Child Abuse Prevention: Insight From A Former Foster Youth

Child abuse prevention month blog featured image - letter board saying I was unsafe in foster care.

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention month, we asked former foster youth, mom, and America’s Kids Belong staff Christina Bauer to shed light on how foster families can avoid creating more trauma for the kids in their care. (Watch our free trauma awareness training here).

Perhaps one of the most disorienting experiences of my lifetime was being removed from my biological family, only to be placed in a foster home where I didn’t experience the safety and comfort I was promised. 

Being removed from my biological family was enough trauma. I was too little to fully understand what was going on, but I knew I wasn’t seeing my birth mother every day like I usually did and that I was living with strangers. 

Child Abuse Can Be Hard to Detect

On the outside, the abuse wasn’t extremely obvious. I wasn’t covered in bruises or showing signs of malnourishment. But behind closed doors, I experienced physically punishment for “acting up” and constantly being blamed for my behaviors and actions.

I believe anyone in my situation would struggle to regulate their emotions and be a “good kid,” let alone a toddler who has been forcibly removed from her family. 

In addition to physical abuse, I experienced receiving inappropriate nourishment for my age. I struggled to stay on track developmentally. A combination of physical abuse and inconsistent, healthy nourishment led to a very dysfunctional, hurt and angry little girl.

Learn More About Child Abuse Prevention.

My brother and I went back and forth to visit with my birth mother (a hard transition as many foster parents know), and rather than returning to a calm, safe environment to help me regulate and recover, I was met with physical hurt if I had meltdowns.

Abuse is Not Always Intentional

This cause-and-effect pattern was short-lived, as I quickly learned that expressing emotion meant being hurt. I learned how to hide my emotions and become a solemn little girl. Sometimes I would let them slip out, and I got hurt.

I distinctly remember being in the car and crying about something — only to be met with a strong hand slapping my body. I stopped crying and dried my tears. Looking over at my brother, I saw he was still crying but didn’t receive the same treatment. 

When people hear my story, they are quick to express how they would never do this to their foster kids. Although I certainly hope they wouldn’t, I believe it’s important to understand that individuals who abuse others don’t just wake up one day and decide to hurt someone else. There’s often a story behind their actions.

Christina Shares Tips for Foster Parents:

Self-Care is the First Step in Child Abuse Prevention

Let me be crystal clear that this in no way justifies their actions. Abuse is never justified. However, I believe certain choices we make can lead to us doing things we regret and unintentionally hurt others – especially our kids. I’m a mother myself now, and I can see how important it is to take a breath when dealing with my toddler’s meltdowns.

Read Advice to Foster Parents from Three Former Foster Youth.

When a caregiver is overtired and overworked — a common struggle for foster parents — it can be hard to have the awareness to see where you might need intervention. I believe foster parents have one of the most challenging jobs in the world, and I was a teacher (wink).

They are voluntarily caring for other people’s children who have experienced tremendous trauma. Knowing how to navigate the ups and downs of behavior with a child who is feeling threatened merely because they’re in an unknown home, is a challenge of its own. 

Proactively Seek Resources to Prevent Burnout

The round-the-clock role foster parents play easily leads to burnout, and so often there is a lack of resources. You can prevent this by creating a simple plan before you even accept your first placement. This plan could include a list of friends or family members who are willing to help babysit, a family therapist with good reviews, and a scheduled weekly break for yourself and your partner.

I think a really important way to think of fostering is to think “one placement at a time.” It’s not a competition to see who can foster the most kids. The pressure to say yes and the lack of resources, combined with the great needs of the kids, can be a recipe for disaster.

Some parents can take placement after placement– but that doesn’t mean they should. If you don’t take care of yourself as a parent, let alone a foster parent, you are going risk harming your kids, whether through some form of abuse or in subtle ways that create more anxiety, fear or stress in their lives. Bottom line:

You can’t be a place of safety and stability for them to flourish if you aren’t prioritizing your own self care.

Christina Bauer

You can’t be what they need you to be if you’re not sleeping or eating healthy or moving your body. Mental and emotional care are essential. (Find discounts for foster families on our free Foster Friendly App).

Consider what you are modeling for the kids in your care: Are you teaching them that it’s okay to run on coffee fumes and not sleep? You probably wouldn’t let them do that so why do you let yourself? When we’re overtired and mentally spent we are more likely to react than to act with intention. 

Be Realistic About Your Capacity

Fostering isn’t a competition. It’s about standing in the gap for families in crisis. If you can do that well for one child and his or her family, then you succeeded. Don’t let outside voices convince you that you have to say yes again. You’re not a bad foster parent for having boundaries and knowing your limitations. 

I can tell you from personal experience that one of the most detrimental experiences of my life was being abused in foster care. The lifelong impact it had on me has taken years to heal from. I still struggle to let myself feel emotions, even though now I have no reason to feel afraid. 

The choices you make as a foster parent will impact your foster kids. They need you to be actively taking care of them and yourself. This can look like therapy, exercise, eating well and consistently, having community support to provide weekly breaks.

Child Abuse Prevention Hotline:

If you suspect child abuse, you are are obligated to by law to report by calling the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or visit: These reports can be made anonymously, and information of the referent is keep confidential.

Learn More About How to Thrive as a Foster Parent (FosterCon Webinar)

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