Help! My foster child is stealing

Many foster parents face the challenging situation of a foster child stealing or telling tales or mistruths. While stealing can happen with any child, it’s important to understand the potential causes behind it in foster care situations.

Telling tall tales is a normal part of growing up…

Telling tales is part of child development and children working out right from wrong. This can happen at different ages for different children. It may be that their background or past experiences have a big impact on their understanding of what is right or wrong.

It is useful to think about the following questions in relation to the stealing behaviour you are seeing:

  • Is the behaviour out of character for the child or does this fit with their usual way of dealing with things?
  • Has there been a sudden change in a child’s behaviour or has the onset been coming for a while?
  • Is there anything obvious that might have unsettled or upset the child?
  • Is the behaviour impacting in a negative way on their daily life? E.g. affecting friendships and family relationships or relationships in their placement, getting in way of hobbies or activities, or worrying the child?
  • Has the child said they think they have a problem or are worried?

Why do some foster children steal?

  • Unstable Background: Children in foster care may have experienced neglect or a lack of clear boundaries around ownership. This can lead to confusion about what’s right and wrong.
  • Feeling of Loss: Stealing might be a way for a child to hold onto something tangible, especially if they’ve experienced loss of loved ones or belongings.
  • Desire for Attention: Acting out through stealing can be a cry for help or a way to get a reaction from their foster parent.

How to address stealing with your foster child

  • Open Communication: Talk calmly about the stolen item and explain why stealing is wrong.
  • Focus on Solutions: Work with the child to return or replace the stolen item and encourage an apology.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise the child for taking responsibility and working through the issue.
  • Explain the Consequences: Older children need to know that stealing is against the law and that the consequences can be far worse than having to take something back and apologise; explain that this can result in criminal convictions and, in some cases, prison.
  • Seek Support: Discuss the situation with your child’s social worker for additional guidance and support.

Remember: Stealing in foster care can be a sign of deeper emotional issues. Be patient, understanding, and seek professional help if needed.

Other things to think about

This can be a difficult issue to address with a young person and many children in care can struggle with conflict or being told off. The following steps may help:

    • Monitor Behavior: Track the stealing to identify patterns or triggers.
    • Reduce Temptation: Secure valuables and limit access to cash.
    • Focus on Building Trust: Create a safe and supportive environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their needs.

    By understanding the reasons behind stealing and offering support, you can help your foster child learn healthy ways to cope with their emotions and build positive relationships.

    If you’d like to know more about becoming a foster parent take a look at some of the other resources on the AFA site. For advice, guidance, and resources contact our team at AFA Fostering for more information.