One of the things that I have learned while interacting with the child welfare system is that words have weight. Our words matter. One of the ways that I have taken to heart is the way in which we speak about the parents whose children are in foster care.
When children hear us speaking about their parents, they may not separate themselves from those words. After all, when we were younger, didn’t we all view ourselves as extensions of our parents? On top of that, if a child hears negativity about their parents, we create divided loyalties and confusion.
Another way is how we speak about the children. A term that is downright “cringey” – if I may borrow an adjective from my teenagers- is when people say “foster kids.” While it doesn’t sound much different and it takes longer to say “kids in foster care,” there is an actual difference in the phrases.
Foster kids is a label. It is defining those children by their current situation. When we say kids in foster care, it is a descriptive phrase. We are describing the situation that the children are in rather than who they are.
The meaning may technically be the same, but the feeling is different. I want the children in the custody of the state to know and feel that their time in foster care is temporary; that who they are is completely separate from this temporary time in their lives.
It’s important to forgive ourselves and others for not knowing the right thing to say and for not always having the right terminology for every situation. If we look for ways to be sensitive to others in our speech, we can contribute to better mental health and positive self-image of youth in foster care.
Jennie and her husband Darrell have adopted four children from foster care. She now helps other prospective families in Utah County and surrounding areas through the foster care process as one of Utah Foster Care’s foster-adoptive consultants.
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