It is a passion of mine to recruit quality foster parents. Part of that process involves dispelling the myths around foster care and giving people good information. Sometimes that information will encourage people to pursue fostering and sometimes that information will help them understand why foster parenting isn’t for them. In the last couple posts I’ve been addressing the issue of sexual abuse and foster care. Many potential foster parents are deterred from pursuing it because they are worried about the potential of bringing sexual abuse issues into their home. But there is also another group of people who may be intimidated by foster care for another reason— their own history as a survivor of sexual abuse.
This isn’t an issue I can speak to personally, so I’m really thankful for the guest post here from a friend of mine. Because of the prevalence of child sexual abuse, I know MANY people who consider foster parenting or who are currently foster parenting share some of my friend’s experiences. She is a wife, mother, a social worker, and a sexual abuse survivor. She has been a great sounding board for me as we’ve walked through our foster care journey (she also read and gave feedback on my prior posts on sexual abuse before I posted them) and I’m thankful that she’s willing to share her story and thoughts here.
Thoughts from a Survivor, Questions to Consider:
While I am not a foster parent, I am a mother as well as social worker, and most importantly a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can have a range of effects on an individual. For some the effects seem manageable, with less long-term implications, while others can affect the survivor’s functioning the rest of their lives. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and you are a foster parent considering a placement of a child who also has this in their background, I think there are some questions that would be helpful to consider.
- Where are you at in your own journey of healing? This is probably the most important question. While healing can be a life long process, have you begun the work, either in counseling or otherwise, of processing through your abuse? This step is so crucial because it helps you not only heal but know what things in your present environment may trigger you in regards to your abuse. Do certain sounds, or times or day, or smells, or certain forms of touch take you back to an abusive memory or time in your life? While these things cannot always be avoided, these are helpful things to know as you may be fostering a little one who is working through such issues. You would want to be careful and mindful that their abuse could trigger your abuse, and be prepared if that is the case. If you feel like you are just in the beginning stages of your healing journey I do not think it would be fair to you or this child to take on this placement. Give yourself some time to work through these issues yourself with a counselor and then assess together whether this would be a good scenario for you.
- How comfortable are you around conversations that might involve dialogue about sexual abuse? While many foster parents may not have access to the full history of what their foster child has experienced, depending upon the age of the child different conversations might arise. Take the time to consider how you would respond to these conversations. Maybe talk through this with a caseworker in order to respond not out of your abuse but from a healthy place, that can in turn bring health to this hurting child. Again these kinds of conversions could be a trigger for you, being prepared could minimize that.
- What is your hope in taking a placement of a sexually abused child? I think there are several motivations for taking a foster child who has been sexually abused into your home, the least of which is they are a human being who has been a victim of something that was not their fault. As a survivor myself, I know the stigma that comes with an abuse victim. Fears that they will be an abuser, fears that they are an oversexualized person. I would hate for these shortsighted stereotypes to turn anyone away from these types of placements. On the other hand if you are an abuse victim yourself check your motives. Make sure you are not using this placement as a way to bring healing to yourself. While you being called to this work might be part of the healing process for you, don’t project that hope onto the tiny shoulders of this little one. On the other hand I know that the empathy that you can bring to this circumstance based off your history could be a huge asset.
Foster moms and dads, because you have a history with sexual abuse does not mean you aren’t the right person for the job. You are not damaged goods, your abuse was not your fault, and its affects do not have to rule over you. It is my hope for you that as you find more healing and freedom from your past you can walk forward more into what you are made to do in the present. Thank you for being willing to foster these little ones. To face your own hard stuff, in order to give them a safe place to land. May you have much wisdom and insight as you walk this out.