The next time you meet a foster child, don't ask about their past. You may be tempted to speculate on family troubles or personal issues, but avoid the temptation. It is bad etiquette, and they may not even be allowed to tell you.
Asking about anyone's family dynamics or personal problems is simply poor manners. You wouldn't ask anyone but your best friend how their marriage is going or whether their parents are in prison. Foster children and parents who look after them deserve the same respect. Don't ask them any questions that you wouldn't mind them asking you.
No matter how close you are with the foster parents, do not press them into sharing a child's history. Even if they wanted to tell you details, this information is usually protected by a laws and guidelines.
First, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) places strict limits on doctors and hospitals, but it also guards health information in many other settings. Foster care agencies are not at liberty of sharing health information, and neither are parents who foster children through them. Because of HIPAA, foster parents cannot tell you if the child they watch has:
- any illnesses
- parents who are receiving treatment for an addiction
- been hospitalized for abusive injuries
Second, victims of domestic violence -- including child abuse -- are often protected by state laws. There is no national act like HIPAA that safeguards domestic violence information, so specific protections vary from state to state. Many states have adopted laws that are similar to the Battered Women's Justice Project, which seeks to uphold confidentiality for women and children who suffer from domestic violence. The National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators also has guidelines that are similar to the ones used by many foster care services.
The Present and Future
Rather than speculating or asking about a foster child's past, which you have no business doing when you meet them, focus on their current situation and future. Talk about what they like doing and what they hope to be when they grow up.
What sports do they like? Do they have a favorite team or athlete? Do they have aspirations of attending college? Perhaps you could talk about the college that their favorite athlete went to.
These are questions that will foster a conversation that is not just legal but is also beneficial for both you and the foster child. For more tips on forming a relationship with a foster child, contact a company like Braley & Thompson Inc.