Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Safety Plan

FosterAbba has a post about safe touching which prompted me to write this:

When new kids are placed in our home everyone (even Brian) signs a document called "The Safety Plan." It comes with a couple of blank spots that get filed in while everyone is there, but most is pre-written.

The first time we did this Brian had just turned 6. We sat at the table and listened to the social worker read rules like,

1. No one is allowed to go into anyone else's room unless they were asked.
2. If anyone is in someone else's room the door must be open.
3. If one of my foster parents wants to talk to me in my room then then door must be open.
4. We only change clothes in our own bedrooms or in the bathroom.
5. When we are outside our bedroom or bathroom we always have clothes over our underwear and always wear a shirt.

and everyone's favorite:
6. The only people who have sex in this house are the parents and then only with the door closed.

The rules allow for some flexibility. For instance one rule is: If the bathroom door is closed only one person can be in there at a time. The first plan we signed had written in ink, "Except for when Dad is helping 'Brian' wash his hair."

There are some really interesting rules about all touching needing to be safe and that if anyone is touched in a way that is not safe they will tell someone "like my social worker, a teacher, or some other adult I feel safe with."

Then there is a place where the foster child gets to list what kinds of touching feel safe to them. The social worker starts by saying that most kids don't feel safe with back rubs or tickling from foster parents and so that is already off the list. And then "Do you feel safe if someone hugs you with one arm? Do you feel safe if someone gives you a short hug with two arms? If you are upset or crying do you feel safe if someone puts two arms around you until you feel better?"

All of my boys have said they feel safe with all this touching (hurrah!).

When I get the same kid on respite a couple of times I usually ask about hugging. The conversations go like this:
"Are you a hugger?"
If the answer is "yes" then, "One arm or two?". I then hug them.
If the answer is "I don't really like to hug very much" (they never say "no"), I say, "How about when I want to hug you I put out my hand and you can squeeze it if you want?"

I have had a couple of girls who are hand-squeezers only. One girl, E. would not even squeeze. Sometimes she would put her hand on top of mine for a second. Other times she would say, "No, that's okay. I'm fine" and I would take my hand away.

We do get a bit more relaxed about rules as we go. For instance when I want to talk to a kid I ask if they want to go into their room for privacy. If they yes, then when we go in I station myself far from the door and say, "You can open or close the door. Your choice."

Some families though are more strict. Mandy's husband for instance never touches any of the girls, except to break up a fight. His favorite story is about how one girl came to him and said she really needed a hug. He pulled a notebook from his pocket and wrote, "HUG" on it and gave it to her. She kept it in her wallet for years. He said he often saw her take it out and look at it.


  1. I'm here via gawdessness's site. When I read this entry I cried. I have been considering doing respite, (I want to adopt) and this post just so collided with my ideas of family, my ideals of human warmth and body comfortability. The idea of the HUG on a paper is lovely as a stand-in for when someone isn't there, and absolutely devastatingly heartbreaking as a replacement. I cannot even imagine as a child getting a paper instead of arms around me if I asked for a hug. How does one learn goodtouching vs badtouching when goodtouching is off limits? How does one learn to relax and receive into adulthood. I do massage, and know how important human touch is. Yes I understand that there are rules, that there has been abuse, that foster parents can take advantage, as can kids, etc. But this all just made me so sad and cold and empty feeling. I don't know if I could parent like that. I will have to think about it.

  2. Cluttergirl, Please also read my more recent post about safety.

    This particular family almost always has at least one girl in the home who has been molested. This foster father has made this choice because he knows that even if the girl in front of him will feel safe being hugged, the girl across the room we feel less safe.

    The mom in this family does hug, by the way. So does my husband. In fact one of the reasons one of Mandy's girls like coming to my house for respite was that it was a "huggy place."

    I think it is important for us to be really honest about what kids we can parent. Some of them are just not good "fits".

    Don't give up because a parenting technique that works for one person does not work for you. We all find our own way.


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