Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sexual Safety Plan

FosterAbba wrote a post the other day about the limits that foster homes need to keep kids safe. Baggage responded with a good post of her own. The guidelines differ from state to state. The idea though is that you need the guidelines for two reasons: so the kids don't feel sexually threatened and the adults are protected from false allegations.

What you have to remember is that kids who have been sexual abused can be treated in ways that get safe touch and unsafe touch all mixed up. Children love to be cuddled. My bioboys always loved it when I would do light tickle-scratches on their arms and backs. They had a wonderful time wrestling with their father. For traumatized children all of that can be mixed up with unsafe touch. For them there was no line or boundary between what was appropriate and what was not. That can result in them either being nervous about being touched in ways that we think of as safe, or in not recognizing touch we deem inappropriate as unsafe. In other words, their line, if there is one at all, between safe and unsafe can be "off" in either direction.

My agency, which cares for teenagers and a few pre-teens, deals with it in a very detailed and direct way.

When a new kid moves in every member of the family sits around the table. A document called "The Lastname Sexual Safety Plan" is read out loud. Some details are filled in or changed, and everyone signs it. The first time Brian signed it he was six. I've talked about it before. I decided to discuss it again, although I don't know that I am really going to say much that is new.

It includes some typical things: no one goes into some one else's bedroom unless invited and then the door stays open. No one may be outside of their bedroom or bathroom in just their underwear or without a shirt. I forget how the bathroom thing is worded. It allows for multiple people to be in the bathroom brushing their teeth and combing their hair with the door open, but only one person may be in and the door must be shut if anyone is not fully dressed. Tickling and wrestling are prohibited. It states that if anyone is touched in anyway they do not like, they should tell someone about it.

My favorite line is, "The only people who have sex in this house are mom and dad and then only with the door closed."

Most of this can be negotiated. The adult line about sex is changed for same sex couples to read however the parents want "Mom and Mommy" or "Daddy Bob and Daddy John," whatever. When Brian was six the bathroom guidelines had an addendum, "Dad may be in the bathroom when he is helping Brian to wash his hair." The kids liked to wrestle with their father so much that we had them change the wrestling/ticking clause to "play wrestling is allowed only if everyone agrees and Dad is playing too."

There are a couple of things I really like about it. One is the section that the foster kid fills out with his or her social worker. It starts off, "The kind of touch that makes me feel safe and doesn't make me feel like someone wants to have sex with me are: ____" It doesn't ask the kids to list what makes them feel unsafe. The kids list what makes them feel safe. The social worker will usually ask them things like, "Do you feel safe when someone hugs you with one arm?" "What about when someone hugs you with two arms?"

I also like that it talks about it always being okay to talk about touches that you don't like or that make you feel unsafe. This is presented as not just sexual stuff. It is anything. It's always okay to talk about it.

It is taken for granted that the rules will relax after the kids have been there for a while. Even though the plan prohibits me from being inside a bedroom with with a kid with the door shut, if a child wants to talk to me privately we will go into his bedroom or mine. I station myself away from the door and tell the child that s/he can decide if the door should be open or closed and that they can change their mind any time. And even though I am prohibited from giving back rubs, if they have a stiff back, I will recommend a hot bath and tell them that if they want me to rub Beng*y (or similar) on the place I will. If they are touch-shy I will tell them to come back wearing a t-shirt they can pull up above the sore place and a towel they can wrap around themselves below the sore place.

When a kid who had said that they did not feel safe being hugged with two arms started crying I put one arm around her and then asked, "May I hold you tight right now?"

I find the kids have very different reactions to it. Some find it silly. With them we tend to relax a little more quickly. Some feel very grateful for these sorts of safeguards. With them we will continue to keep them strictly even if the child understands that they are not necessary to keep them safe. For them it is a constant reminder that they are safe here.

And that is what the plan is about. It is not about what would look safe to someone on the outside. It is not really about keep me safe from false allegations, although that is part of it. It is really about making the kids feel safe.

It is about teaching them that they get to say what feels good and right to them. They get to set the boundaries. Touching only happens in ways and times that feel safe to everyone.

It's about giving them back control over who touches them. And when approached this way, it is not for just the first six months, or for while they are in foster care, it's for their whole lives.


  1. I love this post and I love the whole idea. Is the contract online anywhere?

  2. Great post, Yondalla. You explain it all so well.

  3. I learn so much from you. Thanks for that.


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