Foster Children Hygiene | Help, My Foster Child Won’t Bathe!

Coping with foster children hygiene issues isn’t easy, but teaching kids in your care how to take care of themselves is part of being a good foster parent. Here’s some insight on why some foster children refuse to bathe and ideas on how to get them on track.

\No matter how frustrating it gets, it’s important to remember that foster children hygiene issues come more from the abuse or neglect the kids have endured than misbehavior. As a foster parent, I’ve had children in my home who refused to bathe, and it took many different tries at dealing with the problem to find a solution. Here’s what I did that worked; maybe my experiences can help you with the children in your home.

Coping with Foster Children Hygiene Issues – Don’t Get Angry; Use Empathy

Sometimes foster children have hygiene issues due to the abuse they’ve experienced. They may be fearful of being undressed or of bathing, especially if the bath tub is where the abuse took place.

I had sibling sisters, ages 3 and 4, who both were sexually abused. This was challenging and made more so because they are both autistic as well as delayed. One is disabled, and the other has ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).  All of this made bath time very difficult. They screamed and threw tantrums as soon as I opened the bathroom door.

I could only imagine how these girls felt, so I kept letting them know, through words and actions, that they were safe in my home. No matter how much I reassured them, bathing was still a battle. I tried bathing them together. I tried bathing them separately. Nothing seemed to work.

Finally, I bought them swimming suits and that helped them get over their fear. Incorporating play time into bath time made them feel comfortable and the crying finally stopped.

Foster Children Hygiene and Self-Esteem

Sometimes foster children hygiene issues are caused by neglect. When parents don’t teach the basics we take for granted, like bathing, brushing teeth, combing hair and wearing clean clothes, it makes it difficult for the children to learn to do these things when they come into care, especially if they’re older.

I had a teenage foster daughter who was never taught to bathe. When I sent her to the bathroom she would sit with the water running and come out as if she took a bath. Eventually, everyone at school, other family members, etc. started complaining about her hygiene.

I tried to talk to her, but despite numerous conversations, I couldn’t get through to her. I also tried all different kinds of scented soaps to entice her, but still no change. I realized that I had to do more than teach her how to do better. I had to teach her how to feel better about herself to make her want to do better.

I took her to the doctor, who explained to her that skin disease, which she was suffering from, is made worse by poor hygiene. This made an impact. What also made a big impact was when I took her to the salon to get her hair done and showed her how beautiful she looked. Having someone to pamper her and give her compliments helped a lot. Her hygiene wasn’t perfect after that, but it did get better.

Remember, baby steps are better than nothing, especially with children who have been through so much. It’s important you keep the children in your care moving forward in their journey with you, no matter how long or how short their stay.  Foster children hygiene issues don’t go away overnight, but with patience, persistence and a little creativity you can boost your foster kids’ self-esteem and help them take better care of themselves.

Need more foster parenting tips?  If you have a tip on helping foster children with hygiene issues that you’d like to share, leave a comment below.

Author: Miguelina Nunez, FAFS Family Advocate

I’ve been a foster parent for over 10 years and have fostered over 40 children. I enjoy my work as a FAFS Family Advocate because it allows me to help many more children by offering support to the families that care for them. My goal is to make sure no foster, adoptive or kinship parent ever feels like they are on their own. To learn more, please visit or call 1.800.222.0047.

One thought on “Foster Children Hygiene | Help, My Foster Child Won’t Bathe!

  1. I am on a mission to learn more about the difficulties of fostering children. I am a former foster child. My experiences range from very bad, to wonderfully life changing. I usually look at the big picture on the subject of foster children. In the back of my head thinking “how hard can it really be?” I can see there are small daily challenges that need to be overcome. Every child is different and comes with a different story. I wish you patience and luck!

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