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Implementing Effective Consequences for Foster Youth

Prepare your toolkit for bad behaviors

The goal of consequences is not to make our foster youth feel bad. Rather, the goal is to allow children to experience the results of their choices in a safe and supportive environment. Consequences are very different from harsh punishments. If you find yourself plotting a creative consequence with a feeling of retaliation, it’s best to take a foster parent break. You can say, “That behavior was not okay. Next time, I need you to XYZ. I am going to take a minute to cool off, and we will talk about it a bit more once we have both chilled out. I love you.”

So while our goal is not to make our foster youth feel bad, this does not mean children will be happy when faced with a consequence they don’t like. A youth disliking or being distressed by a consequence doesn’t mean it’s not a positive learning opportunity. When used as part of an overall positive parenting approach, natural and logical consequences are not only effective but actually decrease the likelihood of parents using more harsh, punitive approaches.

Consequence Bank

A Consequence Bank is a well thought out plan for what consequences to assign to certain behaviors based on the youth in your home. When creating a consequence, first, brainstorm all the consequences you can think of for bad behavior, then start assigning them to specific behaviors. For instance, the consequence for not doing a task such as homework, the consequence could be 15 minutes less screen time for the day. Because youth thrive on predictability, using a consequence bank can provide a consistent and reliable source of behavior management.

It is extremely important to follow-through on what you say. Sometimes in the “heat of the moment” we give a consequence that we cannot maintain. After you have brainstormed your consequence list and matched them with behaviors, then you can review your list with some of these questions in mind:

■ Is this a logical or natural consequence for this behavior?

■ What am I teaching by using this consequence? Is this what I am intending to teach? If not, is there a better way to teach what I want this child to learn?

■ Who is being affected by this consequence? If other family members or I will be affected as well, is there another consequence that would fit better?

■ On a scale of one to ten, where one = “I won’t be able to follow through with this” and ten = “I am certain that I can consistently enforce this consequence without giving in or compromising in any way,” how willing am I to follow through consistently with this consequence?

After you have reviewed your list with the above questions, weed out any consequences that just won’t work, and save your consequence bank for future review with each new foster youth in your home.


Time-out may sound juvenile, but stepping away to take a breather and evaluate your next step is an invaluable tool youth can learn to help themselves into adulthood.

■ Step 1: Give an effective instruction

■ Step 2: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

■ Step 3: If the child does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds, give a warning: “If you

do not ___________________, you will have to go to Time-Out.”

■ Step 4: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

■ Step 5: If your child still does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds say, “Since you

did not_____________________, you have to go to Time-Out now.”

■ Step 6: Your child should go to your identified Time-Out place and stay there for a set period of time.

■ Step 7: Repeat the instruction. If the child complies, praise them. If the child does not

comply, repeat the process and/or consider an additional consequence.

■ Stay calm through each step

Time-Out Tips:

■ Have the time out area set up before you have to use it

■ Use a timer

■ Monitor the child or accompany him or her to time out

■ The length of stay in time out varies based on the age of child (the typical rule of thumb is one minute per year of age)

■ Remove any positive reinforcement from the time out area. Often the child’s bedroom is not a good location because usually something fun is in there!

■ Ignore the child while s/he is in time out. Avoid any demeaning comments, remember that the time-out is the consequence.

■ At the end of the designated time, the child can only leave time out if s/he is willing to comply with the original request- “Chase, are you ready to pick up your toys?”

Considering Time-In

■ Time-In is where the child is kept close to the parent during the “time out” time instead of

being in a separate place

■ This is a good alternative for youth who have experienced abuse and/or neglect

■ It is also good for youth who do not understand how to complete the skill they were asked to

do, resulting in non-compliance. By keeping the youth close to you, you can model appropriate

behavior while the child watches from their “time in” spot.

