Confidentiality for Foster Children

Maintaining confidentiality for foster children is one of the hardest things about being a foster parent.  People will inevitably ask you questions about where the child came from, why they are in foster care, and why they display certain behaviors.  Some states have begun using a panel of former foster children to determine ways to improve the foster care system.  One of the main things that came out of these panels was that the children felt like they were on display for the world. Before confidentiality laws were put into place, many foster parents would talk about their foster kids blatantly and share very personal information.  This made the children feel like outcasts.

Laws are now in place to protect the children’s right to privacy.  They have the right to not have all the bad things that have happened to them broadcast to anyone who will listen.  It makes them feel horrible and they deserve to feel better about themselves.

Foster care confidentiality laws are built on the “need to know” concept.  This can be a tricky line because it can be open to interpretation on what is need to know.  I basically try to use my best judgement on what people need to know.  For example, if there are problems with the visits resulting in escalated behavior problems on visit days, then the school does fall under the “need to know” category so they can prepare for those days.   However, the neighbor doesn’t need to know that the child’s parents got drunk and were denied visits.  A way to tell the school would be something along the lines of “The bio-parents have been being denied visits due to showing up intoxicated.  This is causing the child to act out on days that were supposed to be visit days.”  The neighbor doesn’t need to know but the school does.

I always try to take an extra precaution and give very little information.  However, my child care providers and close family members know the basics to help deal with behavioral issues.  Again this should be shared in a professional manner.  Explaining that the child is food oriented because of not having food needs met is much more appropriate then saying that the parents starved the child and now all they think about is food.  Remember that you are the professional parent in this instance and need to conduct yourself in that manner.

Now on that absolute other end of the spectrum.  The kids can tell anyone they choose to personal information about themselves.  I have found that some of my kids don’t want anyone to know anything, and others tell perfect strangers everything.  It is always wise to council kids that there is a time and a place.  For example, disclosing details about sexual abuse to the other kids at camp is not the best time and place for that kind of conversation.  Our closest family has become used to children disclosing random information at inappropriate times but that is a factor that comes with foster children.

We have learned to counsel our family members on how to respond.  For example, a child disclosing sexual abuse should not be met with a strong reaction.  The family member should be able to say, I am sorry that happened to you.  If met with a strong reaction from a person the child will immediately close up and stop sharing.

Again confidentiality is a fine line.  Need to know is loosely interpreted.  Use your best judgement.

Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care

Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care (Photo credit: epnichols)

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