So…I follow many different people and organizations on social media, most of which address topics related to foster care and adoption.
Probably no real shock there.
One in particular creates memes specific to foster care. And it shared a meme the other day which read, “There are three things we don’t talk about: Fight Club, Bruno and our children’s trauma because it’s not our story to tell.”
When a child comes in to care and is new in a foster home, those on the outside always have so many questions, whether it’s the first placement for the foster family or the 25th.
- Why are they in foster care? Was it drugs? Abuse? Neglect? Mental illness? (100% of the time, drugs is always the first assumption)
- Are you going to adopt him?
- How long is she going to stay?
- What issues does they have? (Actually, it’s often less gentle…usually more like “What’s wrong with them?”)
The list goes on and on.
And yet, it’s not questions you would normally ask about anyone else, so why do people feel as though it’s appropriate to delve into the personal matters of a child who is just experienced the trauma of being removed from his biological family?
It’s not appropriate…ever.
It’s not acceptable…ever.
And as foster parents, part of our job is to protect the children, protect their privacy, and protect their stories…especially from the prying ears and lips of people who have little to no interest in helping the child. Often they are simply gossipmongers or people that already have it in their head what every foster child is like, and what every situation is like, so they are just seeking fuel to further their biased opinion…or they want to feel like they’re somehow “in the know”.
Or worst of all, they just want to know the dirt on this poor child. It’s the child’s business and the child’s business only; it’s not for anyone else to share.
Now…if you’re a foster parent and have over-shared (or if know a foster parent and have asked such questions)…do not despair. It is never too late to make things right…or at the very least, keep your mouth shut going forward. Because I will freely admit that at the beginning of our journey, I was horrible at protecting the children in this way.
And why is that? The reason was two-fold: it never really occurred to me that I should keep the info to myself, and also because of the shock factor. Not that I was trying to shock other people, but I, myself, was shocked at what I was hearing and what the children had experienced and I couldn’t shut up about it.
Yikes…that feels SO cringy to me now, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But NOW I know…which is exactly why I am sharing this with you, so that hopefully you’ll avoid the same mis-steps.
And I will say that fortunately we quickly learned that details do not need to be shared because they were not our details to share; even though we were caring for the children, we were, more or less, bystanders to the event. And that the people asking questions were just being nosy.
So now that I’ve potentially convicted you a little bit, I want to give you a few helps for those times when people DO ask inappropriate questions about the children in your care…because even if you WANT to say “That’s none of your business” I would seriously doubt that most of us would, even if it’s in the realm of our right to do so in order to protect the children.
Instead, here are a few suggestions to consider and tuck in your back pocket for when the opportunity arises:
Why was he removed?
Be vague, vague, vague. Honestly, you probably don’t know much, especially early on in a case and in order to not paint the biological family in a poor light, you can simply and succinctly explain with something like this, “We don’t know many details at this point, but for now he will be staying with us and we will give him the best care we can…and when something changes with the current plan, our FCM will let us know.”
An answer like that can silence a nosy Nellie pretty quickly. And can also be applicable to questions such as “How long will he stay?”, “How long has he been in care?”, and “What’s wrong with him?”
When asked if you’ll adopt him (because you WILL be asked), you can give a reply such as this, “We aren’t the only ones who would be involved in this decision…and right now the plan is reunification, which we are choosing to support. But he can stay as long as he needs to.”
Of course, there are many questions which could come your way; these are just a couple examples of some of the most common ones. But bottom line: have an answer at the ready (to the best of your ability) which protects the child, his parents and their story. Even go so far as to ask yourself before you reply: is this response more about how I will be perceived or the child? And if it’s about you, then the answer might need to be adjusted.
Sorry if that comment hurts a little bit…but we are the ones stepping into their stories so it’s up to them with whom and how much they choose to share.
And to soften the sting of my above comment a bit…just know that with your striving to protect the privacy of the children in your care, they can experience a sense of safety and security in your home, which can help lead to their healing.