Friday, January 15, 2010

Little Clarification on my "Names" post...

Re: Names/Labels/Etc

I only use identifying terms (birth parent, foster parent, adoptive parent etc) when writing about these situations. Speaking to children in real life is a completely different issue - so I wanted to clarify it now.

Foster children

General rule: When speaking to foster children about their parents, I generally use whatever they call them!

I almost always refer to their biological/birth/first parents as "your mom" and "your dad". Occasionally, if they don't have a relationship with their parents, I will refer to them as "your Mommy -insert parent's first name-" or "Daddy Joe".

Very rarely do I use the terms "birth mom" or "biological parent" with a foster child - it just doesn't seem appropriate or necessary in most cases. I don't use the term "first parent" with foster children only because it seems uncomfortable with a child who honestly may have had 8 sets of parents - I don't want to get into numbering them all! Most kids know who I'm talking about by the context - if necessary, they'll ask for clarification.

I would never encourage or allow a new foster parent to demand that a child to call them "mom" or "dad". This is generally confusing for a child who already has a mom and dad. At times I have seen it also be traumatic for a child who is clearly attached to their biological parents and planning to return home. I generally call their foster parents, "your foster mom" and "your foster dad". The exception to this rule is if the child identifies their foster parent as "mom" or "dad". Then I will call them the same thing as well. It can be a tricky situation with foster children, but I usually try to avoid confusion by asking their foster parents what they are called before speaking with the children.

Most foster parents I've worked with go by their first name (Jane), their last name (Ms. Smith), or have a nickname that foster children use (Auntie, Nana, or even Judge - she really was a judge!). However, if there are other children in the home - foster kids will often slip into calling their foster parents "mom and dad" because its what everyone else is doing! I don't think this is a bad thing and shouldn't be discouraged. For all intents and purposes, that person is filling the role of "parent" for the child. And, for most children it is easier and calls less attention to their being an "outsider" in the family and to the outside world. I don't think it confuses children to call both their foster parents and their biological parents "mom and dad" if it is their choice.

Previous foster parents, that the children no longer live with, are called by their first or last names - "Rob and Sue" or "The Robinsons". When foster children are moving towards adoption in the home they're living in, they usually are already referring to their foster parents as "mom and dad" and so I do the same when talking about them. But, if we are talking about both sets of parents, I'll use the terms "adoptive parent" and "birth parent".

My bottom line is that, with foster children, I walk the fine line of not wanting to degrade their biological parents in any way and respecting the child's right to choose to call their foster parents whatever they feel comfortable with. I also encourage most foster parents to tell family members (and others that their foster children will come into frequent contact with) what their foster children call them - so that it doesn't create confusion or frustration during family get-togethers.

Domestic and International Adoption

I honestly don't know any children who were adopted as infants (domestic or international) that have contact with their birth parents and so I haven't run across this situation. But for the few adult adoptees that I do know, I use whatever terms they use - most call their adoptive parents "mom and dad" and their birth parents by their first names.

With the adults that I know - I use whatever terms they use. And if I don't know - I ask! I'd rather feel uncomfortable because I have to ask, than feel terrible because I used a term that was offensive to them or part of their family.

Hope that all makes sense - if you have a question, or want to point out a place that I could be more sensitive, PLEASE DO! I won't take offense! :)


  1. After I responded to your last post, I wanted to come back and write something more like this! It is important to clarify (especially as there ARE some really dense people in the world) that what you say in private to a third party and what you say to the child, is different.

    I think, actually, that if a stranger asked any of my four Russian children (adopted at 10, 5, 7 and 14) about their "mother" of course they would presume they meant me. We always say your "Russian mother" or "Russian father". But even that is different from child to child. "Your Russian father" is always said reverentially to Sergei who had a wonderful father, who died young of TB. If it was said to Zhen (whose father was never even named on the certificate) it would absolutely refer to nothing but biology and would seem odd to bring whoever-he-was up.

    If anyone would say "Russian mother" to Sergei he would almost wince with disgust....odd that I am doing my best to try a reclamation project on her memory. HIS memories are all of abuse and neglect, though I know that she was a great mother until after his dad died and she took to drink (to use an old-fashioned term).

    But, you are so right - you let the child and his/her phrasing take the lead. The only time I use "bio" or "birth" is in conversations about adoption, specifically when genetics or temperament or some other like concept is being discussed. Otherwise I'd say "Russian mother/father" then. (Nice to have that international bit to help.)

    You can see most people, who don't know the kids well and don't yet have the "clues" struggle a bit to find the right phrase. Only occasionally does someone rough-ride through it. Someone boldly (and bizarrely loudly) not long ago told Sergei to give something to his "adoptive mother" - he definitely "gave them a look". No matter what the title said about me, it was rude in drawing unwanted attention to Sergei (this was in the dentist's office). But, all you can do is think that - some people just don't have the gift of sensitivity.

  2. were are in an open infant domestic adoption, my little girl is 3 and she calls her birthmom by her first name, and I am gonna leave it up to her what she wishes to call here, whatever is fine with me, it is her choice.

  3. Dear Miss Social Worker

    First let me say that I think it's funny that you will respond to my comments but won't post them. Second, I once had to try to talk a real mom out of suicide because of what you describe in this post as if it's a good thing.

    For the sake of argument, lets set up a hypothetical situation here. Lets say, for example, that you someday have a kid of your own, you make a mistake causing a report to be made to the hotline, a worker shows up and takes your kid into foster care, (it's better to be safe than sorry you know). You go to your visitations and your kid is calling some other woman "Mom."

