Sadly, many children coming into the foster care system will have had many knocks along the way. The hardships can be severe indeed, but something that can be particularly pernicious and have long term life endangering effects concerns food. It is not uncommon for a foster child who has been neglected to have developed bad eating habits. It may be child refuses food, or maybe overeats. This can happen when a young person is unused to the discipline of regular mealtimes, and may, as a consequence, adopt a survival mentality toward food. This simply means they do not necessarily trust that food will be available for them the next time they are hungry.
One of the most important jobs that foster carer can do is to provide a healthy diet for the child in their care. This, apart from providing required nutrition, creates a pattern for sound eating habits that should last into adult life. This can be a lifelong benefit – especially if it is considered that one in three children are leaving primary school overweight or obese. And this places them at a significantly greater risk of going on to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in later life. It is surprising, but nonetheless true, that poor diet is this country’s biggest premature killer. It is ahead of drinking and smoking. The consequences of poor diet costs the NHS around £6bn annually.
If you foster, all mealtimes for children must be considered.
Currently, roughly half of all primary school pupils are taking a packed lunch to school. Research has been conducted which has highlighted only 1 in 5 lunch boxes contained any fruit or vegetables. Fifty two to sixty percent had too many sweet or savoury snacks and sugary drinks were also a problem: forty two percent of children’s lunch boxes contained such drinks exposing youngsters to increased levels of saturated fats, salt and sugar. Children were also not getting enough vitamins and minerals. Sugary drinks are also extremely bad for the dental health of young children. And children who have come from backgrounds where there simply hasn’t been interest shown in their well-being, can often have gum disease or tooth decay. Again, just as with meal times, children coming into foster care may not have experienced the routine of always cleaning their teeth before bedtime. This activity does provide an excellent opportunity for a foster carer to signal their interest and concern for the child in their care. Making sure that teeth are cleaned last thing is not that onerous a task, but can pay dividends. It takes no longer than three minutes, so is not likely to become a big issue. What it does do, is to create routine – and for some children this might be their first experience of any kind of important regular activity.
Foster carers can be alerted to problems by monitoring a child’s relationship with food.
Eating disorders can be caused by a whole variety of factors. These can include stress, depression, physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Binging, hoarding or overeating can be the results of such negative experiences, so they can be early warning signals. The most important thing to ascertain is whether there is an underlying problem a child might have. He or she, may be anxious about something and this may have taken away their appetite. We need food to live, it sustains us, but it is more than just that. Eating should be a social activity within a family. By preparing food, a foster parent can express the feelings of nurture and love they have for a child. Eating together also provides the opportunity to talk and conducted in a relaxed manner, it can enable a child to bring up problems they might be experiencing.
If you foster a child who has not experienced the routine of regular mealtimes, they may be disinclined to eat. It is important that routine should be introduced with the expectation that the child or young person will eat. This can be made easier if there are other family members present and they all set a good example. A foster child can quickly see that this is normal and expected behaviour. The gentle setting of expectations is advisable on a broad range of fronts and can work well. An example of this might be expecting a child to help clear the table or wash up.
It is important to never use food as a means of punishment. As should already be obvious, making mealtimes positive can bring many benefits, so it is counterproductive to bring food into an emotional setting. The tired old sayings of “you’ll go to bed without your supper” or “ you are not going out until you have finished what’s on your plate” will almost certainly backfire and introduce conflict into an area that if managed well can bring many benefits. Creating a link between food and a foster child’s poor behaviour will only store up problems for the future.
Foster carers need to strike a balance where food preferences are concerned.
Keeping conflict away from the dinner table is always an important goal. Children will have likes as well as dislikes, where food is concerned. Some dislikes are entirely genuine, but a refusal to accept that different types of food can be nutritious, and insisting on always having junk food is not acceptable. Children can be quite smart in seeing that they can use food as a means of control. Such attempts need to be resisted.
A foster carer can instil habits that can bring benefits over a lifetime.
As already mentioned, making sure a child always cleans their teeth is essential. Teeth are not just necessary for chewing food, they help us to form our words when speaking by controlling air flow. If teeth are lost, speech can be affected and in the teenage years, worries about appearance become likely. Figures obtained recently from the NHS indicate that some 40,800 children under the age of 18 have had to have one tooth removed. The cost to the country was £35.6m. The serious tendency for children to become overweight through poor diet and lack of exercise can have even more profound consequences. Obesity can cause, amongst other health problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis. The cost to the nation is becoming unsustainable: two years ago a reported that it cost £47bn to deal with the health and social costs of growing numbers of obese people.
We should all of us inculcate the idea that “we are what we eat” meaning to be fit and healthy we need to eat good food. This is not a new thought – indeed is it surprising that the nation famous for its cuisine and all things gastronomic had this idea expressed by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who wrote in, Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1826:
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.)
If you foster, or are considering fostering, read about our Rainbow Rewards
We support our approved foster carers twenty four hours a day – 365 days a year – and that’s a promise. presently, we are paying a £500 bonus if you can provide us with a referral. The bonus will be given to you, once that person has been approved and they have received their first foster care placement. It’s also possible for any approved foster carer wanting to transfer to Rainbow Fostering Services to do so smoothly. We look after every stage of the process. Transferring to us may also mean eligibility for a generous bonus payment. Please call our foster recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 to learn more about the benefits of joining our welcoming Rainbow community and remember, if you live locally, or perhaps not so locally, visit our offices for a friendly chat about being a foster carer and share a coffee. Enjoy a friendly atmosphere and there’s absolutely no commitment expected. A conversation with us could change your life – as well as that of a vulnerable child or young person.
Our good news at the end of this weeks foster care rainbow…two more birthdays to celebrate!
Happy Birthday from the team at Rainbow!
Rainbow foster care news, latest…
Oregon children staying in hotels while awaiting foster homes
June 28th, 2017
As Rainbow Fostering is playing a major part in an International fostering project in India, we take an interest in what is happening in relation to fostering beyond these shores. In the US, fostering is hitting the headlines again: (more)