Achieving Confidentiality in Foster Care

*This is part three in a series discussing the importance of confidentiality in foster care. Click the following links to read more: Part One | Part TwoPart Four*

Please know, I did not come to this place easily, nor did I want to arrive here. I'm a photographer, and I happened to have the two best cheeks on earth living with me. I longed to share photos, I longed to share specific prayer needs, and I also just longed to share him. I just knew that if people experienced his precious, sweet perfection, they would be less inclined to fear foster care, and more inclined to sacrifice everything to love these children...

I still believe that to be completely true, but at some point there was a shift in my thinking... As much as I believed his cuteness could convince every person in this country to look into foster parenting, this one constant thought just wouldn't stop badgering me: that is not his job. He didn't sign up for this. I did.

Friends, is it just me, or sometimes does it feel a little like we're exploiting these children?

I know that may seem harsh and I know that's not your heart, but please think about this... these children are individuals. They are not a commercial or an advertisement for foster care. If you want to advocate for foster care and spend every minute of your spare time recruiting foster parents, by all means, PLEASE DO! Your work is needed, there is a shocking lack of understanding of foster care, children from hard places, and the families they have been separated from. The needs are clearly not being met. Work yourself silly for every child who is in the system and who will be in the system. Spend the rest of your life pursuing justice for these families, spreading awareness, investing in lives, sharing HOPE. Be an advertisement, let your experience be a commercial, let the change in YOUR heart through the time YOU have spent as a foster parent speak to the hearts of many. Do not use the children in your home to do this work for you. Remember, these children and their families have identities completely unrelated to their time involved in the foster care system. Enjoy each and every minute with these children while they’re in your home. Love them, celebrate them, play, support, sing and read with them. Teach them about life and love, pray over them and pray with them. God is shaping you through these experiences and these people, He is teaching you about Himself and He is working on your heart every step of the way. Friends, let your hearts be changed through your time as a foster parent... then let your transformed heart be the advertisement you use for your advocacy initiatives.

And please remember: Your job as an advocate is completely separate from your “job” as a foster parent. Take that very seriously when sharing your journey in foster care. Don't add to your “job description” or take away from it. Do what you have been called to do... take care of the children in your home, love them unconditionally, and support their parents as much as is safely possible. Period.

Following are some experience-learned tips that I hope will be a help to you in achieving confidentiality with these children and families you've been entrusted with… if you have anything to add, or see anything I’ve missed, please leave your tips in the comments, I know there is plenty we can continue to learn from each other!

  • Before you do anything else, find out what your state's expectations and laws are regarding confidentiality and foster care.

  • Check your privacy settings on every social media platform you use. And keep in mind that on Facebook, you may be posting publicly and not even realize it. You can change the privacy settings for every individual post you share. If you decide to post something publicly, every new post following your public post will also be public until you swap it back. Always make sure your privacy for individual posts is set to “Friends” or “Friends except…” Check and double check. This is where you can find the privacy options for individual posts on Facebook:

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  • Consider changing your name on your social media accounts. Use your maiden name or middle name. Make yourself difficult to find… because even if you’re sharing all the right things and protecting the identity of the children and families you’re serving, you also need to do what you can to protect yourself and your family. In some cases, the families of children in foster care are very unstable. When you “check-in” somewhere, or post photos that reveal your location, you may be putting your family and the children in your home in danger.
  • Do NOT tag people in your posts. Let me ask you something… Do you know what happens when you tag a friend in a private post on Facebook? That post is no longer private to your circle of Facebook ‘friends’, but becomes visible to all of your friends and all of their friends. Ready for some math? That means, if you have 450 ‘friends' and you tag someone who has 1,100 'friends', and then, just for fun, let's say you tag one more who has 950 ‘friends’... you have potentially exposed your foster child to 2,500 people! And remember, any number of those 2,500 strangers may be mutual friends or family of the children in your home. So... even if you have changed your name, as soon as you start tagging people you are taking a risk with the hearts of these people you have been called to love and protect.

  • Do NOT check-in. There is just no reason to tell hundreds of acquaintances and strangers who we lovingly call “Facebook friends” your exact location at any point. I mean, this should be standard procedure whether you’re a foster parent or not.

  • Do NOT share names.

  • Do NOT share the details. Again… this is not your story. You have your own story, share those details if you must share something.

  • Do NOT share even vaguely recognizable photos. 

  • If you’re about to post or send something and briefly think, “I wonder if this is too much…” that is your very clear indicator: IT’S TOO MUCH. Do. Not. post. Here’s an example of a photo I posted even after my gut (and my husband) questioned it:

  • It is your responsibility to make sure your friends and family understand the importance of keeping your foster child's identity confidential. This means your friend who watched the kids last Saturday cannot post photos on her personal Facebook, the group of moms you have a weekly play date with cannot share photos that include your foster child’s face, and your aunt cannot ask you on a public forum what (child’s name)’s favorite flavor of ice cream is. If any of these things happen, it will be your responsibility to ask them kindly to remove the photos or comments. I have had to have those conversations several times because I wasn’t clear about this. Take that pressure off, just make it super clear from the get-go.

  • Ask for prayer. On the daily. Always ask for prayer. But (especially on social media,) VAGUENESS is your best friend. Simply ask for prayer for the children in your care and their families, and of course for yourselves as you continually learn to navigate these waters.

Y’all, the bottom line is this: you know you’re not doing this for all the pats on the back that you know you receive... and you know that you tell all the hoards of people who call you a “saint” or an “angel” to STOP, because you know that is not true. But the thing is, when we over-share with friends and family or use social media to share bits and pieces of stories that are not ours to share, we start to look a little like we want some attention… don’t you think? Like we secretly want to be recognized for this work we’re doing… and doesn’t it feel a little good when our posts get hundreds of likes and comments? Meanwhile, we sit behind our computers or phones, or we leave conversations with that sick feeling in our guts, because we know our hearts and we know they are filled with sin and pride. How painful it has been to begin breaking down that pride, but you know it's already worth it... Friends, what an easy way to continue allowing God to work in your heart: By doing what you have been called to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

And if at some point your foster child becomes your own, please, send your cousin in Alabama all the pictures you want and go Facebook photo crazy... But maybe keep some of those details to yourself and your new son or daughter.

After all, it is nice to have a little privacy and confidentiality within our families... isn't it?