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Protecting the Privacy of Children in Care: How to Answer Questions Without Sharing Everything

By April 25, 2022Blog

Have you ever had a moment where you walked into a gym to exercise and immediately felt like everyone was looking at you?

Logically, you understand that you aren’t the focal point in the room. Still, your mind and body continue to anxiously process things like:

“I wonder if I look like I belong here.”
“I hope I did that correctly.”
“I hope I wasn’t in anyone’s way.”
I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to walk into a room as a child in care, but I assume similar questions would be asked with much more frequency and depth:
“I wonder how many people here know my story?”
“I hope I say the right things as I have to meet new people.”
“I wonder how many people know things about my parents?”
It’s our responsibility as foster parents to protect our kids. 
To protect their bodies, yes.
But also to protect their stories.
My wife and I are currently foster parents of two kids. One is 3-yearsold, and the other is 16-yearsold. 
While their stories are very different, and their age difference is significant, the practice of maintaining their privacy is similar. 
Here are four common questions that we get from curious people and how we typically respond:

Why are they in foster care?

The direct answer to this question always has the potential to reflect poorly on the biological family, which isn’t helpful for anyone within the foster care community. Instead, acknowledge what you don’t know and be vague with the rest.
We frequently answer this question by saying:
“We don’t know all the details, but there were concerns about the health and safety of the child. So for now, we know they get to stay with us, and we’re trying to provide the best environment we can.”

How long have they been in foster care?

People tend to make assumptions about why kids stay in care for more extended periods. Sharing specific details about a child’s history can propel further bias in a person. For example, many assume a child has been in care for longer because they have behaviors that might be hard for families to deal with. 
A good rule of thumb would be to simply default to how long they’ve been in your home and how they’ve excelled. 
Here’s what we say:
You know, we’re not always aware of the complete history of a child… But they’ve been with us for *insert amount of time* and have been doing very well in school.”

Are you planning to adopt them?

These questions are great opportunities to gently communicate the heart of foster care and the goal of reunification when possible. 
Here’s our typical response:
“Since it’s not entirely our choice, that’s not something we’re able to share. We are licensed as foster-adopt, but the goal of foster care is reunification. In the meantime, our home is open as long as the child needs it to be.”

What are the parents like? Do you interact with them?

We’ve found that most people are really asking about the details regarding the removal of a child or if the parents are safe people to be around. As foster parents, we have to remind ourselves that right next to a vulnerable child are vulnerable parents. As much as it’s our job to protect the child’s privacy, it’s also our job to protect the privacy of the child’s family.
Try to share something positive about the parents and lean into your lack of proximity and time to get to know them.
We answer with something like this:
“Honestly, we don’t spend a ton of time with the parent(s) to be able to answer that question. However, it’s evident that they love their kids. I’m sure they are great and doing the best they can right now to reunify their family.”

Regardless of what question(s) you may get as a foster parent, these are five quick things I’ve come to understand about the importance of maintaining privacy:
  1. Have pre-determined, quick answers to common questions.
  2. Caring for the vulnerable does not mean sharing about the vulnerable.
  3. Before sharing, ask: “Does what I’m about to say make me the hero or my kid the hero?” If it’s you, perhaps don’t share.
  4. Refrain from sharing photos publicly on social media.
  5. Everything said should be true, but not everything true should be said.
I pray that, by our work to protect the privacy of children in care, they and their families would feel a sense of belonging and safety.
This work matters deeply. Let’s navigate it with intention.
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Chandler James

Chandler is passionate about creating safe spaces for the next generation to become more like Jesus. He has spent the last 7 years serving as a Student & Next Gen Pastor, and loves mobilizing the church to meet needs within their community. Chandler and his wife, Caitlin, are foster parents in Houston, TX. Together, they enjoy a good vacation, trying new foods, and spending time with family.

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