Many children go through a stage of telling tales or mistruths and often taking things that are not theirs. This 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. Some children may steal because they really want something that they can’t have or think they can’t have. It is important to try and understand the root cause that has led to a child presenting with this behaviour so that help can be given to try to solve and issue and reduce this adverse behaviour.
So what can I do as a foster carer?
It is important to talk to the child or young person about what they have stolen and let them know that it is not ok to steal. It is important that you talk to them about why it is wrong to steal or take from other people. Where possible it is a good idea to work with the child to take or give the item back (where possible) and apologise for their actions. This may not always be possible directly but indirect forms of apologies such as a letter from the child can be encouraged. With older children and teenagers they 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, but to be honest and share that this can result in criminal convictions and in some cases prison.
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. One way of addressing can be to talk about why it is wrong but use praise to work with the child by praising them for being grown up to work through the issue and learn from their mistake.
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?
It may be that a child is not stealing from places such as shops but is stealing from you their foster carer. This can be incredibly difficult to understand. It may be that this is spare change that you have on the side in your coin jar. It is really important that you remove any temptation and remove things such as coin jars and money boxes from communal areas of the house.
Share your concerns with the child’s social worker and your AFA placement manager. It is important that this issue is monitored so that any patterns can be noted and also additional emotional support can be provided to the child if needed.
Amie Hill, Placement Manager