How to Introduce a Foster Child to Friends and Family
How to introduce a Foster child
Just introduce them by their name
So how do you introduce a foster child in public? You're shopping with your foster youth and the rest of your family, and you run into a coworker in the store. Rather than state, "This is my partner and children," you could introduce everyone by name. Even if there's a visible difference between your children and the foster youth (whether a significant age gap or a difference in your family's racial makeup), the first way of providing an introduction ensures the youth is included in the family without singling them out.
It is helpful to share this conversation with your partner before you are in the actual situation, so you are both on the same page.
Strangers or mild acquaintances don't need to know the details of your family's and the youth's lives. It's not their business as to how your family came to be a family; after all, you most likely won't go into how you met your partner or the details of birth and pregnancy. If you already have children with everyone you come into contact with, you can make brief introductions and keep the conversation moving.
Your closest friends and family likely already know that you are looking to open your home and heart to youth in foster care, so when you do get the opportunity to foster, they'll likely put two and two together without you having to come out and boldly state, "This is ____, and they are a foster youth." This is an easy way to quickly breeze through introductions without being concerned with revealing too much information or inviting the possibility of people asking invasive questions.
As time passes and you get to know the youth more, another option is to have a conversation with them and determine how they would like to be introduced as part of your family.
What would they prefer to be introduced as? Your child? Your niece/nephew? A family friend? Godchild?
This conversation should be tailored to the age and developmental level of the foster or adoptive child. Children and youth will have different preferences depending if you are talking to your nuclear family or extended family members. Young people will be very open to guiding you.
The foster care system and the Department of Social Services (DSS) give no accurate guidance on this matter. Still, we understand that children should have confidentiality around their life journey, like all children in the foster care system.
Many toddlers may default to "mommy and daddy" because that is who they associate caretakers with being. Older youth may understand their situation more, ranging from auntie and uncle to Miss or Mister (your first or last name) to something entirely individual for your family.
Giving youth - especially older youth - the opportunity to be the keepers of their story can be empowering, as you provide them with the option to protect their identity. This can be very important for youth who age out of foster care in the United States.
So, what happens when someone else says the youth is a foster child? Many parents that I've worked with will say something like, "While they may not be biologically mine, I love them just the same," or that they would prefer not to talk about the circumstances of how the youth came into their lives, but how fortunate to be able to have someone so intelligent, loving, funny, etc., in their family.
Where ever you are in the foster care and adoption process, working with birth parents, friends, and family, a proud intro to the child in your care will go a long way to make everyone feel good. People are going to be inquisitive; it's in our nature. But as foster parents, providing safety for youth in your care doesn't just mean physical security but safeguarding their private information and emotions.