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Hoarding food

Hi,
At the group home I work at, there is one boy who hoards food. It's obvious that he's worried that he's not going to get fed. He's told us that when he visits his mom for the weekend, she never feeds him. Any suggestions on how to get him to trust us enough, to stop hoarding food like he's getting ready for a long winter.

Davy
Edmonton, Canada
...

Hi,

 I had one child like that. What we did was let him have access to fridge at all times with staff supervison and if he wants to have food let him, he is not hurting anyone.

Maurice Bouvier
...

What a big issue and often an indicator of early neglect.

With limited information however, I wonder- what if you gave him a place to store food and gave him some food and/or helped to pack some food to take with him also trying to integrate some life skills into the process?

Also, a chat with someone who can help mom make sure there is food there when visits occur.. such as the St. Vincent de Paul society which helps families in their geographical area. Call the local Catholic church to inquire.. the family doesn't need to be catholic to get assistance.

Here in Ontario, outside of my child welfare responsibilities- I volunteer to man a phone line and send volunteers to the homes of families who need canned food or vouchers for perishables. I have had a few families whose kids were in care -needed help in order to be ready for the weekend visitation.

Good luck...worked in Edmonton for three years... miss it lots but not the cold weather..

Theresa Fraser
...

Hmm....well I say "just let him do it", make the focus on being with him, connecting, and getting to know who he is, rather than trying to stop a behaviour which is meeting a basic human need. The food in inconsequential.

Leanne Rose Sladde
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I thought it was a long winter in Edmonton! :)

Harm reduction and fading are really good long term strategies for assisting people in transition of behaviors. Depending on the age of the individual including them in building their understanding of the behaviour and it's parts as well as how they would prefer the bahaviour to look is key to devising a direction for change - only they can really be the one to uphold their behaviour changes.

Kim McLeod,
a.k.a Grandma K,
...

Hi there,

This will inevitably take time in order that a trusting relationship can be built and sustained. Think about the holistics of the situation; you cannot undo ten years or however long the individual has 'survived' in such an environment, and change behaviour in a short period. Relationships are built on trust and honesty, therefore, once these attributes are in place a focussed programme of intervention such as cognitive behavioural therapy could be introduced (if available?). The individual then may be able to A: let workers know when he/she feels the need to do this or B: manage his thoughts which in turn should affect how he feels and ultimately affect the manner in which they behave (Hoarding the food).

I am unaware of the facilities/resources on offer within your organisation, however, a 'food parcel' may be an option when the boy goes home?

Andy
Scotland
...

Dear Davy,

I was thinking about the boy you are looking after who hoards food. Perhaps it may take some time for this boy to trust adults to feed (nurture) him in the way that most human beings have learnt to. Most of us as infants and children - imperfect as our upbringing may have been - grew to know, that even if they were not always physically there, we could trust our parenting figures to 'feed' us regularly and this food would be given in a nurturing way. It is the building of this trust - it seems to me - which eventually enables us to trust in others as well as ourselves and allows us to deal well enough with the wider world.

The boy you speak of seems to have been deprived of food from his primary parenting figure - his mother - and so he doesn't seem able to trust the world beyond himself. I think his hoarding of food is as much a primitive reaction to abandonment and loss as it is about saving up for weekends at his Mum's place. It may be that your continued patience is called for here. Keep feeding him regularly and over time he may come to understand that you will not abandon him and that you will be there when he needs physical and emotional feeding.

It might at some stage be possible to introduce him to a bridging step by allowing him a unique food treat each day that is just for him and this can become a symbol of the kind of nurturing relationship you are offering him.

I heard of this with a boy who was given a carton of blackcurrant yoghurt every night before bedtime ! Each night after receiving his yoghurt treat the boy would wash the carton and he would stack the empty cartons up until they became a tower about 6 feet in height ! It seemed to represent something to him - perhaps the growing level of trust he felt in his relationship with his special worker. One day he stopped building the tower.

It appeared he no longer needed a physical symbol of the relationship. It was as if he had internalised the relationship and he could begin to trust the world around him. This is not to say that he no longer faced problems - which one of us doesn't? - but he seemed better equipped to deal with them.

I can't say that this will help your boy, but I hope it is of interest to you.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
UK
...

Sometimes hoarding food can be a means to emotionally fill yourself up. If the Mom is in fact not feeding him at home on the weekends, someone needs to report that to CAS.

Not sure what kind of group home you work in, but I know I've met numerous young people who tend to hoard food when in transition (or taken out of their birth home). Poor guy.