    How would you feel about that? Would it hurt? Would you want to hit someone? Would you think it's appropriate and acceptable if you were in the real parents position?

    Now most babystealers would respond with something like, "Well it's not about what's best for the parents, it's about what is best for the child," or some lame excuse like that.

    Fine, let me explain how it harms the child. The child is removed from home, put with a family and is encouraged to assimilate, over time the child settles in, then they're moved to a new foster home, then they settle in, then moved again and again and again, all the time having dreams of forever homes being preached to them by the social workers. The next think you know they're being diagnosed with and treated with psyche meds for RAD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.

    Therefore, it's not okay to do this. It's hurtful and offensive and it's not what's best for the child.

    It's called "parental alienation" and it's a standard practice within the Child Protective Industry. What workers in your profession do is encourage the children to try to assimilate into other families, you allow them to call people who aren't their parents mom or dad and by doing so you confuse the child and destroy any bond that exists between the child and the real parents as well as the child's chances of a successful assimilation into a new family or adoptive placement, and use the same reason as an excuse to terminate the rights of the real parents to THEIR kids.

  4. Dear LK, you weren't the only one who brought up the issue of how we speak to children about their parents. If you read the other comments, you'll see that most people responded about how they talk about these names/labels. I did include my thoughts about having children call their foster parents "mom and dad" because I thought it was important for people to know that it is inappropriate for foster parents to demand that of the children in their care.
    As far as your theories of "parental allienation" - which is a controversial term in general - I think I made it pretty clear that I do not support foster parents who encourage or demand a child call them "mom or dad". I also think by my past posts, including the three that I have directly written about foster parents working with biological parents towards reunification, that I have demonstrated my support of children returning to their family of origin.

    As far as this causing RAD- simply allowing children to assimilate into a foster family is not going to cause RAD. In fact, encouraging a child to bond with their caregiver is essential to preventing attachement disorders. However, you are correct that when the child is moved over and over again - they cease to be able to attach and thus a disorder may form. This is why I do not encourage children to call their new foster parents "mom and dad". New foster parents are introduced as "Jane and Michael" or "The Smiths" or by a nickname. It is especially discouraged for foster parents to allow a child to call them "mom or dad" if we know or believe this placement will be a temporary placement. In those instances, even if a child starts to call them "mom and dad" - we discourage it by reminding them that they have a mom and dad and they will hopefully be returning home soon. Sadly, there are children in foster care, that we are more certain will not be returning home. In those situations, when a concurrent plan is being made for them to stay with their foster parents, if a child chooses to call their foster parents "mom and dad" we won't discourage it. There are a million variations on this issue - no one answer is applicable to every child, parent or foster home.

    The problem between us is, and likely always will be, that you believe that CPS and social workers are duplicitous. You believe that most parents who have become involved in the system have been unfairly targeted or accused. Anytime a social worker actually helps a biological parent or anytime the system works in their favor - you see that as an exception to the rule. I, on the other hand, see things from the opposite perspective. In my experience, most parents have been given multiple chances to recify the issues before their children are removed. And I believe that there are many times where the parent is unwilling or unable to correct those issues and have their children returned to them despite services being offered and arranged for them. And despite all that, I believe that most social workers are trying and succeeding in reunifying families.

    Therefore, I believe sites like yours - which only focus on the negative and encourage parents to "fight" the system instead of working with it - are dangerous. If a parent who was involved with my agency happened upon your site, it could negatively impact their progress in having their child returned to their care. I choose not to post your comments because I do not want to link to your site.

    I don't hate you LK. You had an awful experience with the system, and that is your perception of it as a whole. I appreciate that your comments make me think about my own actions and clairfy my statements so that others do not get the wrong impression either - so feel free to keep leaving them. You know that I get them and that I'll respond if needed. If I feel that your comments are constructive - I've posted them in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.

  5. Perhaps anyone who has "dealings" with social workers have a hard time getting past the first horrific or brilliant experience. My initial SW experiences were, frankly, horrific. However, I decided to try to "give you a chance" (only because I admire one of your followers so much).

    It is good to experience several points of view....and your blog certainly offers that!

    Unlike your other correspondent, am horrified and appalled at the constant, care-less, efforts at "family reunification" which I can only presume is because it is more "cost effective" to the state. My husband worked at a RTC where children were again and again reunified with absolutely unfit parents. There was the woman who killed the husband in front of the child and then packed the dad's body in the trunk of the car and drove around the country with the child (and corpse) for several months. And the woman who, though the older brother had been sexually abusing the younger one, didn't want the boys in the house to interfere with her and her boyfriend over the Christmas vacation, so made the older and younger brothers sleep together outside in the car. Great vacation.

    And all this is why we adopted internationally. At least in our state, because of these endless "chances", by the time children are available for adoption they are so damaged that they are not able to live in a family. It seems so unnecessary. And, I have to blame social workers who have such bizarre faith in "six months of parenting classes", or "family counseling", again and again and again.

  6. thank you for clarifying this. it makes a lot more sense when you define your practices. im sensitive to the issue, words are powerful.

  7. We are explicitly told, not to refer to ourselves or be referred to as foster parents or foster mother or father but rather use the term 'foster carer' - and that is pretty much standard practice nationally. We officially take short-term and emergency placements although short-term can always become longer-term by osmosis.. We use our first names with the children - it makes the most sense and not least, makes us feel most comfortable.


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