Recognizing adult grooming behavior & take action against it

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There are approximately 5,000 children in foster care in Virginia today. Most of these kids are scared and confused. Many of them come from abusive situations. Unfortunately, this makes children in foster care more vulnerable to predatory behavior and sexual violence.

But how does this happen? What are the signs that someone may become a victim? Is there anything foster parents can do to prevent it?

Sexual abuse and sex trafficking usually involve close friends or close contacts. This can be adults or older children that know them. They use grooming behavior to build trust with the child.

Read on to learn the signs of grooming and what foster parents and adoptive parents can do to prevent their child from becoming a victim of child sexual abuse.

What are the Signs of an adult Grooming a child?

Anyone can do grooming behavior. Any man, woman, or child that has power over the victim can use that power to manipulate and abuse them.

Predators use grooming to manipulate the victim into trusting them so they can abuse or traffic them later. As a foster parent, you should be aware of these signs of grooming so you can help prevent this abuse from happening.

New Clothes or Expensive Items

New items can signify that your child is being groomed, depending on the situation. The items could come from other family members or friends. If your child earns their own money through an allowance or a job, then they may have bought the items for themselves.

However, if you notice your child is getting a lot of new and expensive items, this could be a sign that someone is grooming them. Always ask your child about it if you believe something is wrong.

Is the gift from a friend? A family member? Is it for a special event such as a birthday or a holiday? Did your child have to do something in exchange for the gift?

If your child receives gifts and it's not reciprocal, always try to learn more.

Withdrawing and Isolating

The first thing a groomer does is try to isolate their victim. They want the victim to depend on them for everything, like money and attention.

If your child is a grooming victim, they may be reluctant to spend time with you. They may even neglect old hobbies they previously enjoyed. This could mean they're spending more time with the abuser.

Children and youth experiencing grooming or sexual abuse may also spend less and less time with their friends. On the other hand, if your child's friend is the abuser, they spend more time together. If you notice a change in your child's friendship dynamic, asking questions about it is okay.

One way to gauge the dynamic is to invite the friend to your home. You'll be able to observe the behavior and make an informed decision if the relationship is safe and healthy or not.

Remember, it's not uncommon for friendship dynamics to shift over time. But if your child seems to be giving all their attention to one person or to someone who has power over them, then there could be a problem.

Ask questions, listen, and observe. If you feel your foster child is isolating or spending too much time with one person, talk to your social worker. They will offer guidance and more strategies.

Vagueness About New People

If you notice a new person in your child's life, it's best to ask questions about them, especially if you see your child favoring this new person over their other friends.

If your child is a victim of grooming, they may be vague about the physical description or personality of their predator. They may share the predator's name but not much else. This will be different from how they talk about their other friends.

Most of the time, groomers will convince their victims to not give details about the relationship to their families. This prevents their crimes from being traced once abuse or trafficking does occur. It also prevents any loved ones from seeking help for the victim.

If you notice your child doesn't want you to meet one of their friends, make sure you address the situation quickly. Open communication is essential when building trust with your foster child. They need to know you are a safe adult that they can be honest with.

They Seem More Emotional

When the victim isn't around the abuser, they may seem troubled by something. You might notice that they're suddenly more prone to emotional outbursts than usual. They might even experience massive mood swings. 

This isn't always a sign of grooming, but it is always a sign that something is wrong in your child's life. Children in foster care have experienced a lot of stress in their lives. Their foster home and foster family should be a source of love and safety for them.

Normal stressors for the child can be problems with the friendship group or issues with school. But something serious might be happening when you're not around to see it. Find opportunities to talk with and listen to your foster child.

When asked about emotional outbursts, a victim of grooming may be vague or not answer. They might even tell you that they have the problem under control. Collaborating with your child to figure out how you can make them feel safe with you is important.

Once they open up about the abuse, it will be easier to provide them with the professional and personal help they need.

Spending More Time Online

It's not unusual for children and teens to spend a lot of time online. Especially foster children who move around a lot and want to keep in touch with old friends and family members.

However, the internet can be a dangerous place. If your child is being secretive about their internet habits, they could be in contact with a predator. They could be hiding their habits from you because they're talking with someone they know you would disapprove of. The internet predator may also not want you to know about them.

Again, building trust with your foster child is key. Ask questions if you feel something is wrong, and be willing to listen to what your child has to say. You are responsible for making your home and the internet a safe space for your child.

Giving your child boundaries with the internet could be one way to keep your child safe. This can include managing the time they spend online and which sites they have access to. Consider the age of the child to set good boundaries.

Children need privacy, but you should have a good idea of what they're doing online.

How to Prevent It grooming behavior

If you suspect your child is a victim of grooming, there are ways to help. You can't simply confront your child or the abuser. This could make things worse instead of better.

Asking questions and being an empathetic listener is the best way to approach the issue. Make it clear that you're there to help in any way possible and that you are on your child's team. Never blame the child or make them feel like they are in the wrong for the abuse that has happened to them.

A child may confuse grooming with love and support. It's up to you to show them what real love and support looks like. You can also consult professional services for support. This can include your social worker, therapists, or clinicians with expertise in grooming behavior, sexual abuse, or sex trafficking victimization.

Help Prevent Sexual Abuse and Sex Trafficking in Foster Care Today.

Even when victims are rescued from sex trafficking and other sexual abuse, they are often traumatized by the experience. Prevention is better than treatment.

Always be aware of what is going on with your foster child. Children in foster care need good homes to protect them from becoming victims of grooming and sexual abuse.

Consider fostering a child if you have the time, resources, and compassion to help a foster child in need. Contact us today to learn more about fostering and the children in need of good homes in Virginia.

The National Human Trafficking hotline Phone number is 1 (888) 373-7888.


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