Privilege Removal

Privilege removal can be a very effective behavior management tool to foster parents of teens. In contrast to “being grounded” which essentially removes all privileges from a youth, removing a privilege should be specific to a single privilege for a set period of time based on a specific poor behavior.

Steps to Privilege Removal

■ Step 1: Give an effective instruction

■ Step 2: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

■ Step 3: If the child does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds, give a warning: “If you

do not _______________, then ___________ will be taken away for _______ (period of time).”

■ Step 4: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

■ Step 5: If your child still does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds say, “Since you did

not ________________, you have lost _____ privilege for ______ (period of time).”

■ Stay calm through each step

Quick Tips for removing privileges:

■ Small, frequent consequences are more effective than the use of large or

infrequent consequences

■ Be clear and direct

■ Don’t lecture

■ Stick with it. Follow through on what you said and don’t back down.

■ Think of the privilege you will remove ahead of time so that you know you

can follow-through

■ When it’s over, it’s over

■ Limit the number of privileges lost (e.g. 1 per behavior/ instance)

■ Limit the length of time (e.g. 1 day, 1 weekend)

■ Select a valued privilege

Logical Versus Natural Consequences

Natural and logical consequences come after the choices children make and are a product of their decisions. A natural consequence is a result of something the child does.(Example: Johnny did not follow the rule to wear knee pads when skateboarding, so when he fell, he scraped his knee.) On the other hand, a logical consequence is predetermined by the parents, explained to the child and is still an outcome of the child's choice. (Example: Johnny did not follow the rule to wear knee pads when skateboarding, so when Johnny did not wear knee pads, he had his skateboard taken away for 1 day.)

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences happen when we let the learning opportunity occur without adult intervention.

As long as they are safe, what would happen if we just didn’t interfere? For example:

  • Your child refuses to wear a jacket on short walk. Instead of insisting they wear it, they get chilly.

  • Your child didn’t bring an umbrella. Instead of the scrambling back home to get it, your child gets wet.

  • Your child forgot homework at home. Instead of emailing the teacher, your child doesn’t turn it in that day.

  • Your child didn’t put laundry in the hamper. Instead of picking it up and lecturing later, those clothes don’t get washed by the parent.

Allowing kids to experience the natural consequence of their actions helps them build resilience and become more self-sufficient.

Logical consequences

In some cases, a natural consequence isn’t appropriate, helpful or sufficient. These include:

  1. If your child’s or another person’s safety is at risk. The natural consequence of running into the street is getting hit by a car. Clearly, that is not an acceptable consequence.

  2. Situations in which there is too much of a delay in feedback. For example, if you don’t brush your teeth, then you will get cavities in a year.

  3. When the consequence is too abstract for the child. The natural consequence of being stinky at school is that peers will look at you strangely. For some of our kids, who either don’t notice or understand social cues, they won’t have the opportunity to learn from this uncomfortable consequence and will need more helpful, concrete ways to understand social rules around hygiene.

When a child doesn’t learn from the natural results of their actions, parents step in by using logical consequences.

Work Chores

Assigning a work chore can be a useful option as a consequence for teenagers. Work chores are tasks that are meaningful contributions to the family, such as infrequent household chores like washing the car or sweeping under furniture in the den. Work chores should be different from the youth’s normal or regular household chores you expect of them and should take about 20-30 minutes to complete.

Assigning Work Chores Steps:

Step 1: Give an effective instruction

Step 2: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

Step 3: If the child does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds, give a warning: “If you do not_______________, then you will also have to do ________ (work chore).”

Step 4: Followed by 10 seconds of silence

Step 5: If your child still does not follow instructions within the 10 seconds say, “Since you did not________________, you will now have to do ________ (work chore) and ________ (original instruction).”

Step 6: Once the child has completed the work chore, give the original instruction again. The child must complete the original instruction to complete the consequence.

