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Can Foster Parents Have Pets?

If you are exploring how to become a foster parent and have fur babies or farm animals, this blog is for you. Perhaps you worry about your four-legged friends sharing the home with foster kids. Pets provide acceptance without judgment and offer kids in foster care dependable relationships with little risk. Not just indoor pets. Many of our foster parents have outdoor animals and see many benefits for both kids and their animals.

Foster care is synonymous with stress.

It's no secret that pets provide unconditional support and acceptance, which many foster children have not received from family or social relationships in the past. Having a pet in the home can have a calming effect on children and often forces them to connect and engage with their foster parents and siblings more quickly than in a home without animals.

Communication and interaction may be more natural when animals are used as a buffer or a shared common interest. Pets can be a positive distraction from symptoms and upsetting experiences a child may have had before being placed in foster care. Many foster children experience stress, particularly early on in a placement. Kids can feel comfort and acceptance from a pet long before developing those feelings with their new foster family.

Foster children experience order and continuity.

Caring for a pet can give foster children a feeling of control, security, and routine. Providing kids with some responsibility in the care of animals generates a sense of order and continuity in their day-to-day activities. Caring for pet animals provides children with the experience of taking responsibility for another living being, may support the development of empathy, and has been shown to relate to more humane attitudes later in life.

Simple chores such as feeding a cat before school, cleaning a cage or stall on a weekend morning, and even brushing the family dog gives kids a feeling of responsibility. These activities can foster an attachment to pets and animals and generates feelings of respect for their new family. Foster parents tell us that caring for animals is a quick way for kids to feel they belong to a new foster family placement.

"When I first got to the Smiths, I was nervous and cried a lot. I used to bury my face into Bennie's neck and cry. He let me and never jumped off the bed."

Pets can provide emotional support.

Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related illnesses. In one Missouri study, scientists tested dog owners' and non-owners hormone levels. They found that people received the most benefit (through increased serotonin levels) when petting their dogs. Also, simply stroking the dog for 15-30 minutes lowered the participants’ blood pressure by 10 percent.

It is reported that dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child’s attachment-related behavior. How children best benefit from being with pet animals and how often they need to interact with them to get results is something, our foster parents can speak about confidently.

"When the girls arrived, they were afraid of the goats. Little by little, I would take them out to say hello. After about three weeks, they began petting them on the head. Now feeding the goats and helping with chores is part of their routine."

Relationships with pets have an essential role.

There is growing evidence that animals can offer features of a secure attachment relationship for children. In addition, children can form an emotional attachment with pets that are consistent in some respects with human attachment theory. Pets satisfy the need for comfort and reassurance. Attachments to pets may provide security and stability for children to explore their environment.
While having pets in the home cannot cure mental illness or be a "quick fix" for children with significant trauma, there are enough evidence and testimony to suggest that it does help. Studies have found that people with pets generally reported a greater sense of control and a feeling of security and routine. More importantly, studies have found that adults and older youth with greater attachment and relationships to animals during childhood demonstrate greater empathy, confidence, and independence in adulthood.
Children in foster care often experience sleep difficulty, headaches, anxiety, social stress, lack of confidence, and attachment disorders, all of which may be helped by caring for or attaching to a family pet. Most CCR foster homes have pets or farm animals and have witnessed the healing benefits for children in their care.



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