"The primary job of a foster parent is to love the child and protect them and their family."
Anna Kathryn Ellzey knew that as a foster parent she could not share pictures, names or details of the child in her care. But that didn’t stop her from sharing a photo of him and her biological daughter as they sat together—a cute picture of only their legs. She simply wanted to share her joy at having him be part of their family. But she realized that on the other side of their happiness was his birth family’s pain and heartbreak.
How did you first learn about the importance of confidentiality?
Anna Kathryn shares that she grew up in a home where her parents served as “house parents,” so she always knew she would be involved in helping children in crisis. Still, she never thought of the confidentiality aspect of foster care. Her first inkling was when her son was placed in their home—she saw maternity photos on his birth mom’s Facebook page. Not long after, she met the mom at a family-team conference and had an instant connection to her. The importance of confidentiality started to click, but not totally.
She wanted to share about him to show the importance of foster care and how others can make a difference in these children’s lives—and did this using photos, without showing his face. She would share photos of her biological daughter and this child together, just their legs or their backs, and in family settings. It wasn’t until Anna Kathryn had met the child’s grandmother and older siblings that she realized the pain and heartbreak these photos caused them. While Anna Kathryn’s family was celebrating, this family was brokenhearted because this child was not with them.
That’s when Anna Kathryn realized confidentiality in foster care matters because these children and families have identities and hearts that are breaking.
Four Reasons Why Confidentiality Matters
- These children have identities past their foster home—being in foster care doesn’t define them or make them who they are.
- The birth parents also have identities past foster care. Unfortunately, we often make assumptions that aren’t fair or accurate about the birth parents. Very often, they are hurting and brokenhearted about the fact that their children have been removed from their home.
- These children are not ours. Would you want strangers showing pictures of your children for thousands of other people to see?
- They have hearts. The birth parents have made mistakes resulting in their children being removed from their home. But they still have hearts that are breaking, mourning and grieving their loss.
Anna Kathryn believes part of the role of a foster parent is to also protect and nurture the birth parents and child’s other family members when possible. “Even people who have made poor decisions still have hearts,” she says.
What’s the difference between the role of an advocate and a foster parent?
When Anna Kathryn and her husband began fostering, she feels she didn’t have a clear understanding of the differences in the roles of being an advocate for foster care and being a foster parent. “I thought my son could be the poster child for foster care,” she says, meaning others would see the beauty of it and get involved. “But he didn’t ask for that,” she realized. “My husband and I did.” She now realizes that a child’s story and photo should not be used to recruit foster parents.
“The primary job of a foster parent is to love the child and protect them and their family,” she explains. “Being an advocate means we use the experiences in our lives and hearts to share about foster care—it’s about us, not them.” It’s hard not to blur those lines, but it’s so important.
What we can do: Practical tips
- Check with your social worker regarding the information you can/can’t share on social media.
- Post the things you do post privately—figure out how to do that on all the social media platforms you use.
- If you want to ask for help or advice regarding a child in your care, do so without identifying the child in any way—meaning, don’t use the specific details of his or her story. Make your questions general.
- If you have a need or specific question about the child in your care, ask your agency if the birth parent can be contacted for help.
- Do not use the “check in” feature—do hundreds of people need to know where you are with your foster child? No.
- A clear indicator of sharing too much is if you’re thinking or wondering if you’re sharing too much. The answer is most likely yes.
- Celebrating the child and maintaining confidentiality—Anna Kathryn suggests that social media doesn’t have to be a part of celebrating the child in your care. Do it privately, in your own home. Celebrate who they are with those closest to them.
- If you feel you need to reach out to others who are in similar circumstances, look for private groups or actual “live” support groups (again, check with your agency for information about these).
Anna Kathryn believes confidentiality in foster care comes down to this fact: It’s not our story to tell and it’s up to the foster parents to protect the heart and identity of the child, the birth parents and other family members. “I did it wrong for a long time and only considered myself,” she says. “There’s so much I would do differently now.”
RESOURCES FROM TODAY’S SHOW
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Anna Kathryn is a wife and mama of one five-year-old biological daughter, one three-year-old son who was adopted through foster care in 2016, and another little one coming in 2019. There is not a time in her life that she doesn’t remember a strong call from the Lord to care for children in crisis. Growing up as a “house parent’s kid” at a children’s home in Georgia led to working at two private Christian children’s home in Tennessee and Georgia and one state funded group home in Louisiana. These experiences revealed her own adoption in Christ on a deeper level and grew her desire to answer the call He placed on her life as a child.
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