Words Matter: Creating a Positive Narrative Around Foster Care

August 17, 2023 | 6 min read

As people, we are sometimes oblivious to the gravity and weight of the words we use when discussing anything, but this is particularly noticeable when talking about more sensitive topics that directly deal with the care of children, like foster care and adoption.

Language has the power to paint vivid images in our minds and stir strong emotions in our hearts. In the realm of foster care, every term we use can either bolster a child’s self-esteem and sense of belonging or unintentionally cast shadows of isolation and difference. Similarly, our choice of words when talking about birth parents or foster parents can either illuminate paths to compassion and understanding or darken corners with stereotypes and judgment.

Language is a tool with incredible power. When used with care and thoughtfulness, it can create a radiant landscape of inclusivity, hope, and resilience. However, if used without consideration, it can lead to hurt and misunderstanding. It's crucial we harness the sunshine of positive language that respects and uplifts all members of the foster care community.

Promoting Respect and Inclusivity in Foster Care Discussions

At NCHS, we believe in using language that puts the person first. When discussing foster care, the term 'foster child' is often used. While it is a commonly used term, it can inadvertently dehumanize individuals who are part of the foster care system.

To prioritize person-first language and show respect, we prefer using the phrase 'child in foster care'. This approach highlights the person's identity over their situation, avoiding any unintentional dehumanization. By saying 'child in foster care', we recognize and value their personhood before anything else.

It is essential to remember that while foster care is part of their story, it does not define them entirely. These individuals have their own unique experiences, dreams, and identities beyond their situation. Our focus is on embracing their individuality and honoring their journey.

This change in language is not just about finding the right words; it is about shifting our mindset and challenging our assumptions. By doing so, we can create a more vibrant, supportive, and empowering environment for everyone involved in foster care. Join us as we evaluate common phrases used in reference to foster care and propose accurate and inclusive alternatives.

Importance Of Positive Language In Foster Care

Unfortunately, we might unintentionally use language that perpetuates negative stereotypes, discrimination, and stigma surrounding foster care. Terms that marginalize or devalue children in foster care, birth parents, or foster families can nurture misunderstandings and prejudice, making the path toward acceptance in their communities more challenging.

But here's the empowering part - we have the ability to shift this narrative! By consciously choosing language that is respectful, positive, and accurate, we can help dismantle barriers and shine a spotlight on the realities of foster care.

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Positive language acts as a beacon—it dispels misconceptions and illuminates empathy. It allows us to see the resilience and potential of children in foster care, the dedication and warmth of foster parents, and the courage and hope of birth parents. When we employ such language, we're building bridges of support for children in foster care and families.

Let's harness the power of constructive language in foster care! It's more than just semantics—it's an avenue to promote respect, dignity, and empowerment. With the right words, we can sketch a more accurate, compassionate portrayal of foster care, one that fosters understanding, inclusivity, and support. And that's a narrative worth contributing to, wouldn't you agree?

Commonly Used Phrases And Their Impact

Let's delve into some commonly used terms in foster care and explore how we can shift them into positive, empowering expressions.

First, the term "birth parents" is preferred over "biological parents." "Birth parents" honors the significant biological connections while also respecting the parental rights of these individuals. It acknowledges their role in bringing life into the world and respects their ongoing connection to their child.

The phrase "I couldn’t foster because I would get too attached" reinforces a common misconception about foster care, and it can contribute to the stigmatization of the system. It implies that emotional attachment is a negative aspect of fostering, suggesting that the ideal foster parent should maintain an emotional distance from the child. This could further the stereotype that foster homes are cold and unloving environments.

In reality, forming a deep emotional connection with a child in foster care is not a drawback—it's a critical part of providing the nurturing, supportive environment that these children need and deserve. While it can indeed be hard when a child leaves, the positive impact made during their time in foster care can be life-changing for both the child and the foster parent.

A more positive and accurate statement could be, "Fostering is an opportunity to provide love and support to a child who needs it, even if it's temporary." This reframes the conversation around the positive impact of fostering, recognizing emotional involvement as a strength rather than a weakness. It acknowledges the emotional challenges while emphasizing the rewarding nature of making a meaningful difference in a child's life.

By choosing our words carefully, we can create a more positive and empowering narrative around foster care. Language is a powerful tool, and we have the opportunity to use it to build understanding, respect, and support. It's an opportunity we should seize with both hands!

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Positive Foster Care Language, At a Glance:

  • Birth Parents Over Biological Parents: The term "birth parents" is preferred as it honors the significant biological connections, respects the parental rights of these individuals, and acknowledges their role in bringing life into the world.
  • Avoiding Misconceptions About Emotional Attachment: The phrase "I couldn’t foster because I would get too attached" contributes to the stigmatization of foster care, implying that emotional attachment is a negative aspect of fostering. In reality, forming a deep emotional connection with a child in foster care is vital for providing a nurturing environment.
  • Positive Reframing of Fostering: A more accurate statement could be, "Fostering is an opportunity to provide love and support to a child who needs it, even if it's temporary." This recognizes emotional involvement as a strength and emphasizes the rewarding nature of making a meaningful difference in a child's life.
  • A Child in Foster Care Over Foster Kid: Consider using "a child in foster care" rather than "foster kid" or "fostered child." This term places focus on the child as an individual rather than defining them by their legal status. Being in foster care is just one part of their story, not their entire identity.

Understanding The Child's Perspective

Children in foster care have shared how certain phrases or labels can feel like thorns, pricking their self-esteem and making them feel different or less than their peers. Conversely, they've also talked about how positive language—the kind that acknowledges their courage, resilience, and unique experiences—can be like a soothing balm, helping them feel seen, understood, and valued.

But here's the most important part: let's listen to the children themselves. They are the best guides to what language feels respectful and empowering to them. If a child prefers certain terms or phrases, let's honor that choice. After all, language is a powerful form of self-expression, and every child deserves to tell their own story in their own words.

Join us in making a pledge to use positive, respectful language when talking about foster care. Together we can plant seeds of understanding, empathy, and respect and watch as they grow into a forest of support and acceptance. Because every child in foster care deserves to see their own strength and potential reflected back at them through our words.

When we use the right words, we're not just talking—we're helping to shape a child's self-esteem, identity, and sense of belonging. We're acknowledging the strength and dedication of foster parents and respecting the profound love and courage of birth parents. In essence, we're painting a brighter, more accurate picture of foster care—one that promotes understanding, empathy, and support.

Let's make a conscious effort to use the recommended terms and educate ourselves and others about the power of language. Let's learn from the children themselves, honoring their preferred terms and listening to their stories.

By doing so, we can help to create a more empathetic and inclusive society where every child and family in foster care feels valued, respected, and supported. Because, in the end, the most beautiful masterpiece we can create is a world where every child feels loved, and every family feels appreciated.

Our foster care team is well-equipped with the information and strategies you need to explore options for becoming a foster care parent. Together, we can ensure you have access to the resources and support you need to provide safe and loving care for every child and their family. Give us a call: 402.659.9996.

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