How to handle foster child bullying


Bullying can happen to many children and young people in various circumstances or environments. For example, a child may be bullied in the playground at primary school, during lessons at secondary school, or outside of school in a social environment among peers.  

However, when bullying occurs around a foster child, it can be tricky to immediately know the best approach – as the situation must be handled delicately. If you believe your foster child is being bullied or you suspect your foster child may actually be bullying others, our team are on hand to support you 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week – and our informative guidance and advice can help you to manage foster child bullying.

What is foster child bullying?

There are many types of bullying that can occur – from racial and cultural bullying, to bullying someone because of their sexual orientation or disability. Sometimes, someone may be bullied simply because they’re different. Bullying can appear in many forms, whether that’s in the playground, in the streets, or even online in the form of cyber bullying. This can include: 

  • Physical abuse – this could include hitting, pushing or slapping 
  • Verbal abuse – this might be actions such as threatening, shouting or name calling 
  • Control – this behaviour could be manipulating, undermining or forcing 
  • Emotional abuse – this could intimidating, humiliating, ignoring or isolating someone
  • Anonymous abuse – this might be silent/abusive calls, abusive letters or post, or cyber-bullying 

How to tell if my foster child is being bullied

Often, it can be difficult to tell if your child is being bullied – especially if they are particularly shy and do not like to open up about their feelings. However, there are some tell-tale signs to watch out for: 

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Bruises, cuts or scratches
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Difficulty sleeping/feeling fatigued 
  • Continually losing belongings 
  • Asking for unexplained extra money 
  • Extreme emotions 
  • Self-harm – if you notice any signs of self-harm, speak to a medical professional immediately.  

What to do if your foster child is being bullied

Witnessing your foster child being bullied is likely to be upsetting, and you may find it challenging to handle. Our natural reaction is to protect someone we care about – especially if they are younger or more vulnerable – but the correct actions must be taken to ensure the situation is handled carefully, and does not provoke or cause a bigger reaction. If you believe your foster child is being bullied, the first steps you should take are: 

  • Speak to a social worker – raise your concerns immediately with the child’s social worker and your own supervising social worker. 
  • Speak to the child – communicate with the child that you are aware of the situation. It’s important for them to understand that the bullying is not their fault, and you are there for them every step of the way. 
  • Speak to an authoritative adult – if the bullying occurs at primary or secondary school, or perhaps at an extra-curricular activity or sport team, speak to a teacher or authoritative adult to make them aware of the issue.  

Next, it’s beneficial to work together with the child, social workers, teachers and authoritative adults, if applicable, to formulate a plan. This will be tailored to the child’s specific needs – including background history, which is where the social worker will be able to offer insight. Together, you can then identify strategies, such as rehearsing how the child should respond in those situations, or encourage the child to build their confidence and self-esteem in other ways, such as making new friends in other areas. 

The most important thing to remember when supporting a child who is being bullied is to show compassion, empathy and patience. It’s likely this experience could be extremely triggering for them, and could bring up some unresolved issues from their childhood, especially if they suffered from abuse or neglect. Working closely with Capstone is integral to ensuring the child feels safe and protected during this time. 

What to do if your foster child is bullying others

As difficult as it is to witness your foster child being bullied, its arguably just as challenging watching your foster child bully others. Foster children may have been exposed to a number of damaging and toxic circumstances during their childhood, so this can become a cause of inflicting the pain on others that they might have felt themselves. Psychologically, this could make them feel more in control of their own lives, and provide a sense of power that they were starved of during abusive or challenging environment in their past.  

How to prevent foster child bullying 

Although it’s easy to understand why a foster child may feel this way, it’s never condoned – and stopping the bullying should be the number one priority. To prevent bullying from happening in the first place, considerations include: 

  • Rules – whether the foster child is bullying within the household, or bullying outside (such as, at school), as a foster parent, it’s important to establish clear rules and boundaries the child must follow as a member of your family. The consequences for not following these rules also need to be clearly laid out. 
  • Behaviour – as some children have been exposed to traumatic situations, they might not have a clear grasp on what acceptable behaviour is. Your role as foster parent is to ensure this is clear – so they understand bullying, in any capacity, is not tolerated.  
  • Role model – ensure that the behaviour you are exhibiting is acceptable, and behaviour that they can associate with a ‘role model’. If they witness you arguing with your spouse, or see you making passive aggressive comments, they’ll think it’s acceptable – and repeat this behaviour with their peers, or other family members. 

How to stop foster child bullying

If you suspect your foster child might be bullying others, you should raise this immediately with: 

  • Social worker
  • Supervising social worker
  • Teacher (if applicable) 
  • Any other responsible adult who could be facilitating the bullying unknowingly

Your role, collectively, will then be to explain to the foster child why bullying is wrong. This conversation can be challenging – so tips for this include: 

  • Remaining calm, and encouraging them to also remain calm, too
  • Finding out all the facts before jumping to conclusions 
  • Giving them ample opportunity to speak for themselves
  • Encourage them to explain what lead to these incidents, and what they feel could resolve this
  • Offer perspective, and try to get them to understand how the victim must feel 
  • Work together to create tangible steps to stop the bullying from occurring 

Bullying and child mental health 

If a foster child – or any child – is bullied, this can often lead to long term effects – manifesting in the form of mental health conditions. Without handling a bullying situation quickly and effectively, a number of mental health concerns could arise, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, attachment disorders and more.  
If you believe your foster child is exhibiting any signs or symptoms of a mental health condition, this should be raised with your social worker immediately – and together, you should then seek professional medical help.  

For more support and advice around what you should do if your child is being bullied, speak to our supportive staff – here for you any time of day or night. 

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