“I was told you can’t cuddle a child or sit on their bed to read a story!”
This is a comment we get all the time and in the majority of cases, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In the fostering household, we want to replicate all the positives of growing up in a nurturing family. We want children to feel listened to, cherished, nurtured and advocated for. In lots of families, this sense of security and being valued comes from physical affection too, something that many of us take for granted.
One of the differences between fostering and parenting is that as a foster carer, you have to be a lot more intentional around things like physical affection. In other words, you have to tailor your approach to the individual child in your care.
It may be that the child you are caring for thrives off physical affection and that this is a very important part of the healing process for them. But for others, it might be a very different story.
Some children might be over-physical, indiscriminate with physical affection, even with complete strangers. This can put them at risk and therefore as a carer, you would need to think carefully about how, when and with whom physical affection is shown. For children who have a propensity to be overly and inappropriately affectionate, carers might consider helping the child develop boundaries by giving them alternative ways to show affection.
For some children, physical affection is something to be mistrusted and feared. Some abusers will dress up their abuse as affection or a means of showing love to a child and this can make any form of physical affection confusing for the child and can be interpreted as a prelude to abuse.
It’s really important then, that carers take time to understand the child before wading in with a bear hug. It’s true that carers will have some information on the background of the child, and that this background will help the carer develop an approach towards that child. That said, there might still be things that are unknown about what that child has been through.
Whilst allegations of abuse made by children towards carers are not common, carers should be aware of the possibility of this and should take steps to protect themselves and their families. It is possible that children could misinterpret affection or that it could trigger a trauma response, which leads to angry and confused behaviour. This is why it is so important to tailor your approach to the specific child and their circumstances.
To the average person, the idea of setting out a caring plan could be looked upon as overkill, but the purpose of a Safer Caring plan is to make sure that the carer and the child are comfortable with what nurturing and staying safe looks like for that particular child. Many of our carers can happily cuddle up with their child at bed time to read a story. Many of our children need a cuddle in front of the TV to help them feel loved and secure. And of course of a good proportion of our children wouldn’t be seen dead cuddling their carers! Some carers have been free to show affection from day 1; for others it has been a slow, laborious process of trust building and for others it has never been appropriate to hug and the hi-five has become king.