what is needed. Often times the start for the child is that you are willing to listen without judgement. Stay prepared and utilize the professionals that you have available to you.
Remember, as a foster parent, your job is to listen and provide a safe, non-judgmental place for your foster child. After you report the behaviors and/or what your child has disclosed to you, let CPS and forensic professionals take it from there!
Brian Kent is a partner at AbuseGuardian.com. He graduated with a law degree from Philadelphia’s Temple University, and served as a criminal prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of Montgomery County’s District Attorney’s Office.