Confidentiality is a big deal in foster care. As a foster parent you may be most concerned about the need to please the system and not break the rules. If so, you need to make sure their picture isn’t taken unless authorized appropriately and for certain that it isn’t shared in the media, including social media.
As with most rules, though, the spirit of the law in this case should be much more important than the letter. Yes, the rules (in our state) say that we cannot authorize photographs of the children except for that which will be used in documentation (i.e, if there is an injury) or that which will be used for personal/family use (i.e., refrigerator picture). These two rules allow for pretty much all kinds of photographs that a foster parent might wish to take in normal circumstances. Regardless of what the rules say it’s more important to understand what the rules were intended to protect and any good foster parent should be more concerned about that than simply sticking to the rules.
So what are they designed to do?
As with most rules, photography rules (including videography, which is more stringent than photography even) were established to protect the children’s privacy and limit the state’s liability for not protecting that privacy. Specifically, we’re concerned about these types of problems:
- Identifying the child, in public, as a foster child.
- Identifying the location of the child, specifically when they’re being protected from dangerous family and friends.
- Child exploitation – using the child’s image as a way to make money for another individual or organization or worse yet, illicit activity.
Sometimes I also think to some degree we’re protecting the biological family too, though that shouldn’t be the primary goal.
As a foster parent you have to stay really vigilant in protecting the privacy of your children, especially when it comes to photography and videography. Today my kids are having their class pictures taken at their preschool and even something as innocent as that can have bad consequences for our children. Thankfully they have been posting it all over the school so parents remember picture day and remember to dress their kids nicely and all but there have been times where they’ve taken the children’s pictures without asking and we’ve had to get on them about that. Usually the purpose is very innocent – the kids are doing something cute in class and they want to take the picture to put on the wall, etc., but without our control over those documents bad things can happen.
In fact, as I wrote this post I got a call from the school. Despite the fact I told them that they couldn’t take the kids pictures, apparently they did anyway for #10. The teacher forgot or was unaware or something and let him be in the class picture. Thankfully the director saw that he was in it and they called to ask mie if that was ok. It is not. They are retaking the picture without him in it.
Here’s the thing though – most non-foster parents might ask – what’s the harm? Afterall, the other parents see him everyday at school and if they have a picture of him in their home then what’s the problem? Let’s say they’re proud parents and put their kids’ class picture up in their office at work. Let’s say they happen to work with the grandfather of our child (or, the grandfather’s neighbor, etc.). As they have a meeting and lookup they see the picture with our kiddos in it and suddenly know where to find the kids. That wouldn’t be good. I had a CASA once who said she was innocently chatting about the case she had, without any names or anything, to someone at church and wouldn’t you know this person was related to the birth parents in that case. It reminded her to never, ever share anything about a case to anyone not directly involved in it again. Pictures can be just as dangerous as telling stories.
Here are a few other places/situations to be especially careful with:
- Birthday parties – with that many people flashing cameras all over the place it’s easy for someone to accidentally capture a picture of your kids too, and they are most likely going to be discreet about sharing those pictures with people you do not know.
- Kids’ sporting events – we had one of the kiddo’s grandparents last year who was a budding photographer – she was taking action shots of the baseball players and, you know, their siblings. She then put them all up on the Facebook page for the team so the parents could see the kids. That was a big no-no according to the rules and she isn’t the one who’d be getting in trouble…
- Venues, theme parks, etc. – usually the ticket will say something like “upon entering you are granting permission to photograph the ticket holder and use the image at the discretion of the venue”…basically you’re granting permission to them to take pictures of you and your kids and use as they please.
- Parks, recreation areas, etc. – same thing as with birthday parties.
- News & other media outlets – if you see a news crew doing a story – stay far away from them. They could accidentally get you and your child in the shot and that shot may end up on the local news or front page of the paper.