Back to Bullies: Foster Kids and Bullies at School
Foster parents are used to dealing with the ugly realities of this life, but we may not think about the fact that removing children from unsafe home situations doesn’t prevent them from facing abuse from their peers. The unfortunate truth is that kids who are different in any way are more likely to be bullied and kids in foster care are no exception.
Bullying is actually a big problem for many foster kids for a number of reasons. Some may have experienced bullying before entering care because of difficult things in their home and family situation. Others may be bullied for being in foster care and may be taunted about the fact that their parents were not able to care for them. Foster children may be targeted because they have special needs, or difficulty in school because of the trauma they’ve experienced. Therapeutic foster parents need to be especially attentive as kids with special needs and mental health issues can be particularly vulnerable.
Sadly, it is not just other kids that can pick on foster youth. School administrators and teachers may assume, wrongly, that kids must have done something bad if they are in foster care. This can result in children being labeled as troublemakers for no reason other than ignorant prejudice. This may be particularly true if they know your child is in treatment foster care. Even if a child has behavioral issues, teachers and administrators should be a partner in helping the child succeed in school and not contribute to the problem by assigning the child more negative labels.
As foster parents, we are advocates for our kids in other ways at school and we need to make sure that we can be good advocates in this area as well. It is especially important to be well equipped to advocate in this area if teachers or administrators are part of the problem because of baseless stereotypes.
We cannot expect our foster children to tell us if they are being bullied, so we need to be able to bring up the subject with them. Even if they are not being bullied, or do not share this with you, you can still be proactive and talk about what to do if they are bullied. Let them know that if people ask them personal questions, they don’t have to answer. Let them know that it is OK to walk away and not engage if someone makes fun of them. Encourage them to change their perspective and to realize that what makes them different is also what makes them special.
Help them know that there is no shame in being bullied and that not talking about it gives the bullies more power. Encourage them to talk to you right away and brainstorm some safe people your kid can talk to if they do encounter problems with other students (or adults). Try to determine if there is a certain teacher, counselor, aide, or administrator that is trustworthy and understanding of foster kids.
Bullying at school is just the tip of the iceberg. With the rise of social media, our kids can now be targeted for cyber bullying anywhere because of phones and tablets. It may just be words on a screen, but cyber bullying can still be very harmful, especially since social media is such a big part of social interaction for youth today.
As foster parents, we need to be aware of the signs of bullying and proactively start conversations so our kids don’t suffer in silence.