Step 7: Stay calm through each step

Work Chore Tips:

■ Avoid unnecessary or menial tasks (e.g. moving rocks, writing lines)

■ Can be used for a minor rule violation as well

■ Can be offered as an option instead of loss of privilege: “You can complete a work chore or lose your phone for the rest of the night.”

■ Remember that small frequent consequences are more effective than the use of large, infrequent consequences

Consequences Effectiveness Checklist (and what to do when they aren’t working!)

Every so often, it’s helpful to evaluate your youth’s behavior and consider if your consequences have been generating the desired result of better compliance with rules and requests.

First, check implementation by asking yourself….

■ Are you removing the privilege promptly?

■ Are you choosing powerful privileges - privileges that are valuable to the child?

■ Are you ignoring the child’s protests and not getting pulled into an argument with them?

■ Are you being consistent in giving consequences for rule violations and not following directions?

■ Are you following through with consequences given?

Next, if consequences are just not working, try….

■ Discussing it with your case manager

■ Pre-teaching to prevent the behavior

■ Tracking the behavior and noting Antecedents and Consequences to gain more information

■ Setting up a behavior contract

Behavior Contract

A behavior contract is an agreement between you and your foster youth to produce a desired behavior. Behavior contracts outlines steps to complete the desired behavior that are simple and specific for the youth to follow and uses rewards when the youth displays the desired behavior. Behavior contracts work best for smaller behaviors that SOMETIMES occur. They don’t work well with behaviors that the child never does or behaviors that are very emotional or complex.

Steps to Setting up A Behavior Contract

1. Write it down!

2. Choose a behavior you want to encourage (remember: this can be the opposite of a behavior


3. If possible, break the desired behavior down into smaller steps. For example, if you are focusing on catching the bus in the morning, list the steps such as packing lunch and backpack the night before, waking up at 6:30, etc.)

4. Write when the behavior contract applies (e.g. only bedtime on school nights) or provide a time that the behavior needs to be finished (e.g. completed by dinner)

5. Decide on a reward (consider offering a few options to youth).

6. Decide if you will also use a consequence if the contract is not followed. Rewards may be

enough, depending on the behavior. Consider discussing this with your Case Manager.

7. Review the contract with your child

8. Keep track of the days that they follow the contract by putting a check or smiley face in the box for that day. Leave it blank if they do not follow the contract. Praise your child if they followed the contract.

9. Remember to follow through with rewards (and consequences)!

Effective Rewards and Consequences

■ Can be used every day

■ Can be given the same day the behavior occurs

■ Are inexpensive or free

■ Are related to the child’s interests

Ideas for Rewards or Consequences

■ Television time

■ Phone time

■ Computer time

■ Time with friends

■ Curfew (extended or shortened by 10 or 15 minutes)

■ Bedtime (extended or shortened by 10, 15 minutes)

■ Choosing or losing a favorite snack


While raising foster teens can seem like an overwhelming task, by preparing a game plan with a cool head such as a consequence bank, reviewing steps to give different types of consequences and practicing staying calm, foster parents can feel empowered to provide the best parenting they can. In turn, the youth they serve get the privilege to learn hard things while being in a safe and loving environment. The skill of accepting a consequence and it informing future behavior will serve the foster youth in your care far into their adult life. Remember, the work you do with the foster youth in your home makes you a catalyst for positive change in your community, and while it’s not easy, it is so important.

How to Get Involved

Every facet of Quality Youth Services Treatment Foster Care model is designed to make Foster Parents feel confident in their ability to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for all family members including the foster youth.

Quality Youth Services provides short term foster care through our dedicated foster parents in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, please complete the foster parent application on our website at this link,, and our Program Director will call to schedule an interview within two days.

Or if you would like more information before applying, check out our website page dedicated to Foster Parents at this link,

You may also request more information or get answers to specific questions prior to applying at this link

Quality Youth Services Foster Parents play a vital role in the mental health, well-being and future success of the vulnerable youth they serve in their homes. Please join us in being catalysts of positive change in our community by deciding to foster today!

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