Having a safety plan worksheet in place is an important part of raising a foster child or adopting an older child with special needs. It's an organized system of rules that protects not only a child who is prone to disruptive behavior, but other members of the family as well.
Identify the Problem
First, define the issue or problem you're dealing with. Maybe Max inappropriately touches himself while he's watching television in the family room, or Sally sneaks out of the home whenever mom isn't looking. Be as specific as you can. It can be helpful for parents to discuss the issue between themselves first before committing it to writing — one may have different perceptions or have noticed things that the other didn't.
Now identify who you want to protect and why. You obviously want to protect the child and other children in your household. Is the behavior affecting your pets? Is it damaging your property? Witnessing Max's behavior would be inappropriate particularly for other children, and Sally might be lost, injured or hurt when she escapes out in the neighborhood on her own.
It can help to isolate the usual time and place of the problems so you can decide how to best approach them.
Does it occur when bedroom doors are closed, shutting multiple family members in the room? Maybe it happens when the child is left unsupervised, or because you haven't clearly stated that the action is wrong — maybe because it never occurred to you that Max would touch himself inappropriately so it never occurred to address such behavior preemptively.
The problem might manifest whenever he's had visitation with his family, or when he's bored.
Plan an Approach
Now it's time to figure out what to do about the problem. The first step is to decide which adult in the household is going to do what in response to the troublesome behavior. For example, dad might be assigned to redirect Max's attention by giving him a stress ball to squeeze whenever he starts to touch himself. Dad might supervise Sally while mom is making dinner or is otherwise occupied.
Have a backup plan. Who will step in when Mom or Dad aren't available? You might be tempted to assign this duty to an older child, but this would be unfair to that child, placing a responsibility on her shoulders that she may be too young to have to deal with. You might have to enlist the help of other caregivers, but make sure to share your safety plan with them so they're prepared to recognize the problem and deal with it, too.
Depending on the nature of your problem, you may have to take additional precautions. Here are a few other ideas you can incorporate into your safety plan:
- Install door alarms and/or a house alarm system.
- Put baby gates in place to make it more problematic for a child to move unsupervised from room to room or to leave the house unattended.
- Place locks high on doors that lead outside or to the basement. Never place locks on the outside of bedroom doors to lock children in.
- Rearrange your living space so you can maintain direct line-of-sight supervision at all times.
- Set rules, like there can be no shut doors while the child is playing with friends or siblings in a bedroom, and don't leave the child alone with other children.
- Don't leave him alone with your pets, either. Make it a rule that your pets aren't allowed in bedrooms or bathrooms.
- If at all possible, give the child a bedroom of his own. Don't allow friends to sleep over, or him to sleep over at friends' homes.
- Try to avoid the parent of the opposite sex being alone with the child, particularly during bath times or at bedtime.
Consider talking with a therapist or other professional for advice about precautions you can take to safeguard against your child's specific problem.
How Long Will This Last?
Determine a time frame for your safety plan, a deadline by which you'll take stock of the situation to see if matters are improving. If they're not, you'll have to reassess and adjust your plan.
Eventually, you might have to face the reality that your safety plan just isn't working, no matter how often you tweak it. You should have a plan for this, too. Keep a list of crisis numbers to call in an emergency, including a therapist you can trust. As much as you may not want to, you should report ongoing incidents to your caseworker or other authorities, particularly if the child's behavioral problems are severe. You might even have to notify the authorities if the child's actions are crimes against other persons or another's property.
When and if you must reach out for help, you'll find that plenty of people are available to help you in every stage of a safety plan. Don't feel alone — just call. The end result could be that your safety plan is a resounding success.