There is a myth that all children who have been sexually abused are “damaged goods”and that the damage is for life. In fact, with guidance and support a child who has experienced sexual abuse can certainly recover and go on to live a happy, successful life with loving and trusting relationship.
However, there are many factors which influence the extent of the child’s trauma and subsequent healing process. Some of these are:
- The relationship of the primary perpetrator to the child
- How long the abuse occurred
- Whether there was violence involved
- The social system available to the child at the time of abuse
- Ego development of the child at the time of the abuse
Helping Abused Kids Heal ~ Sensitivity and patience are the keys to healing
Sexually abused children in foster care can heal emotionally and avoid some of the potential serious long-term effects of abuse (attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, etc.) if their foster parents offer good support. When victims of sexual abuse were placed in foster homes where they felt supported—where they were believed, responded to empathetically, and where the foster parent made sure the child received appropriate medical and psychological care—the young people reported significantly fewer symptoms of depression. They also reported more comfortable social interactions. Even children who had been rejected by their biological parent after disclosing the abuse showed signs of emotional recovery when placed in a supportive foster home.
But such children do present special challenges. Children who have been sexually abused—especially when the abuser is someone they trusted and were close to—can have difficulty forming new emotional relationships. They may withdraw or become angry at attempts at emotional intimacy. The victims of sexual abuse are more likely to experience disrupted foster placements than other children, because they may not like to be touched as a consequence of the abuse. In turn, foster parents may feel rejected, and respond with frustration and even anger. The fact that most foster parents want to give kids love, and love is a very very important ingredient, but it’s not the only ingredient, because some kids may be afraid of love.
Because of this, and because of the difficulties of fostering a child traumatized by sexual abuse, proper training for foster parents is critically important. Part of being an experienced foster parent is that you learn that you can’t let the way the child is treating you affect your feelings. Most children do attach, but it should be on their terms.