Helping Your Foster Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

Helping Your Foster Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

In a perfect world, your foster child would come into your home and immediately be healed by your love. The reality is, when a child is taken away from his home due to abuse and neglect, it is possible the type of abuse he suffered is of a sexual nature. Helping your foster child who has been sexually abused is scary, but the problem has to be faced head on.

The number of children who are sexually abused ranges from 80,000-100,000 each year, including children in foster care. This doesn’t count abuse that has never been reported. The effects of abuse can be lifelong and, if they aren’t addressed, might result in challenges like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, children who have been sexually abused are at risk of becoming perpetrators and continuing the vicious cycle.

Recognize the Problem
Foster children who are sexually abused can suffer from depression, develop eating disorders and have a fear of being left alone. These behaviors are also recognized in children in care who have not been sexually abused. If your foster child has been abused sexually, however, there are additional warning signs that are cause for concern like aggressive or sexually explicit behavior. Depending on his age, the behaviors vary.

For example, if he is under ten years old, he may have problems sleeping and might wet the bed. He also may fear a specific type of person (e.g., a tall man with short black hair and a beard). Seeing this kind of person can trigger the memory of sexual abuse.

The more obvious indicators of sexual abuse are that he may fondle himself at home or school, or he may show his private body parts and refer to them in a sexually explicit manner. He might also begin to experiment with sexual behavior with children his age.

If your foster child is older, he may be extremely sexually promiscuous, withdrawn and even suicidal. He might also solicit children younger than him or adults to participate in sexual activities.

These are behaviors that should be addressed immediately. You have to take caution with helping him reveal his secret because, as traumatizing as it may be for you, it is more traumatic for your child in care.

Help Your Foster Child Feel Comfortable Revealing His Secret

It may be hard to understand why your foster child would keep his secret of being sexually abused – especially since he is no longer in his home. In most cases, he believes he is protecting either himself or someone he cares about – as he may personally know his perpetrator.

He is afraid – and in his mind, he has every reason to be. His safety, or the safety of his loved ones, may have been threatened. Your foster child may also fear never returning to his family. Even though he experienced abuse, he might not want to be permanently removed from his home.

For example, if a relative abused him, your foster child may feel like it will break up his family. If the abuser is your foster child’s father, he can fear his dad going to jail. Your child in care can believe this will ultimately hurt everyone. It is possible he both fears and loves the person who has abused him. That is a huge weight to carry as a child.

He may also feel it’s his fault. This feeling can be very real for him, and he should be reassured that is not the case. It’s very important he knows that he’s not to blame and that it’s OK to tell. In order for him to open up to you, he has to be comfortable and able to trust that you care and will do what’s best for him. It will be hard for you to hear your foster child has been sexually abused. Don’t panic. He is already apprehensive, and if you show anger or anxiety, that could stop him from sharing what he went through.

Take Action to Help

In New Jersey, it is required by law to report any form of abuse or neglect. If you have reason to believe your foster child has been sexually abused, notify his Family Service Specialist (FSS) immediately. You are your child in care’s advocate, so remember that it is your responsibility to make sure he gets the help he needs. This includes working with his caseworker and taking him to therapy if necessary.

Each child is different, so the type of treatment will vary. For example, if he acts out sexually with other children, he needs specific treatment for that behavior. If he keeps to himself and regresses into a deep depression, he needs therapy that will help him in those areas.

Here are some general tips for you to follow:

• Know his physical boundaries – forced touching (e.g., hugs) or tickling may set off memories of abuse
• Encourage and respect his privacy – not invading his personal space will help him feel safe and teach him the importance of boundaries
• Monitor his screen time (time spent on the computer and watching TV) – he can be exposed to inappropriate content that may trigger sexual activity
• Supervise and monitor play with other children and siblings – avoid opportunities for him to act out sexually with others or to be violated himself

There is more helpful information about sexual abuse at

While it is important to protect your other children in the home, it’s also vital to not be overprotective. Too much supervision can make your foster child feel like an outcast and cause him to either isolate himself or act out more. Instead, teach your other children to stand up for themselves and to tell you immediately if anything happens that makes them uncomfortable.

Believe it or not, you also have to protect yourself. If your child in care is stressed, confused or trying to avoid discipline, he may accuse you of sexual abuse, and any allegation requires a full investigation. The best way to protect yourself is to document his behavior and inform his caseworker if he exhibits any signs of having been sexually abused.

embrella has a course for licensed resource parents in New Jersey called The Child and Sexual Abuse that offers insight on how to help your foster child through this traumatic experience.

Remaining calm, informing the right people and supporting your foster child through this tough period in his life will help him better heal now, so he can have a chance at a healthy future later.

Author: Salendria Mabrey, FAFS Communication & Development Associate

Salendria Mabrey is a Communication and Development Associate at Foster and Adoptive Family Services.

2 thoughts on “Helping Your Foster Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

  1. What recourse do I have available? I was taken from my mother as a child. I’ve been suicidal ever since. I have a genius level I.Q. but getting out of bed in the morning has been hard ever since. Also I am unable to make connections with others in life. I have no social relationships or any personality at all really. I only feel anger. It has ruined my life and made it untenable. I was a happy active child before all this. I have accomplished nothing in life because have a positive view of any event is impossible. I was put in a home with children that had been victims of pedophilia. Those children would molest each other (including me) and the people that ran the place would withhold food if you were uncooperative (which I was all things considered) I’m not going to be around much longer but this story is definitely true. It happened to me 25 years ago.. It happened to me in Canada though so I can imagine how widespread this practice is. I hope the other children that go through this have a better life than I did. It will definitely be hard for them. You spend your whole life thinking you are worthless. Social Workers are scum.

    1. You are not worthless and what happened to you is not your fault. As an adult survivor, you have been living with these memories for a long time. Some survivors keep the abuse a secret for many years. The effects of sexual abuse can occur many years after the abuse has ended. Remember that there is no set timeline for dealing with and recovering from this experience. It’s so important that you reach out to a professional to speak about your history. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at

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