Jane
Canada
...

Hi,

When I worked in a residential program we had a very similar issue with a young girl. We actually got a box (plastic storage container) and helped the young woman select items to put in it (that wouldn't rot) and she "hid" them in her room. No consequences for any of it, and we helped her add to the box when needed. Eventually, as she began to trust us more, the need to pack the box became less until it was no longer needed.

On another point if the child is indicating when they go home for visits that they're not fed as there's no food, I wonder if Children's Aid is involved re: neglect? Just an aside, I'm sure it's been checked out.

All the best,
Bev Anderson
London, Ontario
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I would suggest addressing the lack of food at his mother's on the weekend. The hoarding makes sense in terms of his explanation. My question is why would he change his behaviour if he continues to be hungry on the weekends?

Val Zwicker
...

Hi Davy,

Hoarding is not an uncommon behaviour for people who have experienced food deprivation at some point in their lives. If you couldn't count on a steady supply of food you would be foolish to not store up a supply for when times were lean. You framed the problem as getting the child to trust your staff team. The problem is broader than that. He needs to feel he can trust the world to meet his basic needs.

I wouldn't be concerned about hoarding of non-perishable food items. You obviously don't want things going rotten in his room. You may even want to give him a locker for his food items. It would also be helpful to have snacks readily available throughout the day. It seems to me that the food insecurity that he experiences during visits to his mom could be dealt with in two ways. Firstly, you could pack him a bag with snack items, or even substantial meals, to take with him. Secondly, you could send him home with some food money. The understanding would need to be that he brings back receipts for his food purchases.

I have observed that families who are on social assistance are sometimes in a bind when their children are in care, but home on weekends. They may no longer be receiving funding to support their children but have the expense of feeding their children on weekends and maintaining a residence that provides adequate living arrangements for those weekends. You may want to discuss this with the Social Worker or Financial Aide Worker.

Doug Estergaard
Vancouver, Canada
...

Start with what's happening on weekends.

Peter Hoag, B.A., Dip., C.S., CYC
Canada
...

Hi,

In response to the youth who is hoarding food... how about having the child involved in the menu planning and grocery shopping. This way the child is aware of what is coming in to the house and can also be part of a special meal by assisting with the menu...Always have fruit and veggies available.. in time he will become accustomed to the routines and the fact that food will always be available...

Darren
New Brunswick
...

Try giving him a container for the food (Tupperware or such), then let him refill it as required. He needs to know that the food will always be there, but he also needs to know it is not ok to store it all over, or to keep food that will rot. He needs to know how to dispose of the wrappers, etc. Eventually this need may lessen, and can be gradually disposed with.

Manager of Crisis Intervention
Boys & Girls Clubs of Edmonton
...

You might try allowing him to have a shoe box, or plastic container in his room with a continuous supply of food non-perishable food (granola bars, fruit snacks, etc) that he can access at will. The child can help staff to stock the box at all times. This may help to create a sense of security around food. He may initially... or always potentially eat the food in the box, but this is ok. It may help him to feel secure that he has a supply of food that he can monitor and control.

My experience with children who demonstrate food hoarding as a result of neglect are that they, most times, always continue with the hoarding behaviour, however using a strategy like the one mentioned above can help to make it less negative or "sneaky". I've also found that having a fully stocked free access fruit bowl that kids can access when they want to can be positive for demonstrating that the food is there, and kids can access it whenever they are hungry. Depending on whether or not the child is eating all the food they hoard, you may need to monitor their intake (to prevent them from eating to the point of sickness), and help them to recognize when their body is signalling hunger, vs. when they are eating for reasons of hoarding. Having a consistent meal routine, with a posted menu has been helpful as well. Sometimes even providing a great deal of predictability such as "spaghetti Mondays, taco Tuesdays, meatloaf Wednesdays" etc, and sticking to that can help to create that sense of predictability and security. I try not to make a big deal of food hoarding with the child, and view it as a learned survival response. I try to stay away from giving consequences for food hoarding for these reasons.

Second... if his mother is not feeding him on weekends, is this something that should be brought to the attention of child protection workers to deal with? You could help the child to manage this if child welfare does not by sending him with "just in case" food (PBJ, Mr. Noodles, apples etc), or setting up a plan with him around what he should do if his mother doesn't feed him (call the group home, plan with a relative or neighbour to provide food on the weekends). It may be helpful to troubleshoot with mom around what gets in the way of feeding him on the weekends. If it is lack of food, perhaps supporting her in accessing community services that provide food. If it is ability or motivation to make food, staff could work out a plan to help support mom around this.

