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Dec/Jan 2007Vol. 7, No. 9Foster Care for Children With Problematic Sexual Behaviors

Focused family foster care that incorporates specific key elements has shown promising results in the treatment of young (pre-adolescent) children with serious or dangerous sexual behavior problems. The special problems of these children make them difficult to place, because residential treatment is generally not designed for children of this age, and placement in traditional foster families may endanger other children in those families. In addition, these children have almost always suffered severe abuse—sexual and otherwise—and require an environment that can meet their specific safety needs.

A recent study describes a North Carolina foster family program for children with sexual behavior problems that has proven successful during 6 years with most of the 30 children served. This success is attributed to the 10 program components:

  • Selection and training of program parents
  • Matching of clients with program parents
  • Regular (at least weekly) visits to the family by the program manager
  • Program manager availability 24/7 by phone
  • Comprehensive safety planning and monitoring for children
  • Weekly group educational sessions with children
  • Group educational sessions with program parents
  • The stabilizing effect of the foster family environment
  • Respite services
  • Counseling, testing, and other community services

In a short survey regarding the importance of each program component for the children's sexual behavior problems, program managers, staff, and parents all ranked "safety planning and monitoring" as the most important factor.

This study also discusses some of the lessons that staff and parents have learned over the years. For instance, the children who require these special placements commonly present with pronounced attachment issues and nonsexual behavior problems that may be more difficult to manage than their sexual behaviors. In addition, program parents rarely believe that their foster children have serious sexual problems until they witness the behaviors, despite the training that parents receive.

The study, "Focused Foster Care for Children with Serious Sexual Behavior Problems," by Robert Jones, Mark Ownbey, Julie Everidge, Bonnie Judkins, and Gary Timbers, was published in the June 2006 issue of the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. It is available for purchase online: