Fostering Privacy

We’re approximately a month away from being licensed foster parents! This upcoming Thursday is our CPR class, the 10th of July is our home inspection, and THEN it takes about two weeks for the state to approve the license.

We’re (a little) nervous, but mostly excited.

I wanted to take the opportunity to explain why confidentiality is so important to us, and to expound upon the things that we can and cannot share, BEFORE we meet our first placement. If we know you and see you often, we would love it if you took the time to read through this. It’ll help avoid some awkward conversations! 😉

Because foster care deals with hard, painful, even dangerous situations, all foster parents are legally bound by a confidentiality agreement. This means that there are certain aspects of each child’s life that we simply cannot share, EVEN with those in our immediate or extended circle.

Privacy protects the child.

Not all foster care cases involve biological parents who are considered dangers to their children, but many do, and as foster parents, we will not always be given the full story when a child is placed in our home. This is why all foster parents are always told to err on the side of caution, and adhere to certain guidelines, including:

  • Never release the name of the child, unless absolutely necessary for the child’s wellbeing (doctors visits, school files, etc).
  • All foster parents are told never to identify their children as “foster children” on social media or in personal interactions, because, it is a SMALL WORLD. You just never know who is watching, or who knows who.
  • Never release ANY details of the case, including: reason the child is in care, information about the child’s family, details of the child’s past, details of the child’s mental/physical health, etc. 

More and more foster children are placed in homes where they can easily attend the same school, and be part of the same community that they were in before they were placed in care. This only increases the need for foster parents to keep ALL aspects of these children’s lives confidential.

There’s another, more sensitive reason, however, that you’ll never see us referring to the children in our homes as “foster children”. It reaches far beyond the realm of safety and privacy, and into the very core of the way that these children view themselves, especially those children who are old enough to understand what is happening when they are taken from their homes and families.

Identity is Everything

Imagine this: You’re six years old again, playing hide-and-go-seek with your friends in the backyard. You run behind a bush to hide, and you accidentally scare a skunk, which sprays you. Your friends bring you inside, your mom starts a hot bath for you, and before you know it, you’re being scrubbed clean. Even though you had no idea that there was a skunk in the bushes, you blame yourself for what happened to you. You’re embarrassed that all of your friends saw it and smelled that awful skunk smell coming off of you. You’re all cleaned off, in fresh clothes, but still, the lingering smell torments you, males you squirm with insecurity. Later that day, your mom takes you out for ice cream, and you meet one of her older friends. She pushes you forward and introduces you.

“This is my [son/daughter]. They got sprayed by a skunk while playing hide and go seek. The smell was just noxious…You should have seen [his/her] friends holding their little noses as they pushed him through the door! I used up all of my tomato sauce trying to bathe the smell off of him. Such a clumsy kid…”

You already felt guilt and shame for being sprayed in the first place, and now this woman (your mother) who was supposed to help you smell and feel better, is telling everybody she knows all about you and your unfortunate fate. How would this make you feel?

In many ways, this analogy is EXACTLY what happens to foster children when their foster parents are liberal with their words. They are already victims of circumstances that they had no hand in. Well-meaning people (DCS, case-workers, therapists, foster families, etc.) step in to try and offer love and support, but many children still struggle with immense feelings of guilt when they are taken from their home. Many can’t help but feel that this is their fault. They are placed in the home of people who know, to some extent, what they’ve been through. If we, as foster parents, share every embarrassing, painful detail of their lives with anyone who asked, these children will only feel more guilt and shame about their life.

I don’t want any child who comes into our home to feel like they are just a “crack baby” or a “neglected child” or a “victim of sexual abuse”. I don’t want them to think of the woman who gave them life as a meth head, or a criminal, or a lowlife. Children listen to every word that we say, and they understand more than we think they do, even infants and toddlers. These kids still love their family, regardless of what they might have been put through, and to make them ashamed of the people that they come from would only put them through more shame and trauma. NO child deserves that.

photo of baby on gray wooden board
Photo by Muhammad Moin Ulhaq on Pexels.com

If you’re asking questions about our children’s past because you sincerely care, please read on for some ways that you can help support us. There’s no shame in asking, even if we can’t answer! If you’re asking questions because you’re searching for a juicy story or some hot gossip, you can stream UNLIMITED Dr. Phil on Hulu for $7.99 a month. That’ll be much more satisfying than any story we’d be willing to tell you!

Especially in a day and age where everything we say on social media, in the blogosphere, and in person is captured forever, we refuse to share the negative or painful aspects of our children’s case with anyone who isn’t in their circle of care, no matter how well meaning they might be. I want every child in our care to be able to look back on their time in our home, and what we said of them, and see that we thought of them as unique, worthy, beautiful, capable people. I want them to be able to identify themselves as such, not in spite of, but because of what they’ve experienced.

child holding clear glass jar with yellow light
Photo by willsantt on Pexels.com

Love is Your Only Duty

As foster parents, our power to influence the outcome of these cases is minimal. We are able to advocate for them, and speak our mind on what we believe to be in the best interest of the child, but the majority of power will always lie with state agencies and court systems. Our primary duty is to love, support, and uplift these children and these families, as they navigate trials and issues that we have never (thankfully) had to deal with personally.

We understand that many of you are eager to help and support us, as well as the children who come into our care. Truly, we have the best people in our lives. There are so many things that you can do to love these children, even without knowing the details of their case…because in all honesty, none of that should really matter. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Don’t get disappointed if you have questions that we aren’t allowed to answer. Hopefully you understand now, that it’s NOTHING personal.
  • Love these kids while they’re here. Smile at them when you see them. If they’re old enough, ask them about their day, their hobbies and interests, their favorite food, etc. Let them know that people care and want the best for them.
  • Ask us what they need. Many children come into care without basic necessities/comforts, such as clothes, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, blankets, stuffed animals, etc.
  • Ask us what WE need (check in on us). We’re anticipating that foster care will be physically and emotionally exhausting for us, especially as first time parents. We’ll need our friends more than ever!
  • Pray. We know that God is in the details of our lives, and that He cares about these children. There’s only so much that we, as foster parents, can do to influence the outcome for these children, but we know that God’s way is higher than ours. We would love and appreciate prayers on behalf of everyone involved in every case.

If you’re a foster parent, or you’ve fostered before, what have you learned about privacy and confidentiality that has helped you improve life for your children? How do you navigate conversations with people who struggle to understand confidentiality in care?

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