We fostered for years, and we had several close friends and neighbors whose children were often playmates for our foster children. It was wonderful for our foster children to have the chance to play and socialize with other children in a safe environment. However, you're right that some caution is...
Best answer: We fostered for years, and we had several close friends and neighbors whose children were often playmates for our foster children. It was wonderful for our foster children to have the chance to play and socialize with other children in a safe environment. However, you're right that some caution is needed.
Here's how we handled it -
When children first came to our house, there was a "getting to know one another period" where we kept outside visitors and outings to a minimum. It was a chance for them to get their bearings and learn household routines, and for us to learn more about who they were and what they needed from us.
First introductions to other children were made in an adults-present setting; for example, meeting another family for a picnic at a park. That naturally allowed lots of supervision and a chance to see how the children interacted with one another.
Once friendships blossomed, we still kept an adult in "redirect range". We had a rule that bedroom doors were to remain open if more than one child was in there, and our living room was arranged so that one of the chairs was within easy earshot of the bedrooms. One of us would spend a lot of time there if the kids were in a bedroom! Likewise, an adult would head out onto the deck or screened porch if the kids were playing in the back yard.
The younger children we were fostering did not go play at other children's houses without us for the first 3-6 months, and they did not ever roam the neighborhood or get dropped off without an adult at the swimming pool, skating rink, etc. This wasn't just about supervising them; it was also about protecting them from chance encounters with someone from "life before". We always strived to be respectful - not suspicious - even while keeping these boundaries in place.
In all the years we fostered, here are the challenges we encountered:
-Several very young children (2-5 years) who represented inappropriate sexual behavior when pretending with dolls, and one of whom would try to interact this way with other preschoolers. Very close supervision was provided along with ongoing therapy.
- A 4-year-old who would often talk about "when daddy shot mommy in the face and the policemans came". At first, when she talked about the trauma almost constantly, we limited her playtime with other children her age to structured experiences like storytime at the library. A friend's young teenage daughters - who knew her story - came over often to play with her, which she adored.
-Two different children, ages 7 and 9, who had exceptionally volatile tempers. Both used strong language when upset. One punched a best friend during an argument over a backyard soccer game, but felt so bad about it that he hid under a table and cried for several hours afterwards. Again, we provided closer supervision and ongoing therapy, helping them step away from play situations to calm down as needed. They made tremendous progress, but we were cautious about playmates because of the language.
-An 8-year-old girl who talked with a 9-year-old friend about sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. It popped up unexpectedly after the friend asked "Why are you in foster care?" The friend's mother made the choice to join in to guide, but not stop, the conversation. She felt like her daughter was mature enough to know some truths and they talked about it afterward.
-An 11-year-old who had insomnia and a fascination with fire. Very close supervision was provided, including a chime on his door to alert us if he got up in the night. We did not allow him to go to friends' houses without us.
Long story short, these foster kids are children who happen to have been - through no fault of their own - abused or neglected. The investment of a community can help them heal and feel safe and loved. You and your daughter can play an important role in this, but you have to also consider your daughter's needs and safety first. How aware and engaged are the foster parents? Are they just "keeping kids" or are they actively involved in meeting each individual child's needs?
Don't send your daughter off to play unsupervised with the children in foster care, but do consider ways to help them experience friendly, neighborly relationships. Invite them over to watch a mild movie. Plan a backyard BBQ. Ask if one of their foster parents would like to meet up with you and your daughter to walk a nature trail, see a new exhibit at a children's museum, or spend a little time at a local festival. Structured activities such as these allow you to notice how they interact with your daughter, and decisions about play can be made on a case-by-case basis.
Also talk with your daughter to remind her that she can always come to you if anything is bothering her. Don't make it especially about the foster children - who may be delightful - but do ask open-ended questions like, "What do you like best about playing with Amber?" And, "What is the hardest part about playing with Amber?" Be prepared to talk with her on an "as needed" basis if she hears any inappropriate language/behavior or if she has questions about foster care. 9-year-olds aren't as sheltered as they once were, and these open lines of communication will be valuable as she navigates social interactions with kids at school - not just with the foster kids next door!
6 days ago