For a foster child, pets can be a cornerstone of emotional health, sharers of unconditional friendship and a constant presence in a world that seems to be changing all the time. But they can also become the object of a foster child’s pent-up frustration and suppressed trauma. Knowing whether a pet, like a dog or cat, will be helpful or hurtful to a foster child depends on a thorough knowledge of his past.
Every effort to secure a promising future and a safe present becomes easier when you know your foster child’s past. Most foster children will be too familiar with abuse, neglect, isolation and rejection. In most cases, pets will represent the opposite of all those experiences. What’s more, cats and dogs hold no prejudice against anyone with a troubled past and tend to accept people rather naturally as long as they don’t perceive a threat. If your foster child has bounced from placement to placement and, especially in the case of an older foster child, begun to realize that his biological parents may not be able to provide for him or be interested in his well being, living with a family pet who accepts him unconditionally can be priceless.
Foster Children and Pets: Providing Comfort
Your foster child may also come from a home where the family pet was the only presence in the household who showed him affection and care. In this situation the child’s caseworker may ask that you take the child’s pet into your home. Preserving the bond your foster child has with his pet will help him feel at home, but keep in mind that you are under no obligation to foster the pet. If you have a pet in your home already, this can still preserve the positive feelings that your foster child associated with his pet – acceptance and warmth to name a few. It may also allow him to feel more comfortable because a pet is familiar, and familiarity can help your foster child feel at ease.
Even for someone without a difficult past, pets can be an incredible stress reliever. Cats demand almost nothing from the people they live with – this can come as a pleasant surprise for a foster child who had to care for his younger siblings when his parents couldn’t. Dogs require more attention but are almost always willing to pay it back doubly. They also teach responsibility – getting up to walk the dog on a cold winter morning is no small chore, but it helps build character and trust in a foster child.
Both dogs and cats can offer a few wholehearted laughs now and then and are expert relievers of loneliness. All of these traits make them great additions to foster families, as long as the pet does not pose a risk to the foster child and the foster child’s history suggests he is able to get along well with others.
Foster Children and Pets: Maintaining Safety
Unfortunately some foster children have a tough time getting along with others, and it’s no fault of their own. They may have lived through unspeakable trauma and witnessed horrible events that no child should see – some of those traumatic events may have involved animals. There’s no telling when bad memories might result in acts of violence.
Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) often do not form healthy emotional attachments to their family members. They tend to show affection by attempting to control the person or pet they want to be affectionate with. This can quickly damage the relationship between a pet and foster child or even result in violence. No one wants to find any member of the household at the receiving or giving end of a violent outburst, so it’s important to know your foster child’s history and keep a close eye on your foster child and your pet’s time together. If you feel that your foster child is physically harming your pet, be sure to reach out to your caseworker immediately.
Families with pets can find out if a child they are asked to foster has a history of violent behavior from the foster child’s caseworker. While it’s important to protect your family from harm, it’s also important to give your foster child the opportunity to feel warmth and unconditional friendship. Introducing your foster child to a pet that he can form a special bond with is a great way to give him that chance.