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.
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.
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."
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."