It's important to discuss bullying in relation to foster children due to the risk factors of bullying and why it occurs in school and in the community. Take a look at the risk factors of bullying below. More information on these risk factors can be found at: stopbullying.gov.
Bullying Risk Factors
Children are bullied when they are perceived to be different from their peers. Other factors that may bring about unwanted attention from a bully include:
- New student
- Special needs
- Appearance of low self-esteem
- Appearance of an easy prey
- Less popular or have few friends
- Annoying or bugs other children for attention
Upon reading these risk factors I feel that they also define a high percentage of foster children. When a foster child enters a new foster home they are automatically new students at the school, so will have few friends, and may have low self-esteem due to abuse or neglect which also adds to the appearance of being easy prey. Many foster children have special needs. It's also not unusual for foster children to have poor social skills and so may have annoying habits that bother other children.
Having these risk factors does not mean a child will be bullied, it's just that these present the right conditions for a bully to take advantage of the situation. The sad part is that foster children enter a new school presenting with a number of factors that put them at risk to be bullied. Foster children have enough in their lives to worry about besides adding on the stress of a bully.
Signs of Bullying
If the risk factors of bullying seem familiar to foster parents, the list of signs of bullying will also. Again, to learn more about these risk factors visit stopbullying.gov.
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or destroyed items or clothing
- Change in eating habits, such as coming home from school hungry
- Frequent aches and pains
- Sleep issues or disturbances in sleep such as nightmares
- Declining grades
- Loss of friends
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self destructive behavior, suicidal thoughts, self harm and running away
Experienced foster parents know from reading the above list that these signs could also mean that a child is having visits with birth family, is struggling to process the trauma of being removed from the home, or process the abuse and neglect that brought them into care.
What Can a Foster Parent Do to Help Protect Their Foster Children from a Bullying Situation?
Unfortunately, we can not do anything to make the risk factors disappear, but we may be able to begin work on a plan of action in case a school bully takes interest in one of our children. Stopbullying.gov suggests a few of the following ideas:
Talk to your child about bullying. Try to arm him with tools that he can use when being bullied such as using humor to diffuse a situation or to walk away. Another tool may be to utilize the information in the W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook For Children in Foster Care .
Help identify those he can talk to at school. Help your child to identify a teacher that he can go to when being confronted in a way he feels is bullying.
Come up with a story. Help your foster child come up with a cover story to protect his status as a foster child or as a victim of abuse.
Ask questions. Ask your child specific questions about how his day went at school, specific meaning ask about lunch, his walk home from school, the bus, and recess. Know his friends.
Know your child. Know that most kids don't report bullying, so you will need to keep an eye on your foster child's attitude and other signs of bullying. But again – the signs of school bullying look a lot like a child going through the trauma of foster care. Watch for patterns of behavior through documentation. How does his behavior differ from after a visit verses after therapy verses after an average school day? Keep his therapist and social workers informed of any concerns you may have about school bullying.
Get your foster child involved in activities that he really enjoys. This will help him meet new friends and build self-esteem, two things that can be erased as risk factors for bullying.
Be a good role model. Show your foster child the proper way to be kind to others. Show respect to social workers, even if you don't agree with them. Be kind and patient to his birth family, even if you are angry with them. These are opportunities to teach your child how to treat others.
"Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse."
This quote really stands out to me from a foster parent perspective. It is up to us to support the children in our foster homes. We can't change their pasts. We can't change the trauma they have endured. We can't make their parents work a reunification plan.
We can be supportive of the children in our care. We can help them overcome and give them the tools needed to overcome. Teach kids how to stand up for themselves. Give them opportunities to grow and learn new things. Build up trust and attachment.
Together we can make a difference and help make our foster children stronger and ready for the world.