Confidentiality in Kinship Care

Foster children deserve confidentiality

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I’m a single mom. I choose to involve others in the community in raising my kids, from their teachers, to their godmother, to family friends. When it comes to making the right call as a parent, two (or 10) minds can be better than one. I’m a big believer in raising my kids within a village of love and support.

That said, it’s important to respect children’s privacy boundaries and need for confidentiality. Before I speak to even my closest friends to seek advice about my daughters, I get their permission. At age 7, my twins are old enough to tell me whether they’re comfortable with me talking or blogging about their experiences. It gets a little tricky when they ask me to keep things from their father, but thus far I’ve been able to convince them that it’s in their interest for him to know about things where I deem his opinion or involvement to be key. I’ve moved towards using initials or pseudonyms for the girls when blogging, and am intentionally vague about our geographic location when I’m online.

When it comes to foster care, confidentiality isn’t just a moral imperative. It’s a legal one, too. Every child in foster care has undergone the trauma of being placed with a family other than the one they were born into; the details of that trauma don’t need to be publicized. Their parents also don’t need more strangers in their business. They’ve got enough going on with all the people in the system who are judging them and evaluating their fitness to have access to their own children.

Where there are countless books and articles out there on adoption, including many firsthand stories, personal accounts of foster parenting are rarer. I imagine that part of the challenge for foster parents is telling their own story without spilling the beans on their kids. Foster kids’ birth parents also deserve privacy. It’s no easy thing to have your children removed from your care and handed to someone else to raise. It’s already a very public humiliation; further publicity is just cruel. “The Foster Parenting Handbook” does an excellent job of navigating these treacherous waters, with contributors talking about their foster experiences without sharing any identifying information.

Now consider kinship care, or foster care provided by relatives of the foster child’s biological parents. This is path I am trying to tread. Unlike non-kin potential foster parents, I know a whole lot about my possible foster son, Alan. There’s a lot of good in that. We share a language– two, in fact– and a culture. Alan knows and trusts me. He knows how much I love him. I’m a connection to his life before foster care, and there’s a thread of continuity between life before and life after he was taken from his mother.

I also know a whole lot about his parents, which many foster parents may not know about their kids’ parents. I’ve quite literally known Alan’s mother since she was a baby. I’ve watched her parent Alan, and I know the areas in which she has struggled.

I anticipate that I’ll be working with professionals in my area to ensure Alan’s physical and emotional well being. I don’t know yet how I’ll know which of his parents’ secrets to keep and which ones to share. When it comes to professionals, anything that could be germane to Alan’s strengths and challenges will likely be fair game.

What about my friends, though? What about those people in my community that I’ve turned to over the years to help me make the right decisions for my daughters? I don’t think they need to know much beyond the fact that he’s gone through a rough time, far too much change for a little guy of 3 years. He needs their patience and affection.

The fact is, though, that I’ve talked to the closest among my friends about Alan’s predicament. As soon as my relative announced her pregnancy to me nearly four years ago, I was concerned about the baby’s well-being. I talked to my friends, mulling over ways in which I could help. It was only after Alan was taken to foster care that my raising him became a real option. That’s also the point at which foster care privacy expectations began to apply.

My very best friends already know a lot about what Alan has been through. From a legal standpoint, it’s time to cut them off. I’m sure this is one way of many in which my history as a member of Alan’s family will complicate the already complicated foster relationship and process.

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