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Three Common Problems in Foster Children: Hygiene, Feeding Problems and Fear of the Dark

Children who have been abused and neglected often have similar problems when they arrive in 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 his 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 daughter for several months, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to get clean even though she was in the bathroom for a long time. One day I had the idea to buy a plastic doll and she and I gave her a bath. I really had no idea how to bathe the baby. Such things we take for granted as lathering up a washcloth, going from head to toe, and drying off were never taught. She did much better after learning how to bathe the doll. Also, I taught her how to bathe a baby, something she will probably need to do one day.

2. Problems with eating, particularly hoarding and binge eating. Keep in mind that foster children often come from homes where food was not available, so it could happen that they pile up and gorge themselves. You might find food hidden in your rooms, maybe even food that doesn’t make any sense, like 10 moldy bologna sandwiches under a mattress or food you threw in the trash.

Another problem is that foster children may never have learned the bonding cycle of trust in infancy. The trust bond cycle is the basic marker of learning to trust. The baby is hungry and cries. The caretaker comes to pick him up and feed him. Her needs are met. Babies in abusive and neglectful homes are hungry. They cry. But maybe no one will come. Either someone comes and abuses them or props up a bottle and leaves. This lack of basic confidence leads to eating and personality disorders.

It is imperative that you have food available for foster children 24/7, but it is okay to set limits. You don’t want a child to become obese and you also don’t want to spend $500 a week on groceries. There are different thoughts on this. Some people say let them eat what they want, but set some limits, like all food must be eaten at the dining room table. Some people say to make them a drawer or a cabinet. Some people say just planned meals and snacks.

After trial and error, here’s what worked for me and what I suggest: Plan three meals and two healthy snacks. Tell the child that he is expected to eat at the table. If they don’t like what he’s eating, say they can 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 offered menu, give the child a basket of their own in the kitchen and put snacks in it that are healthy and liked, but not necessarily things the child feels the need to gorge on.

We once had a child who wanted to eat all the time and hoard food. We started with a big basket of goodies in the fridge and on the counter. He would eat it all and come back for more. She came to us very skinny but gained 25lbs in the first month! We eventually learned that if we put applesauce and Cheerios in the basket, she would eat them 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 was going to eat him that she began to make her trust that there would always be food available. Only then did she stop binging.

3. Fear of the dark: The night in an abusive or neglectful home can be terrifying 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 them. Put a CD player in the foster child’s room and depending on her age (up to about 12 years), put on relaxing music and play the same CD every night. Eventually they will associate music with safety and sleep. It will take a long time to trust that the night is safe in your home.

Trust is learned, so be trustworthy.

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