Common Behavioral Problems of Children Placed in Foster Care

Being in foster care can profoundly affect a child’s mental health and ability to interact with others. Foster parents and others interacting with foster children should be aware that the children’s fluctuating emotions can also lead to changes in behavior at home and school. The more changes they experience, including changes in caregivers, the more likely young children are to develop behavioral problems.

Attachment Disorder

Disruptions in attachment relationships caused by foster care can lead to a condition known as reactive attachment disorder, or RAD. RAD can manifest in a variety of behaviors in relation to caregivers, including being withdrawn; appearing sad and listless; failing to smile; failing to reach out when picked up; not making eye-contact; and showing lack of interest in interactive games or toys.   (Read more about dealing with Attachment disorder)

Defying Authority

After being removed from their home and placed with strangers, foster care children often have increased levels of stress and insecurity. According to the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, most children in foster care feel insecure and uncertain about their future. Feeling insecure frequently leads to children defying authority.This could include refusal to listen to authority figures or intentionally doing the opposite of what is asked.


Foster children are at high risk for perpetrating sibling aggression and violence. This could mean participating in physical fights with natural or foster care siblings. This behavior could result from family separation or adversity between siblings in the child’s biological family.   (Read more about dealing with Aggression)


Constant crying and clinging behaviors are also sometimes observed in foster care children who have endured constant changes in caregivers. Visits with biological parents during foster care can further confuse children and lead to excessive crying, especially in younger children.


When a child feels helpless, he/she will attempt to gain some measure of power any way he can. For some foster kids, stealing is their attempt to assert their control. For others it was a means of survival (stealing food, clothing, etc.). In spite of the difficulties, it is possible to teach your foster child to refrain from stealing. Your persistent efforts and good example can help him learn a better way.  (Read more about dealing with Stealing)

Telling Lies

Foster Children’s lies may be the result of numerous factors. These can include:

  • Fear of disappointing a parent
  • Avoiding punishment
  • Seeking attention
  • Crying out for help
  • They have been taught to lie by the abnormal situations they had grown up in
  • Avoiding stressful situations
  • Imitating the behavior of the adults around him

We must remember though, chronic or habitual liars rarely feel good about themselves. Look for patterns in the child’s lying, does the lying only occur at specific times or in specific situations? Try and determine what the child’s needs are that makes him/her want to lie.  (Read more about dealing with Lying)

What You as Foster Parent Need Remember

Though a child isn’t always able to see it or have the ability to understand it, putting him/her in foster care to avoid injury or even death is better than risking their lives and leaving them in a dangerous environment. How a child is able to cope with being removed from her home is contingent upon the support system that surrounds him/her. Counseling and supportive foster parents are two main influences determining the success of a healthy adjustment. Each child is assigned a case/social worker. Encourage your foster child to talk about her feelings and to use the support system that the foster care has to offer. Foster care was created and exists to protect children.

Keep an Open Mind

Foster children are a diverse group. Children in need of care may be babies or they may be teenagers. They come from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some may have physical or mental disabilities. To be a successful foster parent, you must be able to relate to children regardless of their personal characteristics and past experiences.


About Helouise Steenkamp

I'm a 45 plus, Devoted Wife and Mother. Adonai has blessed us with two Amazingly Wonderful Sons. We have had the privilege of being Place of Safety parents for 1 1/2 years and there after foster parents to a Darling Princess for 5 years. She was reconciled with her biological parents in Dec'14. Our hearts are still aching from the loss, but we know that as we trust Adonai with our salvation, so we can trust Him with her future. We welcomed our new 4 year old foster child on 05JUN'15.
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