A topic came up on this week’s Creating a Family show on Adopting and Raising a Child with HIV that I hadn’t given much thought to before: who do you tell that your adopted child has HIV? Unfortunately, stigma against people with HIV is alive and well. You and your child risk rejection, fear, and being ostracized if you tell, but whom do you have an obligation to tell? We talked about all of this and more on the Creating a Family show this week.
Degrees of Risk
Fortunately, HIV is hard to catch unless you are exposed to the infected person’s blood. The average friend, extended family member, or acquaintance has virtually no risk, so no need to know that your child has HIV.
Should you tell your child’s teacher? You can’t get HIV from contact with vomit, stool, urine or mucus (otherwise known in our house as barf, poop, pee, or snot). All school personnel are trained to use universal precautions when dealing with blood, so Traci Heim, with Project Hopeful, suggested that it wouldn’t be necessary to tell school personnel, unless required by your state, and most states don’t have this requirement. While I see her point, it makes me uncomfortable. In the real world of classrooms, there is a difference between generally following universal blood precautions and being extremely careful with following the precautions. The problem is that while not all teachers would treat your child differently if they know her HIV status, some would, but once you tell one teacher the chances are very good that all teachers would find out.
Whether to tell caregivers is a different matter in my mind. Traci pointed out that caregivers have refused to care for children with HIV; however, I think their degree of risk when caring so intimately with the child earns them the right to know. Even if trained to use universal precautions, in the midst of caring for young children it is easy to be exposed to blood while stopping the nosebleed or tending to the boo-boo. I do agree with all the guests on our show that each situation has to be viewed separately.
Where to Go for Help in Deciding
When deciding how to approach who to tell that your child has HIV and how to strike the privacy vs. secrecy balance, the good news is that there are some terrific organizations to help you.
Who would you tell? How do you think your family and friends would react?
P.S. Our guest on this Creating a Family show on Adopting and Raising a Child with HIV were Dr. Jan Piatt, Medical Director at the Bill Holt Pediatric HIV Clinic at Phoenix Children’s Hospital; Kate Foley, Social Worker and Associate Director of Outreach at Spence-Chapin Adoption Agency; and Traci Heim a Director for Project HOPEFUL, a nonprofit bringing education and encouragement for those adopting children with HIV. She is also a parent to 10 children through adoption, including a child with HIV.
Image credit: Positively Adopted