As every foster parent knows, people are very curious about foster children. What did their parents do? How long will you have them? How much are you getting paid? How should a foster parent handle these nosey questions?

how should foster parents handle nosey questions about their foster children

I am an open book. If you know me in real life for, say 22 minutes, you know more about me that you probably wanted to (I like to think it’s part of my charm). As an adoptive mom, I’ve been on my own journey to figure out how to guard my daughters’ stories, how to hold them sacred and private. Protection is more crucial when it comes to foster placements and the children in care.

Recently a member of our Facebook Support Group posted a question about sharing her foster child’s information with what feels like some nosy neighbors. My virtual ears perked up. This topic is always of interest to me as I’m committed to curbing my own “Chatty Cathy” tendencies as they pertain to my children’s’ stories. Here’s the question:

I’m curious to hear how foster parents deal with people asking personal questions about the kids in your care. We just took a placement after a break from fostering and I forgot how invasive people are. It’s like the whole world thinks they have the right to know what their parents did, why they’re in care, if we’re going to adopt them, etc. What ways have you come up with to politely but firmly tell them “it’s none of your business”?

It’s Not My Story To Tell

Not surprisingly, many foster parents recommended answering the nosey questions with “It’s not my story to tell,” which I think we can all agree represents the highest degree of protection we can offer. There’s a wide range of how directly that can be said:

  • “I’m sorry, that isn’t something I can talk about”
  • “I’m not at liberty to share the child’s private information while they are in our care.”
  • “I can understand your curiosity, but this information is not for me to share, it is M’s personal information and it’s the least we can do to keep that safe for her.”

Try the Re-Direct

Answering a question with a question is a classic re-direct that many quick-thinking foster moms keep at the ready. This can be as blunt as “Why do you ask?” But if you are feeling particularly snarky, you could do as Erika does and go all Southern-twang with a “Bless your heart, why do you ask hon?” Which we all know is basically code for “Do you hear how inappropriate you sound right now?” without insulting anyone directly.

Kim doesn’t answer a question with a question. Instead, she goes with the harried mom come-back: “thanks they’re a handful.”

After thirty years in full-time ministry, my mom became a pro at the re-direct for handling intrusive questions. She stares back with wide eyes and says gently, “Oh, why do you ask?” without ever actually answering the original question. I’ve had to really practice this skill – apparently, it’s not genetically hard-wired.

The Re-Direct, With a Twist

Of course, you can always shake the conversation around a bit and “misunderstand” what they are asking as a means of pointing out how inappropriate their questions really are. Some foster moms will say, “I’m happy to talk to you about getting involved in foster care if you are interested.” Or employ that wide-eyed innocent look a la my mom, and jubilantly add “Oh, are you thinking of fostering? I’d be happy to give you the contact info for our agency.”

I have a friend that whips her caseworker’s card out of her bag and says, “If you are interested in learning more, this social worker has been great guide for us.” She finds it amusing to watch the inquiring mind beat a hasty retreat when faced with that one!

Educate and Raise Awareness

Cassie has faced some of the negative stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the foster system and thus often chooses to educate and raise awareness with her responses, saying

“Thanks for your interest. Children come into care for a number of reasons. Right now our focus is on loving this child and praying this family is reunited. It will be a celebration when that day comes.”

Brittany and Jennifer combine the re-direct with a bit of education, saying “we are glad to have (Janie) no matter how long (she) is with us and …the first goal of foster care is for families to be reunited. She is staying with us because her parents can’t care for her right now. So we are helping them…”

Our adoption agency offered a suggestion in our pre-adoption training to carry a pre-printed card that read something like this: “We prefer not to discuss our daughter/son’s story with strangers particularly in front of her/him, but if you are interested in learning more about adoption, feel free to email me at” I imagine it would be quite easy to tweak that message for fostering.

It’s Not Necessary to Educate the Public

Not surprisingly, a couple of our members pushed back a bit about educating the Nosy Nellies, choosing instead to prioritize the child’s privacy and how the child might feel about how we answer.

From her personal experiences, Robyn cautioned, “First, you don’t always have the time to be in teacher mode. Second, you have to consider how the kids feel about being used as educational props. Third, most people aren’t asking to be educated on the foster system – they’re just nosy and nosiness should not be encouraged”.

Kim and her family choose carefully whom they educate, focusing on those who WANT to learn more. Otherwise, she agreed that “it’s not always the time to educate, and definitely not around our kids. Not ever the time. I also agree …that we DO need to teach and there is a bad stigma. There is a time and a place for it though.”

Lisa chooses to educate from a different angle, preferring to empower her son. She suggests that parents develop a “full arsenal of replies, for different situations, running the gamut from niceness and distraction to full-on ‘piss off, will you?’ It also helps model that sharing is a choice to our kids.”

Be Prepared

Wherever you land on the spectrum of witty to wise, blunt to Southern-sweet, Lisa’s advice is good counsel.

  • Figure out a few “canned responses” before you face one of those “deer in the highlight moments.”
  • Practice saying them until you feel comfortable.
  • Remind yourself that this child is (likely) yours for a only short time and this is a gift you can offer him.

I’m learning where my line is, and the more I practice that wide-eyed stare my Mom has perfected, the more settled I feel about guarding my daughters’ stories.

Do you have an “arsenal of replies” at the ready? What do you say when Nosy Neighbor asks questions?

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Image credit: dinstereo; {Flixelpix} David