Hope this is helpful!

Meghan
Hamilton, On
...

Hi Davy

One creative way to work with this boy is giving him "care packs" of munchies that are healthy that he can walk away with every time. That way he learns to trust that he is being taken care of. Starting this will directly show him that he can trust you and the environment. Another way, depending on his age is to teach him some basic cooking skills (starting with favourites is always a plus). This will help him to feel more independent and build a relationship. As you are teaching him about food you can slowly integrate conversation about his fears.... He's fears are very realistic to him from his experiences but can diminish if he learns to trust that he will never go without in the home.

Hope that helps.

Loretta A. Cella
...

Hi Davy:

One of the ways I have seen is not generally to stop the behavior but to ensure the youth that food will always be available by giving them the opportunity to take food into the room if they feel the need to have it. It was a way of reassuring them that they would not go hungry. Eventually the behavior lessens. At one centre I worked at they always had fruit or other healthy snacks at hand, especially when they first came into the centre. I have found that this removes/lessens the fear.

Nadi
Edmonton, AB
...

First of all, TELL THE CHILD PROTECTION WORKER!

I am a Child and Youth Care Worker and about 3 years ago, went to work for Social Services in the Child
Protection Division. If the child is not being fed at home, the child should not be visiting over the weekend until the parents have engaged in discussion with the CP worker about providing for the child's needs. The CP worker's job is to ensure the child will be fed or the home visits will be suspended until this is worked out. The CP worker will do home visits, unscheduled drop ins, have the on call worker stop in to ensure there is food in the home.

The CP workers job is to also work with the parents to meet family needs, take them to food banks, budget, get country foods (wild meat/ dry fish), use family resources, etc In the Northwest Territories, a child cannot access residential programs without "status" with the Social Service office, either Voluntary, Plan of Care status, Temporary etc. Is there a social worker/ CP worker in the child's care plan? Can the parents visit on unit? Can the child go home for afternoon visits (between meal times), can the family come on for lunch? There are many options out there so that visits can be successful.

Certainly, if the child's discharge plan is to return home, the child's physical (emotional, spiritual) needs will need to be supported, and if I was the case manager of this file and had not been told about the lack of food, and had not been actively working with the family with this, what a lost opportunity to support parents!!

Denise
Yellowknife
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We have a young boy in our residential program that also hoards for and will consume it in the bathroom. Our intervention included purchasing a rubbermaid container and filling it with food items that would not perish.

He no longer sneaks food into his room or bathroom and his food consumption has not really increased. For him it was about having the food available, and not being hungry.

Monica Metzler, BSW, RSW
Edmonton
...

Dear Davy,

You are right, obviously he's worried he's not going to get fed. You are also right, food, being fed, and developing trust are inexorably bound (e.g. Erikson, Bettelheim. The latter may be a bit out of favor now but his "Food the Great Socializer" chapter in Love is Not Enough is classic).

Suggest you 'go towards' that fear as a way of building true trust and leading towards the day that he, due to increased trust and inner security, knows that he can let the hoarding go.

That is very different from trying to tamp it out or control it now, which would only increase the hoarding and drive it further underground (attempts to hide the fact he is doing it along with more and more unusual hiding places for the food).

- Acknowledge it with him. " We can understand why you're afraid and are glad you are able to tell us."

- Convey that eventually, he may know that when he is with you he will get fed predictably but that you recognize it's going to take time.

- In the meantime, rather than trying to get him to stop hoarding - not only go along with it, but also actively actually support it. Tell him he doesn't have to try to hide the fact that he's doing it, if he's been hoarding surreptitiously.

- Offer to give him extra food to take back to his room or wherever he keeps the food, e.g. "Would you like a few extra rolls and pieces of fruit to take back to your room just in case you get hungry before our next meal ?"

- Give him a proper place to store the food. " You don't need to put your food under your socks in your drawer.
We're going to give you a storage bin for your food so that it keeps safely and keeps out the little creatures that like to nibble on it when we're not looking !" (or some such).

- Make sure that there is plenty of food available at mealtimes and bountiful snacks (although undoubtedly you have).

- Take him shopping for food. Let him get something just for himself and help him put it away when he returns.

- Involve him in food preparation activities where he helps prepare food for himself and others. (This is a mastery experience - he gets to be instrumental and the dispenser of food, rather than the potential recipient).

I would predict that in time, the hoarding would decrease as he feels supported, develops trust, and can make the decision himself.

Karen VanderVen

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