Sometimes, you may find that your children are abusing each other. This can be torturous for you as a parent, and as a foster parent.

Some situations can be extreme. One young girl initiated sexual activity with the biological son (both were only 5 years old). A 17-year-old girl hit a three-year-old boy. A biological child beat and stole from a foster child who was about the same age. A five-year-old girl pulled the hair of a 13-year-old so hard she made the older child’s head bleed.

A foster child may abuse a biological child or another foster child. A biological child may be abusing the foster child. Whether the abuser is biological or foster, you need to take action to stop the pattern of behavior. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away.

Although situations vary, many times the biological kids are jealous of the attention given to the “new kid.” They don’t want to share their mom and dad, and they feel that the foster child is invading their space, trying to steal their parents. They react by abusing the one they see as causing the problem. Denying that your “own flesh and blood” could ever hurt someone like that is only going to reinforce that hurting others is okay. Don’t allow your biological and foster kids alone with each other until you are absolutely sure they are comfortable being together.

When a foster kid abuses a biological child, it’s easy to think the abuser is “unappreciative” and “beyond help.” This is just not true. Abuse may be all the foster child knows. Remember that part of your job as a foster parent is to teach the children how to channel her or his anger productively.

When you have foster kids who abuse other foster kids, the problem runs a bit deeper. The abuser was most probably a victim. He or she is angry and doesn’t know how to handle that. The child may think, “If I do the abusing, I won’t be the victim anymore.” Another foster child is the perfect easy target.

As soon as you learn that there may be abuse going on in your home, you need to talk to everyone involved, ask the other children to report suspicious behavior, change rooms around (if the abuser and victim share a room), and never let the persons involved alone together. Always keep at least one of them in your sight. This should eliminate most chances for basic abuse — light hitting, minor threats, and basic practical jokes.

Sometimes, the maltreatment is too severe to be remedied in this way. Severe abuse would include, but not be limited to, beatings, death threats, stealing, and sexual abuse of ANY kind. You need to act quickly. Separating the persons involved is your number one priority. Keep both of them where you can see them at all times. Ask a neighbor or another member of your support team to come to your house while you tend to the situation. Document everything. This will also help if allegations should become an issue later on.

There are no easy answers to tough problems. Children who abuse are in a lot of emotional pain that needs to be addressed. Therapy and possibly medication is needed to help the young abusers face their fears of being victimized again.

What can you do to prevent these situations from occurring?

  1. Understand that ANYONE is capable of abuse, even biological children.
  2. Keep an “open door policy” so anyone with a problem can come to you for help.
  3. Don’t leave your kids together without supervision until you are certain they get along and are comfortable with each other.
  4. Be sneaky: hide behind doors, peek around corners to listen and watch how the kids interact. You will get more honest answers just by being observant.
  5. Tell everyone that hurting others will not be tolerated in your house. “We are here to help each other.”

How do you know if there is abuse going on?

  1. Suspicious bruises is the number one alert that something is wrong. This would include bruising on the arms, legs, neck, back, and head that don’t come from normal play.
  2. Stopping in mid-sentence. Children may begin to tell you something the abuser said or did, but will stop before they get it all out, usually remembering threats made.
  3. Becoming withdrawn. Children who are abused tend to hide a lot. They don’t want to play with the other children or go outside without you.
  4. Clinging to you. If your usually playful child wants to do nothing but stay by your side constantly, your alarms should be ringing. Kids don’t usually change their routines for no reason; something would have to greatly impact them.
  5. Telling you. If your child tells you someone is hurting them, look into it carefully. It may or may not be true. If this is coupled with any or all of the above, then you may have a serious problem on your hands.

What do you do if there is abuse in your home?

  1. Sit down everyone who is involved, the abuser, the victim, and anyone who acted as a “lookout.” Discuss your suspicions, and ask them to explain themselves. By now you should have done a little spying and should have your own observances to back you up.
  2. Keep a watchful eye on the children. Don’t let the abuser alone with the other kids.
  3. Call someone from your support team to be a witness and to verify bruising, changes in behavior, etc. Take pictures of the bruises, if possible.
  4. Don’t be afraid to have an abuser removed from your home. You have to protect the victim(s). Call your caseworker and inform him or her about the problem. They need to help protect the kids.
  5. Even if you remove the abuser from your home, you still need to watch the other kids closely. Victims of abuse often become victims again. The other kids most likely know about the maltreatment and may even try it themselves.
  6. Be strong, use your support system, and take advantage of your respites. Learn what you can from it, and move on. Try not to feel too guilty about it. You are only one person, and you only have two eyes. Do your best, and memorize the signs of abuse.